James Batcho, PhD | Three Difficult Thoughts on This Difficult Election
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Three Difficult Thoughts on This Difficult Election

WALNUT CREEK. Count me in as still shocked. Several of my friends predicted a Trump victory but I did not. I thought we’d be here thinking in a different set of realities, about a different kind of fight and set of conversations that we’d need to have. But this, the fact that I am a white male, that white privilege is now an amplified concept that can’t be thought of in only conceptual terms. Anymore. And I write “anymore” because that word might be the new situation for white men, while for others it has always been actual, never conceptual. I’m not sure how to write about that yet. But before I leave this alone for now, I would like to mention three lingering thoughts. I offer these not as truths or facts but open questions, even if the statements below are full of declarations. These to me are philosophical matters, with an emphasis on inconceivability.

1. Voting/Non-voting. Voting is a right not a mandate. One is free to vote or not vote. But the language that I find people using against those who don’t vote has eerie similarities to Christian zealots who cannot conceive of someone not attending church on Sunday. Voting is an act of faith, a prayer. Mathematically a vote is quite literally insignificant; its significance lies in the individual who engages in an expression of faith; again, a prayer. And in this, a vote is real and powerful. Voting is the activation of a “vow,” as the etymology suggests. To make a vow is to act in faith along one’s belief. People who have faith in the system and believe in the candidate make the vow. This is great! I have no problem at all with expressions of faith along one’s beliefs. But you can’t expect people to show devotion to something and someone they don’t believe in. For those who do not have faith, no amount of shaming and proselytizing is going to change that. My position has always been that people should listen to their conscience, and if they do not believe, we should not expect them to make the vow. What is completely backward is the statement “If you didn’t vote you can’t complain.” If you vote, you have continued the dogma that non-voters find inconceivable. If anyone has a right to complain, it’s the people who chose not to legitimize it, who don’t donate to a horribly corrupt institution. Voting exists as its own container, and those who vote maintain that container. But it is not the entirety of participatory experience nor is it the only means of expression.

2. Appearances and values. In a philosophical denotations, “appearances” is something like: the real phenomena of experience. The media works primarily in appearances while values come from a more fixed place. What I wonder is if Trump’s success is, in part at least, because people are tuning out appearances—distrustful as so many are of media—and holding onto immutable values. When it comes down to something actionable, his supporters are primarily concerned with core values—jobs, taxation, trade policy. Perhaps then, they were more interested in the something than the someone. They are less concerned with the language of racism and sexism. This should trouble us deeply, but we should also remember that these particular appearances, his appearances, very real as they are, come to us solely through the media. Some people (white men who interact with other white men) are protected from these appearances in interpersonal experience, so the mediated representation has no referent and has no effect. This racism is something they have already within themselves every day. There is no appearance, no phenomena, no event—nothing shocking. So for them the mediated versions are a kind of abstraction, existentially muted and distanced, ideological and manufactured, coming from a for-profit industry. Women and people of color, however, deal with these appearances every day—are confronted with them every day—so the mediated representation means everything rather than nothing. It is a direct correlation to interpersonal experience, a constant reminder of what is abhorrent. But in Trumpworld, this distance from interpersonal appearances, coupled with (to his supporters) a tiresome repetition of mediated appearances, fades in contrast to values that are as unchangeable as God

3. There is no one way of thinking (nor are there two). As I sit here theorizing about how people think, I have to admit my own folly here that no one can be reduced to A or B. But to make a presumption: Democrats often seem to me most interested in talking to themselves and reifying through likeness of thinking. This is probably true of Republicans as well, but if Trump supporters actively discount appearances, Democrats tend to discount fixed values while talking mostly in appearances. And if values are deeply rooted in faith, appearances are phenomena of experience that traverse along scientific ways of thinking, ephemeral events that gather and contextualize opinion. My liberal friends tend to talk about appearances emerging from and swirling around both candidates—character traits, language, events, lawsuits, ridiculousness belonging to and coming from the candidate. This parts-to-whole phenomenology is in line with rational, empirical thinking. The language of Trump is abhorrent, and this is why we discuss it. But if my above analogy applies, that voting is an act of faith, for many faith comes from another aspect of oneself, something that transcends the candidate. For them, values stand alone, sui generis, despite appearances. These are different ways of thinking, but even as I’m placing things in two categories, what we actually have are only tendencies. Thought is individual, generative, but the forces built up from thought too often gather and become “understood” along pre-existing lines (prior appearances and prior values).

If there is a positive to take amid the horror of Trump it is that creative thought is now more available to us than ever. Breaking the Clinton behemoth was a good thing; it had become bloated by two decades of neoliberaist, neoconservative, technocratic migration, as it left behind the working class it used to represent. And I already see positive changes taking flight from prior lines of thought in my social media feeds. Perhaps, in this time of despair, this is more importantly a time for creativity in thinking, not only in realizations of mistakes and openness to new ideas, but in recombinations, pathways that don’t yet exist, breaking apart appearances and re-evaluating values.