We all live in fear of something perhaps, some fears more legitimate and some of greater import than others, but we all live in fear. One person’s fears do not obviate another’s, and the legitimacy or illegitimacy thereof does not alter the reality of the response. In the aftermath of the election I heard many friends and acquaintances express fear about their future; women, gays, Blacks, Hispanics, and religious minorities. Not once did I hear anyone express any understanding of the fears that were part of the impulse which has lead to our political upheaval.
Insults and vituperation don’t increase understanding and they certainly don’t reduce fear. I see on the map, even here in reliably “blue” Massachusetts, evidence that the fear mongering which I have written so much about here at Rational Urbanism was likely a driver of a certain amount of this reactionary response we’ve witnessed. In the communities connected to Springfield and Holyoke economically support for Trump increases as you get further east and west.
These are the people who feel the need, perhaps in terms of employment, to be near the urban core, but who have elected to live as far from the center as possible. I’ve met dozens of these people professionally and socially. I assume that it is because I am a White male they often feel very comfortable expressing their very negative opinions about my community. They “hate” coming here. They tell me so. And yet, in so many ways, they are reliant upon this place.
For many of these men life has not been what they thought it would be. The statistics tell the story, it is a true story; high school educated White males have not prospered in the last 40 years. Others have suffered more, others have fallen even further behind, but that does not make their fear and their frustration any less real. Perhaps it is specious for them to believe that their struggles economically stem from the social and political progress that others have made during the same time, but that does not make their response any less real or any less predictable.
Social progress has never been unidirectional. That the arc of the moral universe might bend toward justice is a beautiful thought, and a poetic notion, but that does not make it truth. Plenty begets generosity, and scarcity begets selfishness. We live in greater and greater numbers on a finite planet and we are more and more rapidly depleting both resources and the planet’s ability to balance the impacts of our industrial society.
Claiming the worst possible motives and putting the worst possible labels on everyone who supports our political adversaries achieves nothing. Hearing what is actually being said, and not extrapolating out down slippery slopes to the worst possible interpretations thereof would be a good start. We might find that many of the fears are legitimate, even if the responses are not the best.
From the standpoint of who and where I am I see a great deal of hope in this circumstance. There are parts of this country where there is less tolerance for differences, be they political, racial, sexual, or religious. To be viewed as a region of refuge could attract energetic hopeful people to our community who may help us in our many struggles. If government on the national level is viewed as less responsive to our needs, perhaps we will empower ourselves to do more at the state and local level. If the impulse of the majority in Washington is to shrink the government, it is not ridiculous to think that net giver states may benefit in the long run.
Federalism exists. Eight years of Obama did not turn Alabama into Vermont, and four years of Trump will not turn Massachusetts into Mississippi and perhaps making the real, legitimate, stark differences between regions more palpable will help us here in New England. I’m proud of who we are. Proud to be the first state to legalize gay marriage, proud to be a state where public education is strong, proud to be a place where the needs of the poor are not ignored, proud to be a place where we celebrate diversity. We’re also among the most energy efficient states, and among the most enlightened in terms of the environment and criminal justice.
There are tough times ahead no matter who leads this country. Our financial system has been run irresponsibly for decades, our resources are depleting, our climate is changing. Resilient places that can do more with less will weather it best. Locally, I don’t think that most of the people who voted for Trump want anything much different from what I want, and they don’t hate so much as they fear. Reality may force many of us to change our expectations for the future, understanding that that may not be the fault of our neighbor is a good first step toward working on reasonable, instead of fearful, responses.