I didn’t vote in the Presidential election. Aside from the fact that by dint of living in Missouri my vote doesn’t count, this was a deliberate and considered decision. Essentially, I view participating in the political system as tacitly endorsing it.
Before elaborating on that, I want to make it clear that I think the Donald will be an absolutely terrible President. Regardless of how his Presidency plays out, America has almost literally just elected Hitler. Because he will be President, things will be worse for almost every American, myself included, that is not a rich, straight, white male. This would not be as true had Hillary won.
But let’s take a broader perspective. As Trump is clearly a power-hungry, egomaniacal, ignorant demagogue, how could anyone – let alone almost a majority of Americans – vote for him? I mean, right?! Who even voted for him? The answer is poor people, that’s who. And, surprise, surprise, poor people now make up the bulk of America.
Now, I grew up in an upper-middle class household in the Blue State of New Jersey. Almost all of my friends grew up in similar situations. With the exception of my friends here at East Wind, my friends live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle in or near a city on either the east or west coast. Middle America is a different story.
At East Wind, I still live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle. We call ourselves bougie here. But East Wind is in Ozark County, MO, one of the poorest counties in the entire country. When I first got here I volunteered a number of times at the local food bank. It was my first real encounter with poverty. If I’m honest, my main impression was simply dismay. I had never seen such beaten-down, broken human beings. It was hard to witness. And there weren’t just a few.
In America we have a national mythos, a collective story if you will, that anyone can make it. We call it the American Dream. For people like me who had never really seen poverty as anything other than a statistic and the occasional homeless person, the American Dream still rings true. But for a ton of Americans – again, now almost the majority – the American Dream is dead. But for those of us lucky enough to be born into the middle or higher classes, it can be easy to subconsciously buy into the idea that people are poor because they brought it upon themselves, that it’s their own fault.
I don’t believe that. I see widespread American poverty as a symptom of our world-system. A capitalist world-economy, especially when paired with a debt-based money system, will inevitably concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. As this happens, the many unavoidably become poorer and poorer. There is no way around it in a system such as ours. How else could there be widespread systemic poverty in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen?
What this means in everyday life is that a majority of Americans are living in constant fear of being unable to provide for even their most basic needs. When someone is fighting just to keep a roof over their head or doesn’t know where their next meal will come from, do you think they can have any empathy for people for whom a major concern in life is what pronoun that are addressed by?
A friend of mine, whom I very much admire and respect, ironically wore a “Make America Great Again” hat at Burning Man. But to the beat down poor of America that slogan is not a joke. What Trump was selling them was a chance to regain their dignity. Put yourself in their shoes. You know you’re a good person. You know you do your best. Despite all this, you can barely make ends meet. How could this be your fault? To you, Mexican immigrants are actually a very real threat to your livelihood, as they will accept less pay to do the scant work still available in your area. To you, building a wall to keep that from happening actually sounds like a great idea. You know that Hillary is a politician’s politician, and that under her nothing will be different for you. Things will only continue to get harder and harder. Trump’s not a politician, he’s an outsider. He’s never played the game and he’s promising to kick those fat-cat politicians right where it hurts (recall that Trump absolutely trounced the traditional Republican candidates as well). And he’s promising to make things go back to the way they were, when it wasn’t hard to find a job or put food on the table.
Except, of course, he’s not going to do that. But perhaps you can now see his appeal to poor people. The reason he’s not going to do that is the same reason life is so hard for so many Americans in the first place: systemic concentration of wealth creating widespread and systemic poverty.
Here and there leading up to the election I’ve broached some of these ideas in conversation, and consistently encountered the argument from my more conventionally liberal friends: “Yes, Hillary’s not perfect, but she’s infinitely better than Trump. Think of how women, minorities, and the queer community will suffer under a Trump Presidency. Clearly she is the lesser of two evils.” And they are, of course, perfectly correct. There will be pain and suffering under Trump that would not happen had Clinton been elected. It is a great sadness that this is so.
But let’s now step back even further. America is the global hegemon and even the poorest of us benefit greatly from this being so. We have cheap energy and material wealth such as no nation has ever known, nor is likely to see again. But this great wealth and power of course has come at a price. America has toppled democratic governments, supported dictators, armed warlords, assassinated heads of state, and killed countless innocent civilians in the process. We as First World citizens have also – less directly through the world market – created the economic incentive for sweatshops, the destruction of the rainforests, the spoiling of the Earth’s rivers, and have created the sixth Mass Extinction Event (called the Anthropocene – Age of Man – extinction) through our effect on the environment, losing up to 140,000 species a year. This suffering is magnitudes greater than any that Americans will face under Trump.
And do you know what the primary driver of the world-economy is? First World consumption. These atrocities happen every day so that we can make, sell, and buy $800 shoes or bottles of wine. The way we collectively choose to live our lives on this planet, what I have called our world-system, is the reason we have war, why countless species are becoming extinct, and why there exist enough disenfranchised people in America for Donald Trump to be President-Elect.
Now, as Billy Joel said, we didn’t start the fire. But if you’re not trying to put it out, you’re part of the problem. And if you live a First World lifestyle, not only are you not putting it out, your consumption is actively stoking it. Our world-system is bigger than the American Presidency. Everything I’ve just pointed out would still be true regardless of who won last night. Which is why I didn’t vote yesterday. A vote, even for a third-party candidate, is still an implicit vote of confidence for The Way Things Are.
As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. I instead voted in a much more meaningful way – in actually what I feel is the only meaningful way – when this past January I left Babylon and moved to community. Not that East Wind is unplugged from the system, nor are we sustainable yet, but at least we’re trying.
Had Hillary won last night I can easily imagine what my Facebook feed would be like today. Everyone bemoaning Trump’s victory would instead be slapping themselves on the back for electing the first female President. As if she wouldn’t be President of the Patriarchy. Despite the meaningful changes she might have been able to enact regarding the rights of women, minorities, and the queer community in America, she would have continued Business As Usual with all its attendant atrocities I mentioned earlier. It just would have been more palatable. And those atrocities, I feel, are the far more pressing issues of the world today.
Up until last night, I honestly thought Clinton would win. However I was hoping it would be Trump. Not because I liked him or supported him in any way, but because a Trump Presidency will make heretofore hidden faults of the system show through more openly. It will be a very scary time. We First World citizens are addicted to our affluent lifestyles. Common wisdom has it that before an addict can recover, they must first hit rock bottom. I don’t think Trump will be rock bottom for all of us, but maybe he will be for some of us.
Trump’s base, the poor people of America, have few options available to them. The same, however, is not true of Hillary’s base. So if you’re reading this in America, and you voted for Hillary, I encourage you to consider what part you play in our global system. Perhaps you could hold up a mirror to your lifestyle and #checkyourprivilege.