Tag Archives: Trump

Is this the story a more thoughtful Trump would tell?

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Some try to explain Trump’s rise by citing local causes like Hillary or the wall.  But there’s something  happening all over the world.  Why?  And why now?

Once upon a time, there was a planet named Terra that teemed with life.  These life forms lived by a particular philosophy on how to interact with each other called the “Right to Oppress.”  Under this egalitarian philosophy, every creature had the right to oppress other creatures because all creatures were committed to the rule of oppressing other creatures if given the chance.  In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians sum up this philosophy in 431 B.C. while explaining to the Milesians why they are attacking their neutral city and wanting to kill the men, enslave the women and children, and take their possessions.

For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences…since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

As millennia went by, one Terran life form grew more intelligent, more collaborative within their groups, and began to dominate the rest, and also sought to dominate each other.  For thousands of years, they organized themselves into ever larger and larger tribes to protect themselves from other groups.  Eventually these very large tribes were called “nation-states” the role of which was two-fold: to actively protect a population of millions within a geographic boundary and to actively protect and promote the culture of the majority (i.e. way of life).

Following the “Right to Oppress,” many nation-states rose and fell over the centuries as they tried to enrich and profit themselves at the expense of others.  Famous examples include nation-states Terrans call “the Romans” and another called “the Mayans.”  But one group of nation-states, often called “Western” nation-states, happened to be the ones particularly strong at a moment of two big changes in Terran history.

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Western colonial empires covered most of the world.  

First, unprecedented planetary war.  War was normal, but the scale of this war was not.  All the most powerful nation-states on Terra devoted their resources to destroying each other.  One generation later, another global war took place, this one more devastating.  Afterwards, though Western nation-states remained strong, they were not quite strong enough to continue the “Right to Opress” philosophy as usual.

Secondly, they didn’t want to.  Under their feet, the “Right to Oppress” had been declining in popularity for some time, dating back to what the Terrans called the “Enlightenment,” which was birthed in Western nation-states.  This new philosophy held that creatures did not have a right to be oppress.  Instead, the opposite was true.  Creatures had the “Right to Not Be Oppressed.”   This included rights to be free of things like unfairness and coercion.  In this view, people had the right to keep private property no matter who was in power, say outwardly what they thought inwardly, and be able to freely enter into contracts with each other as each individual saw fit.  This new “Right to Not be Oppressed” philosophy spread rapidly across Terra and became the general expectation of the governments of nation-states.  Moreover, most judged their ancestors who lived under the previous philosophy as barbaric and pathetic.

Because Western nation-states where those most recently “winning” under the now discredited set of rules, they were scorned by others and, more tellingly, by themselves.  They felt guilty for their old colonial empires and oppression.  At the same time, they did not feel that their culture was currently especially threatened.  Indeed, their language and customs was relatively dominant and they were still by and large the most powerful nation-states on Terra.  As a result of this, many Western nation-states became merely “states.”  These states saw their sole role as protecting a people within a geographic boundary but not actively promoting the culture of the majority.  They didn’t want to.  It also seemed immoral under the new philosophy of “Right to Not be Oppressed.”

But other Terran nation-states did not feel this guilt.  They remained keenly interested in promoting and protecting national culture and identity.  Consider, for example, the issue of naturalization, the process in which members of one nation-state becoming members of another nation-state.  Though the issues is more complex, limiting naturalization is an important way that nation-states protect the identity, cultural norms, and values of their nation.

For comparison, consider the European Union, which was a collection of Western states with a total population of 510 million.  They naturalized about 800,000-900,000 people a year between 2009-2014.  In 2014, 2.6 new members were naturalized for every 100 non-new members.  The United States was another collection of Western states, though more unified by history and language, with a total population of 320 million.  They naturalized 600,000 to 1,000,000 a year during the same time period.  In 2014, there was about 2 new members naturalized for every 100 non-new members.

This can be contrasted with naturalization rates in non-western nation-states such as Japan and China.  Japan, home of 127 million, naturalizes 10,000 people per year, or about .1 people per 100 (5% of the United Sates 2014 naturalization rate).  China has 1.3 billion people, the largest nation-state on Terra, yet it only has a total of 1,448 naturalized citizens in total.  If we divide that total across 50 years of naturalization, this means China naturalized on average a mere 29 individuals a year or .00002 new members per 100 non-new members (.001% of the United States 2014 naturalization rate).  Furthermore, in many non-Western nation-states, governments actively promoted it’s national character by, for example, banning foreign influences by excluding certain media, monetarily supporting efforts to revitalize and expand traditional culture and values, and even promoting cultural ways of doing everyday things like eating food.  In these Nation-States, the “Right to Not be Oppressed” came to also mean the right to live in a state that actively promotes your own values and the general sense of feeling at home and welcome in one’s own country.  In these countries, a priority of the government is protecting a certain way of life.

Furthermore, dovetailing with expansive naturalization policies among Western states, new technologies allowed growing communities within Western states to keep their own national identity.  They could eat their foods that tasted foreign to locals, build their own buildings that looked foreign to locals (see how Swiss and German nationalist movements pursue minaret ban), interact with those back at home via a worldwide communications network so they made fewer local connections, etc.  Furthermore, many states worked diligently to make sure that these communities were given equal resources and treatment, removing power dynamics that typically assist a homogenizing process

The result was unprecedented intermixing with much less homogenization.  Many members of western states welcomed and celebrated this new diversity, and in a way welcomed the eroding of the dominance of their culture, which they themselves associated with oppressiveness.  Many others, however, felt that though they were truly warm and welcoming of other people into their homeland, and had nothing against their way of life specifically, they resented when these guests were not willing to adopt their host culture.  Instead, they found that many of these new members wanted to create mini-nations within their own.   They were witnessing, in other words, small, ongoing, lawful, and peaceful invasions by foreign groups into their territory.  They felt that their government was keeping them safe, but not keeping their way of life safe.

These frustrations built for about 50 years until Terran history reached another tipping point, though this tipping point was less important and it only happened within Western states.  In short, many decided they wanted to be nation-states again.  They wanted their government to actively promote their cultural norms and values and they did not want to feel guilty about it.  New generations of Terrans no longer felt colonial guilt to the same extent, as those sins became increasingly associated with the work of ancestors than family members.  At the beginning of the 21st century, Western states en masse made democratic decisions to close borders, promote traditional values, and make their homeland more distinctively their’s.  To those who lost these surprising elections, it seemed like a return to racism, bigotry, and the “Right to Oppress,” and that narrative was not entirely false either.  Many were racist.  But for many others, this nationalism was not a nationalism against any particular nation, but a positive nationalism for one’s nation.

Moving forward with this new philosophy, Terrans are then confronted with difficult questions.  Do Terrans in Western states have the right to live under a nation-state that actively promotes their way of life?  Can nations choose to welcome people through their borders only if immigrants adopt the host culture?   Who is to decide what aspects of a culture are important, or which culture to promote in a heterogenous state?  When a nation makes decisions that make it increasingly heterogenous, can they then seek to homogenize at the expense of minority communities that they previously welcomed more unconditionally?  Will Terrans continue to uphold the universal “Right to Not be Oppressed”?  Is the future of Terra to be dominated by states or by nation-states?

To be honest, I’m not sure how to answer most of these questions, but I’m sympathetic to the reasonableness of each side.  Is this the narrative, or something like it, that many Trump folks and Brexit folks are trying to share?  (If it is, please pick a more honest, respectful, and better informed spokesperson next time.  I simply cannot promote a nationalism that exalts a figure that represents to me everything crass, ugly, and materialistic about America.)  If it’s not, should it be?

I grew up as a white kid in Taiwan for the first 18 years of my life.  In Taiwan, it’s really hard to become a citizen, even though I was born there and lived there so long.  A foreigner is not even allowed to buy land and the government spent considerable sums of money on promoting local culture. I assumed that is what nation-states did.  When I came to America, I was surprised to learn about what seemed to me an immense double standard.  I wasn’t surprised that the rest of the world had that double standard–the default disgust mechanism against the loud and powerful is understandable–but Americans themselves had it too.  Many seemed fine with decisions of other countries to protect their own way of life, such as how Vietnam actively discouraged  American-style burgers and fast-food chains in Saigon, but if New York State outlawed burritos, that would have been interpreted as racist.  That doesn’t seem fair to me (or racist, but that’s another post).  While in Taiwan, I also adopted a Chinese name to use with locals.  This was expected of me and I was fine with it.  How could I expect them to remember or pronounce such foreign syllables?   But when I came to the U.S., I assumed that it would work here the other way.  Often it did, often it didn’t, but what was interesting to me was the posture of the Americans I knew, who did not feel comfortable encouraging foreigners to adopt local names.

So is our future a world of states or nation-states?  I’m not sure what the future holds or even what I would wish for.  Both paths seem enlightened in their own way, as long as both firmly resist the old philosophy of the “Right to Oppress.”  Both present starkly different versions of the future that make me excited that I get to live for the next 50 years (hopefully) to find out what happens.

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I was born in Taipei, Taiwan.  My Mommy and Daddy loved me and named me Jeremy.  But that is a super foreign sounding word in Taiwan, so I took a local name too that was easier for locals to remember and pronounce.  It seemed helpful and appropriate to me and I figured that’s the way it worked everywhere.  So it feels strange that I haven’t been able to find an English-speaking culture where the members would feel comfortable having the same expectation of Taiwanese long-term residents that the Taiwanese had of me.  It’s not racism.   It’s just hard to make friends and influence people if they can’t say your name.  


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I also lived in Hong Kong for a while.  My brother (right) still lives there with his family.  Last time my wife and I went to visit, there was a Chinese traditional opera that was performing in the local square.  Apparently the troupe travels around Hong Kong performing for local communities at the public expense.  America certainly does some things that are somewhat similar (e.g. the Smithsonian), but nothing comes to mind quite like that.   Sometimes I wonder about why.  

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In Trump’s World—But Not of It

The morning after the election, I sat down to work, and couldn’t concentrate. Like millions of Americans, I felt strangely ill.  Like fewer Americans, I processed my emotions via essay-writing.  It’s about why this particular election result hurts so stupidly much, and what we can do about it.

Why listen to me?  I’m a politics and history nerd, but no expert.  Mainly, I consider myself a bridge between the Ivy League and rural/small town America. To the former group, I’m too conservative. To the latter, too liberal.  (I’m guessing I’m a centrist Democrat.) I hope these reflections will help Democrats understand themselves and Republicans how to deal with us. To the latter, you will disagree with many premises, but I’m not trying to persuade you.  This post is reflective.  I’m describing what I think is our common dilemma.

For as long as I’ve known who Trump was, I thought he was a buffoon representing everything that was awful about America: wealth, trophy wives, bullying, reality television, loudness, entrepreneurship that feels like scams, sue-happy, uneducated, and self-important.  So, of course, this election result is an unreal-for-the-love-of-god-pinch-me nightmare, but what makes it special? I’m weirdly affected by this. After staying up until 3:30AM to find out Trump won, I could not fall asleep until 8:30AM. Why did I suddenly tear up in the shower this morning? Why do I go to bed each night thinking about it? Why do I care this much? I’ve never done this.

Let’s get some things out of the way: History nerds everywhere can cite a few reasons to not be too too upset. First, regarding the end of the world, be of good cheer. The Republic will stand. We’ve survived worse (e.g. Fascism, Andrew Johnson, the Civil War, the Cold War, etc.). Though the man is much, he is not totally incompetent. That much is obvious. Second, is this a step backwards? Of course! But I remain completely convinced that the arc of history is towards progress and big steps backwards are nothing new. For example, immediately following the Civil War, there were numerous African Americans elected to public office in the South before they disappeared for a century. Our setback yesterday is major and serious, but it is not a precious or unique snowflake. Third, by historical standards, our current problems are small. This is arguably one of the best times in our history to make a stupid presidential choice. Lastly, though shocked by the result of this election and my predictions being so wrong about it, I’m not shocked that we were shocked. Upsets are nothing new. Truman 1948, anyone?

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In 1948, FDR was dead, Truman was up for re-election, WWII was over, and the Democratic party, which had been in power for 16 years, was split three ways, with fringes on both ends mounting independent bids. Everyone thought that if the Republican nominee, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, was cautious and made no mistakes, he would win for sure. The Chicago Tribune even printed their papers before full results were in. But everyone was wrong.

Let’s get the demographic determinism out the way too: I’m very white, very man, very heterosexual, and very safe all around. I have great health care through my employer. I have job security. I’m not afraid of being deported or otherwise being personally impacted in some specific way.

Let’s get the policy out of the way too: a great many people are posting that this election being tragic because of what it means for the environment, foreign policy, immigration, taxes, gender equality, you name it. But, painful as it may be, “this is (exactly) what democracy looks like.” Losing any election entails direct hits to policies and issues you care about. Nope! That’s not what makes this election result special.

So what is it? The diagnosis of my malaise, and I suspect of Democrats across the country, is much more simple, immediate, and personal. We are in a moral dilemma and don’t know how to move forward with integrity. We have two competing values. They put us in a bind. It’s new to us. It’s confusing. It’s what makes this especially hard.

On the one hand, we believe in respecting the will of the people. We believe in coming together. We believe that, in a democracy, sometimes you lose. We believe that we are Americans first and Democrats second. This drives me to embrace the winner on the other side. I’ve lived long enough to know that, in my own life, this drive is real and not lip service. For example, at the start of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I (with Hillary) supported W. I figured he was President, he was in the best position to make this hard choice, and we should follow his lead. Though it ended up being the wrong choice, I don’t regret my inclination to be supportive. Knee-jerk antagonism towards our leaders is a failure of patriotism, regardless of who is in power. Even if we see the opposing winning candidate as having no experience, the wrong policies, little knowledge, poor wisdom, and a bad temperament, our civic duty remains clear: respect the people’s choice. Elections matter and they should alter our attitudes. This is what Trump said the first night, and what Clinton and Obama said the first morning.

But I’m not feeling it. Why? Because elections don’t and can’t change my sense of right and wrong. Morality stays the same. For example, calling people names is not OK with me, and never will be. Discriminating on the basis of religion is not OK with me, and never will be. Sexual assault is not OK with me, and never will be. Not being committed to the peaceful transfer of power unless you win is not OK with me, and never will be.

These sorts of moral issues, you might say, our first-order concerns. Though I care enormously about experience, policy, knowledge, wisdom, and temperament, these are “just” second-order issues. I expect election results that go the other way to be painful on any or all of these points. What makes this election result so hard is that many of us have never dealt with first-order concerns before and don’t know how. I guess I didn’t think I’d ever have to. Unlike some other Dems maybe, I could have fairly easily united behind McCain, Romney, and clearly did for W. These people were obviously fundamentally decent human beings. I can’t stress this enough: McCain and Romney are good people.

But Trump is not. I’m sorry. I want to unite! But this is one those Martin Luther “here-I-stand-and-can-do-no-other” sort of things. I can’t both embrace the “let’s unite” instinct and also see myself as a good person. Many Democrats, myself included, have not been lying when saying for months that Trump is a different sort of Republican in our eyes. I think we used words like “temperament” and “unfit for office,” but what we have really meant is that our honest opinion is that he’s a deeply immoral human being and that we would be unable in good conscience to be supportive.

So, where does that leave us? Civil war? Obviously not. Nothing remotely that drastic. At the moment, three things are clear:

First, Trump won an open and free election. Violence is not justified at all. I went to a protest last night in Philadelphia and found myself disgusted and alienated by “not my president” chants. He is my president—for all of us. To reject this decision is to reject democracy. Like it or not, the Trump/Tea-Party/former-but-really-still-a-little-birther wing of the Republican Party is stunningly triumphant. They won fair and square. Seriously, I would personally enlist and fight in a war to defend this national choice. Trump is our legitimate President. That must be accepted and supported.

Secondly, we must not light the house on fire to burn Trump. After Obama won in 2008, Republicans did this to Obama. For example, Obamacare, very similar to plans proposed by Gingrich and implemented by Romney, was designed to work through and expand the private insurance industry. Of course, there was room for criticism—that’s necessary and helpful—but none for demonization, lies, “death panels,” etc. So, yes, let’s work with President Trump to get as much done as possible. We can’t help others less for the sake of soothing our own self-righteousness or gaining political advantage by denying Trump political victories. We must be bigger. I’m glad to see Warren and Sanders make statements to that effect.

Lastly, and I’ll get to details on how we might do this in a second, we absolutely must deny Trump any claim to moral leadership. He’s an immoral man and we have to say it, and keep saying, to our kids, outsiders, and each other. Why exactly? Many reasons.

The biggest one: we cannot allow morality to be redefined for the next generation. We must tell our kids that it’s not OK to be a bully. We must tell our less-than-large breasted daughters that they are beautiful. We must tell our sons it’s not OK to insult a woman’s looks (or anyone’s looks for that matter). We must tell our kids its not OK to lie to get ahead in life. We must tell our kids that apologizing is a sign of strength, not weakness. We must tell our kids that its not OK to view people that look different than you as worse than you. We can’t budge on this.

More practically, we must distance ourselves for the sake of stopping violence against Americans abroad. One of the things that annoys many Americans about Muslims is that they spend too little time and energy condemning fringe elements that call themselves Muslims who support terrorism. Of course, the analogy is far from perfect in both directions (Trumpism is definitionally not fringe; his immoral behavior is nothing in comparison to terrorists). Still, a broad point stands: without Muslims seeing Americans very active in condemning the immoral behavior of other Americans, they will assume they condone it to some degree. In particular, the Trump win represents a stunning recruiting opportunity for ISIS. This logic has not changed. His election confirms their suspicions that Americans are ignorant, loud, immoral, bullies, whose religion is fame, wealth, and worldly pleasures. The brief inter-culturalism of Barack Hussein Obama can be construed as an aberration. We must do whatever we can, therefore, to isolate Trump as a moral leader and any claim to representing American values. (In fact, Trump might make a speech to that effect and pacify a few people.)

And let’s not focus only on enemies. Canadians, Europeans, Mexicans and others are freaking out. Some of them Trump has openly insulted and threatened. In particular, we must tell the Mexican people that we are ashamed of Trumps comments and policies. We have to assure them that, despite losing this election, he doesn’t speak for all of us.

We must also tell the world that it’s not OK to lie about elections being rigged as a tactic for winning them, seek to jail political opponents (or give the impression that that is appropriate), or malign judges for personal expediency. That’s the strategy of 3rd world dictatorships and threatens to undermine peace and order.

Finally, we we need to affirm our moral code to each other, to people within our country that are afraid, and anyone afraid or happy that there is a new standard for what is right and wrong. There’s not.

So how do we reject Trump as a moral leader? It’s starts by being moral ourselves and accepting the election results. But it must include some ongoing form of visible protest that the world can see everyday. What exactly? We #neverTrump people will continue to reflect on how to do this. As I’ve said, moderates like me are new to more extreme political action and need time to figure it out. However, a few ideas are emerging.

First, screw snarky tweets, angry Facebook posts, or being passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive dicks to our friends and family for four years. We can do things more helpful to others and ourselves.

One thing we must do is draft a moderate declaration that condemns some of Trumps worse behaviors, articulates moral values, and gets 50 million signatures. That’s a start.

A second thing we can do, and this one excites me, is commit to a visible and non-violent four-year Trump protest. It’s purpose? Remind ourselves and each other of the simple point: we are in Trump’s world, but not of it.

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Paul wrote his most seminal, intentional, and structured epistle to the Romans, the most dominate (and some thought decadent) nation on earth. He gives an exhortation on how to live in their world.

Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.  (Romans 12:2)

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  (1 John 2:16)

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God.  (1 Peter 2:11-12)

For me, the Christian teaching “Be in the world, but not of it,” expresses exactly my belief that Trump is both legit Caesar and legit unethical, and I won’t conform.

So what do we do exactly for our four-year protest? Ideally, all of us would do the same thing. Wear black? Too sad. Arm bands?  Too fascist. We also want to draw attention, but not so much it defines life. It should be inexpensive, not time-consuming, and easy as possible to implement as we’ll have to do this a lot. What should we do?

One thing that spread after Brexit was wearing safety pins as a sign to refugees, minorities, and other groups afraid and facing increased rates of assault. The message was simple: you are safe with me. I’m surprised by how much I like this. It’s simple, beautiful, and inexpensive. I also love it’s not just anti-something. But there’s 2 small problems. First, it’s not as visible as we’d like: it would be impactful if we could see them everywhere on a busy street. Second, it takes work, even if it’s just a tiny thing. People would have to pin them to their shirts everyday, and I would just forget about them, wash them, and ruin my shirts. I’m ethical and all, but there are limits.

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The safety pin protest is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about and it’s already picking up steam.

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This is a selfie of my wife she just put on Facebook. Her caption: I am a safe place. #safetypin #ally In the words of my dear friend, Brent Chamberlain, I wear this pin “to represent safety not just for the minorities with whom I feel solidarity, but also the majority whose too-often legitimate feelings of fear have led to this climate. No one is alone, not the steelworker in Ohio, nor the child of illegal immigrants in New York.”

I love it though. If that’s what we all decide to do, count me in! I’ll wear my ruined shirts with pride. However, I’m toying around with something else: pink socks–they always change the world. Seriously, I want to buy 25 pairs of bright pink socks and wear them for 1,460 days; from January 20, 2017 until January 20, 2021. I think this strikes that balance of visible but not too visible. I’d also actually do it (just put your other socks away). It’s a tad pricey, but it’s also not wasteful. I’d get four years of sock use! Anyway, I’m not ready to commit to it, but the point is “Do Something!” All of us in this ethical dilemma must express that we are both in Trumps world but not of it. If you are doing something else, I’d love to hear about it! Maybe we can all do your idea! For me, I picked pink partly because it’s distinctive, but mainly because I think women and girls are doubly hurt by this election, and it breaks my heart.

Finally, on the right or left, if you are distraught by this election, if you see productive public discourse as important, if you are depressed, if you feel the need to act right now but don’t know what could possibly do any good, there actually is something concrete you could do in the next five minutes.

Search for Common Ground is the largest dedicated peace-building non-profit in the world. They work in 49 countries on everything from high-level diplomacy to community engagement. One thing I love is that they set up discussion groups between individuals of opposing political and ethnic groups and mediate weekly discussions over 10 weeks that cover increasingly divisive topics. This shit changes lives. Unfortunately, they have virtually no grassroots presence in the United States. Why? Money. Yay! A solvable problem! Go donate $10. It will help America heal and help you feel better. It did for me. Also, I’ve got science: we know that supporting causes you care about contributes to mental health. Seriously, you’ll feel better.

My goal in this essay was to articulate what makes this election result especially upsetting for me and others, and what we might do about it. I wanted to close, however, with an apology to Republicans.

I’m super angry with you, don’t get me wrong. Policy aside, you forced an immoral person on all of us. Really? Kasich would have killed you? I’m super pissed at you. However, however, however, I’m also painfully aware that, had the election gone differently, many of you, policy aside, would feel the same about Hillary.  I apologize for forcing you to decide between someone you found morally reprehensible and Donald Trump. It was wrong of us.  I’ve realized we shouldn’t want nominees with cross-party appeal for only electability reasons. We want them for wellbeing reasons. Good rule of thumb for future primaries: If my guy wins, will the other side hate their lives for four years? This time, it’s moderate Dems like me who feel ethically bound to purse new and radical things like four-year protests. Next time, it might be you. Moving forward, I hope to be more like we were in 2008 and 2012, and nominate people universally acknowledged as morally upright to champion our different views.  Lesson (painfully) learned.

In future posts, I hope to get into more details about the ramifications of this win, why it happened, and process what it might mean for the future. There’s a lot of reflecting to do! Also, I’m a guest blogger on Huffington Post now, so feel free to make suggestions about how to make this better and shorter for that venue.  Thanks!

Disclosure: I have a super big conflict of interest about Search. My wife works there and I will do whatever’s neccessary to get into her pants. Please note: she’s super talented and could work anywhere, but she chose Search because she believes in it. I also know the organization pretty well and I think it’s a good one (and I’m a serious non-profit snob). Seriously, go donate $10. You’ll feel better.


What Reality are Trump People Living In?

If you are anything like me, you don’t quite understand what to make of the Trump phenomenon.  Sure Hillary is winning, but what is more interesting to me is that over a third of Americans still plan to vote for this guy.  Why?  I’m bored with demonizing Trump and Trump supporters.  I want to understand the world they are seeing because I don’t get it.

As luck would have it, I happen to be a researcher at Penn who studies the impact of primal world beliefs, which are beliefs about the nature of reality writ large such as “the world is fascinating.”  Primals are the most super simple, essential, and general beliefs we have.  As of a few months ago, we can now measure 28 primals (yay!).  To give away the results, 24 of them mostly collapse into three big ones (Safe, Enticing, and Alive) and these in turn collapse into 1 big one (Good, defined hedonistically).  Currently, I’m trying to publish all these measures and look at psychological correlates (super happy…lots of big effect sizes and highly significant findings… primals predict depression, wellbeing, life satisfaction, etc.), but I had some data on current politics and, in this season of absurdity, I thought some people might find it interesting.  I’m also learning how to report and conduct these analyses, so it’s good practice. What follows is a summary and an appendix with all the numbers.  Keep in mind that all findings below come from one online sample of 533 people [so place grain of salt here].  Eventually, I plan to publish a peer-reviewed journal article with much of this information.

What reality are Republicans and Democrats living in?

So I had this fantastic theory that Republicans would see the world as way more dangerous than Democrats.  I though that might explain Republicans’ “irrational” a) fear of criminals which manifests as interest in law and order and support for mandatory minimums, b) fear of ISIS, c) fear of Mexicans, d) fear of people coming to take their guns, e) fear of government, and f) fear of out-group members generally.  At their last convention, and indeed for every single Republican debate, it seemed like candidates were always trying to out-terrorize each other (“No, I understand the great peril we are in!”…”No, no.  I understand it better.”)

However, this theory was wrong.  True, Republicans see the world as slightly more dangerous, but way less than I thought.  It’s a small relationship.

Furthermore, both parties see the world as about more or less equally good, revolving around them, abundant, acceptable, beautiful (Dems were slightly higher), changing, pleasurable, improvable, improving (Dems were slightly higher), interesting, meaningful, needing them, fragile, understandable, and against them.  There were so many similarities!

Ok.  So where do they differ?  Republican reality differs from Democratic reality in 9 ways, 4 small, 4 medium, and 1 big.  Let’s get the small ones out of the way first.

  • On average, Democrats see the world as less competitive.  That is, on average, their honest opinion is that collaboration, and not competition, makes the world go round.  In turn, this would make sense of why Republicans tend to see Democrats as more naive “kum-by-ya-ists,” and Democrats tend to see Republicans as more merciless cutthroats.
  • On average, Republicans see the universe as more atomistic while Democrats tend to see the universe as more of an interconnected whole.  Perhaps this helps Clinton’s slogan of “Stronger Together” have traction among those with a worldview in which deep interconnection and cooperation is more of a felt reality.  Perhaps this allows the issue of climate change to find more fertile ground among Democrats.

I predicted the two above.  They make sense of Republicans emphasizing free markets and American exceptionalism, among other things.  I did not predict the two below:

  • On average, Dems see the world as more funny.  Republicans tend to think that funny things are fewer and farther between.  I wonder if this partly explains why virtually all comedians and entertainers are Democrats.
  • One of the primals I measured is what I call “Characterizable.”  Basically, do you think the world has an overall nature or not?  On average, Republicans tend to think it has a nature while Democrats do not.  Again, however, these are all fairly small differences.

Moving on to the 4 differences that are a bit bigger:

  • On average, Republicans see the world as more alive, which means they see the universe as more imbued with intention and that the world is interacting with them personally.  However, these sorts of views correlate with increased religiosity, so I’m not sure if seeing the world as alive is relevant to political views or just a side effect of religion.  My intuition says it’s probably more of a side effect, so I don’t talk about it as much in the analysis below.
  • On average, Republicans see the world as less worth exploring.  This is essentially a gut level sense of return on investment for the worthwhileness of exploring or learning more about any given thing, place, or person.  Democrats do not necessarily actually explore their worlds more; it just means that they think most everything is more likely to be worth exploring.
  • On average, Republicans see the world as more just.  Does the arc of life trend towards justice.  Does life find a way to reward those who do good and punish those who do bad?  Is the world a place where working hard and being nice pays off?  Republicans tend to say ‘Yes,’  and Democrats say ‘No.’

    Demi are top. Reps are bottom.

    Dems (top) tend to see reality as unfair and Republicans (bottom) tend to have the honest opinion that life will find ways to reward those who work hard and help others.

  • Finally, the second biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans live in a reality marked by decline, and Democrats think the world is getting better.  On the one hand, this makes sense of why such vague rhetoric as “We don’t win anymore” appeals to Republicans and not Democrats, because even though it’s a super vague statement, it corresponds to a primal world belief that distinguishes these groups.  On the other hand, this distinction between Reps and Dems might be to some degree an artifact of who’s in the White House.  I imagine that when Bush was in charge, Republicans might have seen the world as in less decline and Democrats’ views would have changed a bit too.  Still, I doubt this distinction would disappear.

All this, however, except for decline, is relatively small potatoes.  Let’s talk about the biggest difference, because it both makes sense and doesn’t make sense: hierarchical.  

hiear

Democrats are on top, and Republicans are below. As you can see, despite plenty of overlap between the two groups, there is a striking difference.

What the hell does “hierarchical” mean?  Out of all the primals we have identified, this one is the least intuitive.  For me, it was also super fun to see it “pop” in relation to politics because Hierarchical wasn’t related to depression, anxiety, optimism, curiosity, income, education, or really any of the other variables I looked at.

The “hierarchical” primal concerns the nature of differences.  Namely, does difference imply that something is better or worse?  For those who believe that reality is hierarchical, if two things are different that usually implies that one is better than the other.  Likewise, for those who see reality as nonhierarchical, differences are likely surface and meaningless distinctions and probably distractions.  Under the latter view, any attempt to organize the world into “better” or “worse” things will either fail or be inaccurate and superficial.  However, for folks who see the world as hierarchical, most things can be fairly usefully ranked and ordered from better or worse.  This includes objects, from knives to landscapes, and people, from individuals to ethnic groups.  The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans, on average, see the world as more hierarchical, or, to put it a different way, Democrats gloss over differences.

Are Trump supporters particularly strange Republicans?  

In a nutshell, no.  Trump people, as opposed to old Cruz and Kasich people, as well as independents, are fairly similar on every primal except 4.  Trump supporters out-Republican their Republican peers by seeing the world as even more Alive, Just, and  Hierarchical.  Also, Trump people think the world isn’t changing quite as much.

just2

All Republicans/independents on top. Trump folks on the bottom.

So what does this all mean? 

I’ve been trying to wrap my head arounds what this means, but it is starting to make some sense.  I’d love input:

  • Those who see the world as hierarchical and just will tend to assume in small ways that successful people are better people.  This suggests susceptibility to infatuations with billionaires.
  • If we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then political correctness appears foolish.  PC culture is a real problem because it glosses over differences that really matter.  This might explain a deep frustration on the Right about political correctness that the Left just doesn’t get.
  • I’ve often been confused by why Americans need to talk about their country like it’s the best country in the history of the world.  But, if we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, and America is the most powerful country in the world, then it stands to reason that America is also the best.  It would feel false to say, “America is unique” without also saying, “America is the best.”
  • If we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then we will have more difficulty mixing with and including out-groups.  Obviously, hispanic or African American culture is different than the culture of small-town white America where, according to Haidt, sanctity concerns matter more.
  • Jon Haidt identifies 5 political values: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, & sanctity/degradation.  Democrats score higher on two–care and fairness–while Republicans score more equally on all of them.  It may be useful to understand how primals interact with these values.  For instance, if, like many Republicans, you see the world as more just, then pursuing fairness should be less of a priority.  Likewise, if you see the world as hierarchical, then it is natural to value authority and submit to it.  Indeed, investigating the relationship between the values and primals of political ideologies could be a fascinating line of research.
  • The difference between Dems and Reps regarding Worth Exploring may be merely a manifestation of the much bigger difference on Hierarchical.  For Dems, the tendency to assume that differences don’t speak to value may be a tendency to gloss over differences in how worth exploring things are too.  In turn, for Republicans, seeing the world through the lens of rankings and hierarchies can’t allow every thing to be equally interesting because some things got to be boring.
  • Finally, the very definition of conservatism entails conserving something.  This is not an urgent priority for someone who sees reality as improving.  But, if the world is going to the dogs, then we need to hold on to the more just hierarchy of yesterday.

Ok.  Pretending this makes sense for a second, where do these primals come from?  

We don’t know.  I speculate that they come from many sources, including religion and numerous life experiences.  But what seems promising for explaining Hierarchical is simply where one lives.  Ask yourself, if you wanted to design an intervention that encouraged people to see the world as less hierarchical, what would you do?  Well, we would want to expose people to many different types of people and things that were quite different from each other, but not necessarily better or worse.

Where better to do that than in cities?

With all the talk about red and blue states, we forget that the political divide in America is likely better described as the rural-urban divide.  Check out the map below of the 2012 presidential election results by county.  You will find, of course with plenty of exceptions, that rural areas are red and urban areas are blue.  For instance, Oregon is a reliably blue state, but what’s really happening is that a redder countryside surrounds Portland and Eugene.  In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Erie, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Allentown, and Harrisburg are blue dots in a mostly red state.  In Texas, Dallas (up there on its own), Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Beaumont are particularly striking.  This seems to hold for Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and others.  Of course, there are plenty of exceptions.  If I remember correctly, Oklahoma City is particularly conservative.

2012-usa-election-map-by-county-nyt

In other words, belief that the world is nonhierarchical could be a side-effect of urban life.

Could Democrats or Republicans use my data to help win this election or future elections?  

I think so, but should we?  Full disclosure: as a missionary kid who grew up overseas and is quite intercultural, I see the world as deeply nonhierarchical.  Adopting the lens of hierarchy does not come naturally to me, and of course I’m very much a fan of making everyone more like me.  Woohoo! Let’s do it!  Further, as a scientist, we’ve discovered no evidence so far that seeing the world as hierarchical helps or hurts wellbeing that much (though that’s not saying much… we’ve just started looking at this).

However, for a Democrat, I’m also a bit of an outlier on the belief that the world is just.  I tend to assume that life finds ways to reward those who work hard and do good.  As a scientist, I should note too that belief in a just world is the most studied primal to date.  It is connected to wellbeing, being more productive, being kinder to those around you, and numerous other good things.  Unfortunately, it’s also tied to blaming victims for their misfortunes, whether the victim is poor, sick, or disenfranchised.

What about Decline?  Way before I got into primals, and as a history super nerd (seriously friends, audiobooks and lectures on history are almost exclusively what I listen to in my spare time; I’m currently working through 3 books on medieval England), I have had a strong view that the world, in almost every way, is improving.  For example, Harvard’s Steven Pinker makes a case that violence has declined over human history.  Reasonable people can disagree, however, including Democrats like my wife, who happens to be much smarter than I am!

So, though I’m personally not down for changing Just beliefs, I could get excited about changing Declining and Hierarchical.  For the former, I would suggest that, in school, we study social history more and the history of those in power less.  Much of the improvements across the ages have been in such things as health, how we treat the mentally ill, women’s rights, human rights, legal systems, etc.  In my view, the facts speak for themselves (but that, I suppose, is how all of us think about all of our primals).

For Hierarchical, the big trick, as implied above, seems to me to be exposure.  One could seek to expose individuals to very different people, places, and things.  The logic being that this is why going to college, immersive overseas travel experiences like the Peace Corps, and moving to big cities tends to manufacture liberals (nothing new here).  These sorts of activities expose us to gays, jews, jesuits, rich, homeless, etc.  They become our friends, and we realize that the differences between us are very visible and fairly superficial. Who knows?  Maybe the DNC should think about supporting reality TV shows like Wife Swap (I’ve never seen it).

Finally, assuming we (Democrats) want to get more Republicans to vote for Hillary by capitalizing on primals already in place–to appeal to primals for political purposes without changing them–it seems that the Clinton folks were right to seize on how the Trump convention was pessimistic about America and then, at the Democratic convention, do more than the usual “America is the best” fanfare.  In other words, in order to appeal to those who see the world as more hierarchical, just, and in decline, it may be useful to be seen, to some degree, as the party of and celebrating the successful in-group.  I’m not sure if it’s worth it though.  It could alienate all those Dems who see the world as unjust and nonhierarchical.

In the meantime, I think it is important to not be condescending.  My original hypothesis had been that Trump people are essentially scared children, and that drove them, their politics, and their party into the arms of a demagogue.  This paternalistic theory was wrong.  The major difference between me and Trump supporters is more interesting and, hopefully, more useful.

Appendix

  • On average, Republicans see the world as a tad more dangerous.  There’s a small difference between Republicans (M=2.31, SD=.96) and Democrats (M=2.53, SD=.92), but it’s barely significant t(321)=1.96, p=.05; g=.24.
  • On average, Republicans see the world as more Alive than Democrats (M=2.69, SD=.76; M=2.42, SD=.86; t(321)=-2.67, p=.008; g=.32).  This means they live in a reality more imbued with purpose and intentionality (M=2.63, SD=.91; M=2.2, SD=1.01; t(321)=-3.7, p=0.0003; g=.45).
  • On average, Republicans see the world as more easy to characterize than Dems (M=2.86, SD=.72; M=2.55, SD=.74; t(321)=-2.36, p=.019; g=.29).
  • On average, Dems see the the world as less competitive than Republicans (M=2.74, SD=.9; M=2.5, SD=.9; t(321)=2.2, p=.029; g=.27).
  • On average, Dems see the world as more funny than Republicans (M=2.88, SD=.91; M=2.66, SD=.93; t(321)=1.99, p=.047; g=.24).
  • On average, Dems see reality as more interconnected (M=.303, SD=1; M=2.74, SD=.91; t(321)=2.43, p=.016; g=.29).
  • The 2nd biggest difference is that, on average, Republicans see the world as more just (M=.2.58, SD=.84; M=2.86, SD=.93; t(321)=-2.78, p=.0057, g=.34).
  • When it comes to primals, the biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that whereas Republicans on average see reality as full of things that are meaningfully distinguishable from each other, Democrats tend to see all differences as not better or worse, but just different (M=2.73, SD=.82; M=2.17, SD=.91; t(321)=-5.23, p<.0001, g=.63).  You can think of this as “hierarchical.”  Republicans on average see hierarchy as more natural.  Everything is different from each other in ways that can make the object or person truly better or worse.  Democrats see hierarchy as more unnatural because the differences between things are not typically good or bad.
  • On average, Democrats see the world as more worth exploring (M=3.35, SD=.8; M=3.05, SD=.1.16; t(321)=2.8, p=0054, g=.34).
  • On average, Republicans tend to see the world as in decline (M=2.66, SD=1.32; M=2.12, SD=1.15; t(321)=-3.73, p=.0002, g=.45).
  • Compared to other Republicans/independents, Trump supporters see the world as equally good, safe (not even a little different), enticing, scarce (not even a little different), acceptable, beautiful, characterizable (Trump people see the world as slightly more characterizable), competitive (Trump people see the world as slightly more competitive), pleasurable, funny, improvable, improves, interesting, interconnected, meaningful, needs me (Trump people think the world needs them a little bit more), fragile, harmless, understandable, worth exploring, against them, and declining.
  • On average, Trump people see the world as even more Alive (M=2.69, SD=.76; M=2.38, SD=.91; t(303)=-2.94, p=.0036; g=.36).  And thus even more intentional (M=2.77, SD=.91; M=2.4, SD=1.12; t(303)=-2.9, p=.004; g=.36) and about them (M=2.22, SD=.84; M=1.96, SD=.83; t(303)=-2.57, p=.011; g=.31).
  • On average, Trump people see the world as even more hierarchical (M=2.62, SD=.9; M=2.31, SD=.9; t(303)=-2.85, p=.005; g=.35).
  • On average, Trump people see the world as even more just (M=2.77, SD=.94; M=2.54, SD=.93; t(303)=-1.99, p=.047; g=.24).
  • On average, Trump people don’t think the world is changing all that much (M=2.99, SD=.81; M=3.18, SD=.71; t(303)=2.12, p=.035; g=.26).

Note: After this post got approximately a bazillion more views than I expected (actually just 15,000), I thought I would double-check my analysis.  So, FYI, the above has been updated in light of a further review of effect sizes.