I heard someone say once that enlightenment is a process of disillusionment. Certainly I feel disillusioned today. Everything is raw and painful, like an exposed nerve. For a brief moment it seemed like a better future was possible, that this was merely the beginning, that the seething masses of humanity might at last come to their senses, and step by step we would put ignorance, intolerance and greed behind us.
Now it’s clear that the dream was just that: a phantasm, an illusion. Outside of my safe sphere of friends, family and acquaintances, the same old hatreds were multiplying like a virus, like herpes, lying dormant until the organism was stressed, then erupting into painful, livid boils.
All the pundits and pollsters were wrong. I was wrong with them. And really, it makes me question everything we’ve heard about elections. Maybe the issues, all the fine moral distinctions and considerations of character, experience and record, simply don’t matter. Certainly they didn’t seem to matter this time around. By any measure, Hillary Clinton was better suited for the presidency. Every time I heard someone mention her emails, it only seemed to confirm this fact, by the absurdity of the comparison with Donald Trump’s innumerable lies, insensitivity, insults and personal scandals. “Grab ’em by the pussy!” But right, the emails were what was important.
They weren’t. They never were. They were, rather, a convenient handle upon which to hang one’s rationales for a decision made unconsciously, “in one’s gut.” As another aphorism goes, “How easy it is to find a stick, when one wishes to beat a dog!”
What’s obvious, now, is that the people who voted for Trump simply don’t care about the issues. The issues are utterly unimportant, because they are based upon reason, and these voters don’t care for reason. To the contrary, they vigorously assault it, they oppose it as a mortal enemy to their well-loved beliefs and prejudices.
What’s obvious, now, is that too many people are simply unwilling or unable to face the complex truths of our world. They are terrified of anything they do not understand, the great unknowns, the liminal zones, anything that lies beyond the borders of their comprehension. And concomitant with that terror is the desire for an all-knowing, all-powerful father figure to protect us, a god-king who promises that all will be well, so long as we trust in Him and bow to His rule.
If you consider it, it all makes perfect sense. Remember that a vast majority of voters still claim to believe in a personal God, and not just a nameless beneficent force, but a specifically male deity residing in some otherworldly plane. Having ceded one’s chances for spiritual salvation to Him, it’s a very short step toward seeking a corresponding terrestrial representative for one’s earthly advancement.
Hillary Clinton didn’t fail to meet America’s expectations of a presidential candidate. She failed to meet the expectations of a male ruler archetype passed down from the days of ancient Egypt. She failed by dint of being a woman, and that alone.
And when elections are seen in this light, did Barack Obama win because he made more sense than Mitt Romney? Or was it merely that he was a little taller, younger, more handsome and more muscular? Was it what he said, or merely that he said it in a deeper, more commanding voice? Did George Bush win because of a careful appeal to evangelicals, or because Al Gore’s eyes were a little too squinty? Is the ultimate presidential candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger minus the accent?
Maybe so. But recognizing that, we can leave it behind. We can accept that our leaders are only human – hair and bone and buttholes and all – and not any kind of savior. We can still vote – why not? – while also recognizing that we cannot rely upon government officials to create a more compassionate world. Indeed, we must see that these hierarchical systems are themselves often responsible for a great deal of the world’s pain, and look past them to create change in our own lives.
And the curious thing is, there is most often nothing really stopping us. There is no law against forming cooperatives; quite the contrary. There is no law against installing solar panels, or riding a bicycle, or giving time and money to a nonprofit organization. There is no law against saying hello to a neighbor, against inviting an acquaintance to a movie, against kindness, against open hearts and hands.
All that stands in the way are the obstacles within us: our ignorance of what needs to be done, our greed for possessions and security, our dislike of discomfort and things strange to us. These are the real barriers we face.
The illusion’s been torn away, again, and we see once more how far we have to go. But despairing of government, and of the limitations of others, also serves as a prod; and the decisions we make in our daily lives, I am convinced, have far greater impact than any vote.