The American Divide

So every news junkie has been inundated with stories of what caused Trump to win, and how nearly all pundits and pollsters got the election so wrong.  The stories are usually about how the media elite stay within their coastal bubbles, and never get to see how the changing economy has affected those who voted for Trump.  And those that voted for Trump don’t realize that our society as a whole has improved considerably under democratic rule.  I’ve read a dozen stories talking about the divide between democrat vs republican, rich vs poor, urban vs rural, young vs old, and other versions of us vs them. They’re all wrong.

The problem is not that these are bad analyses.  Many of them are insightful and well-researched.    The problem is that these are neat and tidy stories that we’re trying to impose on a messy and complicated world.  We’re not capable of seeing reality as a whole, we can only focus on tiny parts, and even those we’re prone to misunderstanding.

The truth is that there is no divide within America any more than there’s a divide within each individual.

You can look at polls and cultural trends and come to almost any conclusion that you want.  You can also look at an individual’s history and believe whatever you want about them.  Am I a racist, an idiot, or a well-balanced genius?  It isn’t hard to find evidence for any conclusion about me, and I imagine that would be true for just about anyone else.  I personally know people who think I’m a selfless guy who’d give a homeless person my coat on a cold day.  I also know people who think I am among the worst people to ever live.  I honestly don’t know who’s right.  I’m not in a position to be an impartial observer.  No one is.

We impose stories on our world because we have to.  Because the world is too messy to fit into our relatively simple minds.  If our stories help us get through our day and pass on our genes, then they’re good stories.  Otherwise, they need improvement.  I would argue we don’t need to figure out why people do what they do.  That’s an impossible goal.  What we need to do is create a story that best helps us thrive, and whether or not that story reflects what is really going on is beside the point.  I want to create a story where we are all in this together.  Where we all want a planet that will provide for the billions yet to come, and everyone has the opportunity to grow and thrive as they see fit.  If we start from there, then we may have a shot at reaching it.  Starting with the narrative that it’s us against them, though, and we guarantee that someone is going to lose.

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