Game of Trumps

People are scared. This is what I have been hearing from my friends and neighbors this past week following the election of Donald J. Trump to be president of the United States. They are frightened, more frightened, the younger ones say, than they have ever been in their lives. They are frightened for their friends, frightened for our country, frightened for our world. I attended two discussions yesterday, one a panel at my Episcopal church, the other a meeting for the RCIA at the local Catholic church, and at both, people talked about being afraid, women and men, black and white. As the women spoke, their voices would typically get higher and higher, a little strained as their rhetoric became more expressive of the extreme anxiety they were feeling. One of the men, an academic colleague, could barely hold back his tears describing his response to the way the voting had gone.

At the Episcopal church, one woman other than myself spoke out for calm and the need to listen to why people voted in favor of Mr. Trump, but for the most part, the mood of the packed parish hall was one of barely constrained panic. The Catholics and potential Catholics sitting around the table in the faculty lounge were somewhat calmer, willing to grant that God may have plans for President-Elect Trump that they themselves could not discern, and we concluded our discussion with the extremely productive thought that perhaps what is called for now, rather than top-down governmental programs to take care of things, is more local engagements with charities and other social programs to which we feel drawn. (I think I may actually convert, what do you think?) But the fear remained: what is going to happen now?

Well, bluntly, we don't know, because we never know. As David Rubin tweeted on the night of the election, it isn't as if the media have a leg to stand on. Nor do my colleagues in academia including my friend at church, who confidently told me at the beginning of the summer that there was no way Trump could win. (It hurt my friend terribly to be so wrong, I know; writing about the presidency is what he does for a living. He looked worse than I do after losing a D-E bout to get into the finals after seeding in the top 8 out of the pools--wretched, the pit opening out before him in all its darkness.) There's a reason, after all, that fortune tellers--in the modern world, we call them "economists"--make so much more money than historians: everybody wants to know the future; it is easy (or, at least, it seems to be) to know the past.

What concerns me is the fear, particularly watching my friends and neighbors succumb to it. In large groups like we had in our parish hall, it is particularly infectious, when one speaker after another talks in low tones about the horrors just outside the door. In the smaller RCIA group, there was more of a chance to offer different interpretations of what our country lived through this past eighteen months. "I'm afraid," several of my new friends were saying. "But why?" I urged them to consider. "Why are you afraid?" Here's my take: both sides did it, both used fear to motivate their voters. The thing that my friends and neighbors here in Hyde Park seem to have a hard time realizing is that the other side might have fears, too. But all they see is their own. They are so afraid, in fact, that it is almost unbearable to them to consider that perhaps their fears might be overblown, never mind that they might be matched by the fears of those who voted for Mr. Trump rather than Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein. No, their fears are the authentic ones, the real ones, the thing our country has to be wary of.

Well, why? Why are their fears right and the other side's wrong? It is as if each is playing a game of trumps, convinced that only their fears matter. I confess, I fall more on one side of these fears that the other, but I do think I understand what my Hyde Park friends and neighbors are worried about. "What is the opposite of fear?," one of the women leading the RCIA group asked. We sat, not quite sure how to answer. One might say, love or hope. But my immediate thought is, name them. Name the fears, name the demons, and then maybe they will shrink back down to their proper size. Accordingly, a few names. Note how the demons all have their analogues on the Other Side.

1. Trump is going to trample on women's rights. I have seen this one expressed most often on my Facebook feed, particularly by my white women friends. Thanks to his comments on the bus, they are convinced he is a sexist misogynist who wants nothing more than to send women back to the kitchen, barefoot and perpetually pregnant. They are particularly worried about the effects that his Supreme Court appointment(s) might have on the ruling in Roe v. Wade. But on the other side, there are women (and men) who are worried about abortion, who consider it murder and want to protect the life of the innocent unborn. Nor is there any evidence that Trump does not think women capable of high pressure, high status jobs, for example, like running a presidential campaign (Kellyanne Conway) or heading a business (Ivanka Trump). Trump card: Murder.

2. Trump is going to deport illegal immigrants. Colleagues at my university are already up in emails about this fear, although Chicago at large is a sanctuary city. They are clearly envisioning large numbers of our students, who are presumably here on student visas, being rounded up and sent home simply for being foreigners.* Or maybe they are thinking about immigrants who work for the university as staff, although I do not know who those would be. This panic is even greater, it seems, than that about women's rights. But on the other side, which my Hyde Park neighbors seem incapable of hearing, are the fears expressed by those who live close to our nation's southern border and who are much more aware than I think my Chicago neighbors are of the murders and other violence taking place among the cartels on both sides of the border. My Chicago neighbors seem unwilling to distinguish between those in our country illegally who have committed violent crimes and the foreign nationals whom they teach in our courses, as if the two groups are somehow the same. And nobody, of course, will talk about the fears that many have of Islamic terrorists. Trump card: Crime and terrorism.

3. Trump is going to ruin the environment. My friends and colleagues almost to a person believe that the apocalypse is nigh and our climate is already damaged beyond repair. At least, I assume they do based on the way in which even those who are otherwise somewhat politically conservative blanch when I say, "Medieval warm period." But on the other side, which a few of my colleagues in Economics are still courageous enough to talk about, there are the concerns for the effects of global energy policies on the poor of the world, whose betterment depends on the availability of cheap, efficient, reliable energy, which only fossil fuels or nuclear reactors can provide. Trump card: Worldwide poverty.

4. Trump is dangerous to minorities. Because, of course, the only reason--as my friends and neighbors confidently insist--that anybody voted for him is because he and his supporters are racist. That is certainly what the priests at my church believe and insisted yesterday in their sermons and speeches. Dark times are coming, riots are guaranteed, and...no, wait, it is those who are protesting the results of the election that have taken to the streets, refusing to accept the structures of democracy according to which the United States--that is, the United States, all 50 of them--choose their leader. I have been posting articles on my Facebook wall all year offering other takes on why people might like the idea of making America "great again" that have nothing to do with racism, but this being the Great American Insult, once imputed, it tends to stick--like tar. Utterly ignored, by my priests as well as by my friends, are the effects on our country of insisting that America is "founded on racism." Plus, of course, the real effects of the protests mounted by Black Lives Matter as compared with the shootings that have taken out almost 700 Chicagoans in 2016 to date. Trump card: Loss of faith in America as a country.

5. Trump is going to abandon NATO. Many of my academic friends, most of whom have ties to Europe, are busily researching job opportunities overseas, but it is unclear what their fallback is going to be if NATO dissolves. They would seem to be afraid that Trump is going to surrender Eastern Europe to Russia, while at the same starting World War III, presumably with Russia, although why is unclear. This fear is difficult to reconcile with the ongoing insistence of many of my friends that the United States is and has been more often than not a bully who should stop sticking its nose in other people's business, although of course they would also seem to believe that it is America's responsibility to take care of the world, except that that would be imposing our values on other cultures. I'm not quite sure how to label this fear other than as "American exceptionalism, damned if you do, damned if you don't." On the other side, there is the fear of losing America's role as model for and protector of the free world, which those on the anti-Trump side would insist we should give up anyway since we aren't that great in the first place. Trump card: Loss of the free world.

6. Trump is going to ruin the economy. Paul Krugman was quick off the mark on this one, only to be proved wrong about the stock market within hours. Here is where I feel silliest, for signing that letter back in the day against our Economics faculty's plan to name its new institute in honor of Milton Friedman. Now I get it, and get particularly how poorly most academics understand economic history, never mind economic theory, although I am with Dierdre McCloskey on the temptations that economists face to become soothsayers. Scott Adams has done a wonderful job, I think, illustrating the nuttiness of supposing that a businessman whose business is buildings would be interested in destroying the economy supporting the construction of those buildings, but here those who are afraid have been nurtured for over two centuries on the evils of capitalism and the benefits of redistribution. At the very dawn of modern capitalism, it was already corrupt, captured by government bounties and restricted by tariffs. The demons are strong here on all sides, given that nobody, including the economists, has ever come up with a wholly convincing account of why the West enjoyed the Industrial Revolution that it did. Trump card: The economy is already ruined.

So who wins?

[*UPDATE: They are concerned about DACA students, too.]

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