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Post-election perspective

November 09, 2016

The usually positive mood on campus is muted. Some of my students are very worried about the future; some have even shed tears and are feeling physically ill. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s good to take the full measure of these feelings and not minimize them. Be we can also walk through some of them for a bit of perspective.

Feeling like politics is hopeless? Like voting every four years doesn’t change anything? Remember that “politics” doesn’t equal voting. “Politics” covers a vast array of activities that certainly includes voting but is not restricted to it. You can keep doing politics, every day, at various levels of intervention. You don’t have to wait for elections to have a shot at a better world. You can get to work on your own workplace, school, neighborhood, city, province and country while progressive people in the United States do the same.

Feeling frustrated and angry with the everyday folks who swept Trump to power? Using words like “rednecks” to describe them even? Remember the capacity that common people have for political analysis and political invention. Remember their capacity for political genius, which has emerged in rare historical moments. Remember that it can be clouded and mobilized against its own interests by powerful people and the media. By all means hold Trump's supporter's accountable. But don’t give up on the poor.

Feeling like some people are now in a more precarious position on account of their race, their gender, their immigration status, their sexual orientation? Well let’s hope you’re wrong, though you’re probably right. Work to understand who’s vulnerable and why; take that seriously; listen to them and learn from them as to how you can help.

Feeling smug? That it can’t happen here? That Canadians are politically more cultured than our neighbours? Remember that Trump’s brand of negativity has its representatives in our own country. Remember Brexit, and the rightward lurch of European politics. Remember that whatever advantages we have over our neighbors can be lost, so they should be fought for and advanced.

Feeling happy, buoyed by the results? Then I beg to disagree with you and I invite you to enter the discussion in public ethics to challenge your point of view.



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Matthew McLennan      December 02, 2016 at 15:10
Thank you A-Marie for your thoughtful comment. I couldn't bring myself to pen anything uplifting, since I believe that would be dishonest, so the best I could muster was combative. But I like the way you've taken the election and drawn positive implications from it. I agree that the anti-elitist element was there, but I'm disappointed that it was so easily captured and corralled by bad analysis and hateful rhetoric. At the very least it indicates that people are not all apathetic, so there's a point where we could apply pressure as progressive educators and cultural workers. Like your other professors I would pull short of endorsing political competency requirements downstream, since in the world as we find it such a thing could be so easily manipulated to exclude e.g. educationally disadvantaged people. But upstream, at the level of public education for example, I'd heartily endorse the requirement that curricula be much more weighted to political science, civic responsibility, etc.
A-Marie      November 15, 2016 at 12:15
I was looking forward to your post-election blog post, but have to admit it is not particularly uplifting. I can’t blame you. As I am not happy with the results, I rephrased your question into finding positive outcomes for the sake of discussion:

1) The strong desire for elected officials to represent the people. Political elites tend to serve the system that elected them, and this is massively rejected. Political elites work, in some ways, against the nature of democracy. The fact that democracy can override elitism is a positive outcome. Now, I disagree with the choice. Trump, by his fortune, is certainly an elite and by no way represents the people.
2) The trend shows that democracy favors hope (any hope, even unreal hope) over reason. This could be viewed positively (and negatively too).
3) Over the years, I have (unsuccessfully) argued with many of my profs at USP in favor of a democratic system in which only competent people could vote. This was partly for the sake of challenging predominant ideas, but partly because I think the idea is worth being explored. Voting is a responsibility with consequences attached. One must be competent to participate in that decision making. Of course, the devil is in defining competency and avoiding some form of elitism (point 1 above). But there may be a window of opportunity for exploring this idea, at least academically.

Make no mistake, the results of these election have profoundly upset me. It is a chilling reminder that we are in a white male dominated world and that we still have not figured out how to collectively move forward while the world’s biggest challenges require global concertation.