A lot of ink and tears have been spilled since Tuesday’s election of Mr. Trump to the Presidency. I’ve been engrossed in the commentaries friends have posted on Facebook, and by opinion pieces in the papers– so many flavors of blame and panic to choose from. As if to underline the gravity of the situation, Southern California has been broiling in unprecedented mid-November heat wave. Climate change this week seems undeniable and irreversible, the forward march of equity that Trump’s defeat would have signaled feels like it is fleeing in balkanized retreat.
I think the multitude of explanations being provided in left-leaning media channels is reflective of the complex reality of factors that led to Trump’s election. The thing that seems less constructive to me is the tone of accusation that seems to increase the click and share-worthiness of the pieces in circulation. Introspection is merited, anger understandable, but many pieces after insightful and questioning introductions decay into accusatory punch lines, that I think work because the allow white liberals the catharsis of wallowing in our own shame.
The feeling of paralysis that takes hold when you feel ashamed is counterproductive in this moment. Maybe others are activated by that feeling, but I feel more inclined to retreat into the corner and lick my wounds. I don’t deny that the feeling of guilt I experience because of my whiteness isn’t good sensitivity training– after all, dealing with a feeling of ‘wrongness’ because of one’s race has been a persistent psychological burden of blackness since the founding of our country. I feel, though, that one of the hazards of our racialized discourse right now is that it feeds divisiveness at a moment when it is imperative for us to work together. We need to play the cards we are left with with cagey flexibility.
I’m going to join the chorus of voices that advocate for local action under these circumstances. We invested an awful lot of attention in the past four years in the election cycle. Come to think of it, we invest a lot of energy every two years in a national popularity contest that, if we are being honest, we have very little control over. This year I dragged my feet on paying attention to the presidential election for as long as possible. I don’t regret it. The outcome wouldn’t have changed if I had. Instead I (and a lot of dedicated people I know) worked on some of our local campaigns here in Los Angeles. I also think that our efforts in this were probably to small to make a difference… But maybe not, because each of these measures–including two tax measures that each requires 2/3 vote, passed. One of these measures will provide significantly more funding for transit, bike and walk facilities and operations. The other provides money for parks improvements. Collectively they endow climate resiliency and equity in a city better known for the inequities and indignities of it s auto-centric infrastructure. In the scope of national affairs our lives are small. If we give too much of our attention over to national discourse, we neglect all the important stuff in between where change really happens.
Local action can be political but also economic. The most rational and hopeful reason given for Trump’s victory was that his rhetoric tapped into the economic grievances of working class people. Though we can easily cast dispersion on the wisdom of electing a dishonest real estate mogul to the presidency to ‘bring back American jobs’, the despair that underpins this turn of events is real. It also transcends race. When nearly 27% of the male and female Latino voters vote for someone who is a notorious racist, it’s probably worth trying to get to the bottom of whatever is going on. Identifying that the current model of slash and burn capitalism has failed almost everyone is the easy part. Trying to figure out what, if anything, can be done to provide a livelihood and purpose for those left behind in our global ‘race to the bottom’ is the harder part. Here, again, I think that local approaches, especially if taken in mass will make the greatest difference. If we want to bring back jobs, we should buy products produced in an ethical way by companies that have adequate worker protections. These products will surely cost more money, and as we collectively earn less, we will be able to buy fewer things. This reasoned scale-back is perhaps the only alternative to a more pernicious collapse, which seems for all the world to be in its early stages.
I don’t propose these actions as an adequate surrogate to functional national policy, or that we need to organize a true left coalition in the wake of this election. These things need to happen also, and I will work where I am able to support these broader changes. But these national policies are only as functional and possible as people’s local experience makes them to be, and that local area of action is the only area where I feel any sense of efficacy at this juncture. When I started this blog in 2005, it was in response to the feeling of hopelessness I felt in the midst of the George W. Bush Presidency, the War on Terror, and the early sense of disaster looming in the wake of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ In some regard the ‘change a light bulb’ pacifism/ environmentalism of that moment seems like a placebo, but in another way, it continues to be the only light we are left with as we enter another dark time.