A Path Forward After the Election

Last night, we saw one of the most shocking results in American democracy with the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. We’re shocked about how wrong the polling was. We’re shocked that the people of this country would elect Trump. But really, we’re shocked to learn that this country is not what we thought it was, and more specifically, that we as a people aren’t who we thought we were.

As the progressive movement has made tremendous advances over the past few years on gay marriage, universal health care, and more, we have distanced ourselves from the opinions of many people across this country. We have allowed righteousness and confidence in our worldview to scorn or ignore many people who feel left out of this movement. These changes have eroded trust in our government’s ability and willingness to reflect our beliefs and have a beneficial impact in the lives of regular Americans.

In defeat, our pride is hurt. We could dispute the mandate or election process. We could call others racists or sexists. We could reject Trump as being “our president” and spend the next 4 years trying to undo this election. We could retreat into our own separate spheres and ignore the wide differences in our political views.

Or we can use this moment to unite us. We can re-affirm our belief that this country is stronger together. We can harness the our shared identity and turn our empathy towards the half of the country that very clearly stated their problems and desire for change.

I am optimistic and believe this election can be a positive force in the progressive movement. Faced with the reality of how this country really feels across a swath of issues, this election can be a call for us to re-engage in civic life and create the change we want to see. I believe that our government and our institutions can and should create good, but they are only as strong as the trust and energy we put into them.

As I saw the election results develop over the course of the night, I simultaneously experienced 5 stages of grief. In the end, however, I realized that this country will endure. Through our faith in democracy, we have gone through 56 peaceful transitions and 1 very notable unpeaceful exception, and although it might be a statistical error, I’ll take those odds.

Maybe this country isn’t what I thought it was, and honestly, what democracy has revealed about who we are has me worried. However, that feeling and perception doesn’t have to define any individual or us collectively. Across every facet, this election has been about change. Let’s all be part of that change and remember that our identity isn’t defined by any individual, community, or state. No single person is American: together, we are Americans.

My DNC Speech Rankings

I didn’t watch much of the DNC live, but I have been catching up on YouTube. I won’t go so deep as to talk about the issues, but I had enough thoughts about the rhetoric that I figured I would offer up my rankings on the best speeches at the convention. Overall, I thought that they were generally pretty good. I was particularly impressed by the variety of topics and approaches across the speeches: I underestimated the number of appeals that they could make and how they could use different speakers.

Anyways, here were my rankings.

10. Corey Booker

Not a lot of emotional range in his speech: pretty much all of it was pretty equally intensely positive. I thought the structure of the speech was pretty clever in starting with an appeal to moral values and community. However, I don’t think he talked about it in a very accessible way (though maybe I was just getting bored because I had watched his speech after 3 others). At least he got the “we will rise” in there to get the crowd going.

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The 2 Great TV Contests of our Time (or at least the weekend)

Today was a day of watching heated contents with slim margins. Of the two, I’m vaguely familiar with one, and completely clueless but strong opinionated about the other. Let’s start with the one I”m more familiar with.

The NCAA tournaments for basketball are going on right now. Indeed, if you aren’t swept up in March Madness, you’re probably pretty normal. There’s a lot of hubbub about the tournament with many drawing up brackets and participating in big pools, but I haven’t met anyone so familiar with all of the match-ups to have put together a completely well-reasoned and researched bracket. Once past the top 30 teams or so, who really knows how Cornell or UNT did this season and what they’ll look like matched up a Kentucky? I can’t even imagine having followed all of the 64 teams up until now, which is likely why I haven’t participated enough to even get brackets put together.

That of course doesn’t keep fans from being entertained by watching the games. I didn’t know a one of the players I saw play yesterday, but by the end of each game, I was pulling for someone to win. You kind of have to have stakes in the game for watching to be any fun. In the end, you just kind of do some satisficing to figure out which team winning benefits you more and start screaming at the TV.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the tournament, though, is the underdog story. The charm of Northern Iowa beating Kansas (the #1 ranked team in the nation) was the fact that no one was paying attention. You can look at all the statistics and listen to all of the analysts, and no one is going to call that upset. But as they say, “That’s why they play the games.” At some point, all that discussion has to ground out in something happening. Besides, there’s just nothing like watching the lead change twice in the last 10 seconds to be capped off by a buzzer beater.

And on that note, I want to move on to the other great television spectacle: the House and health care. Now don’t run off in fear of this blog turning political: I’m too ignorant to offer anything substantial. I want to talk about its portrayal and why I was so entertained.

My mom, my sister, and I turned on the TV just before dinner to watch MSNBC when I got wind that the health care bill was going to the floor for debate. Frankly, I find a lot of the coverage not particularly interesting, but I came back in the middle of Nancy Pelosi’s speech to what was going on.

When they started counting votes, I was gripped. I mean, I knew nothing about the process,s the deals, the formalities, the motions, but the guy on MSNBC told me that exciting things would happen when that number got to 216, and I kept looking back at the NV column to guess how far away the House was from doing or not doing something. I certainly didn’t stand up and scream when they hit the magic number, but I could believe that someone on the planet did (likely a nerd wearing pajama pants, no less), and that’s a big deal.

I honestly didn’t wake up a happier person today because of the health care bill (though according to some, maybe I should have). For me, it was just a series of 3 15-minute contests where both sides were trying to have a higher total count on their side after months of work. And sure, the commentator can talk all he wants, but I can’t become an expert after watching for an hour or two. There’s just too much going on to understand, and I’m not nearly dedicated enough to follow all of the details and numbers for this to be a momentous occasion for me. I’m just as happy as anyone else to have watched a good show.

Musharraf

There’s the common perception that techies are somewhat spacey, unaware of what’s actually going on in the world. When programmers spend their time building artificial creations in virtual spaces, sometimes it’s hard to find the connection to the plight of the unemployed, or international conflict.

Which might be a little true of me. My google reader is filled with techie stuff, and my desperate attempt to stay relevant includes morning news digests from MSNBC, NYT, and the Toronto Star by email, and a constant backlog of the New York Times that I end up reading at all once on the weekends. I at least pretend to be well-read by keeping a vanity stack of newspapers in my dorm room:


Regardless, when I saw that Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, would be speaking on-campus, I knew enough to know that this was a big deal. That might be just from watching CNN in China because I had nothing better to do at that time, but I think that counts.

Musharraf is a particularly interesting speaker to have because he’s not very popular with the western media or people. On-campus speakers often fit the ideal American persona, having made a significant contribution to society that everyone recognizes. On the other hand, I don’t know if I agree with everything Musharraf has done. He came to power in Pakistan under dubious circumstances and has removed political opponents from office. But I think that makes him very interesting to listen to.

A lot of others students agreed, apparently, and the line in White Plaza on the first day was definitely one of the longest I’ve seen on-campus:



Tickets to the event at Memorial Auditorium (seating 1600, according to Wikipedia) were gone before the end of the week, and on Friday afternoon, the building was definitely filled.

Musharraf started with about an hour long speech about terrorism and how to fight it. His stance on terrorism was long one of the important reasons why the American government supported him, and I certainly believe he’s earnest in his desire to end terrorism. He talked broadly about the causes of terrorism and extremism, often using Pakistan as an example. While I agreed with everything he said, I realized afterward that few wouldn’t. Talking at such a high level, he preached accepted morality and reasonable deductions on the topic. What I would have found potentially more interesting if he had talked more about what Bush would call the “tough decisions.” In the real world, everything isn’t perfect, and we have to make tradeoffs–even between natural rights and ethics–to achieve our highest goal. Musharraf has certainly appeared to give on political freedom to gain on stability, and I would have found it much more compelling (though only potentially convincing) had he spoken about that.

Following the speech was a 45-minute Q&A session moderated by a Stanford professor, which was much more interesting. There were generally 3 categories of questions:
1) Obscure. As I mentioned, I’m not really hot on the whole current events thing. Thus, when someone asks about the house arrest of some scientist selling nuclear designs or signing a document in 2007, I don’t actually know enough to understand the importance of his response. Regardless, I was certainly glad that there were a couple of these. When I saw Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, I was disappointed because I don’t think anything they said was directed towards a knowledgable crowd. Maybe it means nothing to me, but I’m sure that there are IR and Poli Sci majors who were waiting for it.

2) Angry. Musharraf is controversial. Stanford students are pretty political. Thus, there are people who are very, very angry at him for things he’s done. While I can understand the ire of those asking accusational questions, I find the act somewhat self-serving. Maybe those individuals will feel better to yell at Musharraf to his face, but their emotions basically allow Musharraf to bat the question away as meaningless. While it’s cool that he’s here, we’re not the UN, and he’s under no obligation to answer these questions.

For example, one student asked him (paraphrased), “What percent of the Pakistani government and agencies, including military and intelligence, does the government actually have control over? And don’t say all of it, because that would undermine everything you’ve said today.” And an awesome answer. Musharraf: “Where are you from?” “India.” “I knew that.” After the laughter died down, Musharraf instead gave a short speech on how India and Pakistan need to stop hating and accept that the only way to move forward is for everyone to come together. Brilliantly political response, I thought.

3) Cheeseball. There were a couple cheeseball questions which Musharraf responded with some more generally good statements. Not interesting.

In the end, I don’t think I got anything from the appearance that I couldn’t have gotten from reading or watching press releases. Perhaps the real benefit for me was to have almost 2 hours to just think about what he was saying and do the good thing of paying attention to events, for once. Musharraf apparently is THE big speaker of the year for the series, but I hope we’ll have just as interesting people to make even spacey students like me think on something new for a little.