Yesterday, the world woke up to the historic outcome of US presidential election. I and everyone I personally know was shocked by the fact that Mr. Donald Trump is the president-elect of this 2016 election. How could this happen? I was bewildered and confused.
I live in silicon valley, which is the center of innovation, progress, forward thinking and policies around equality. People here are taking climate change issues head-on. It is a place which is constantly striving to support and encourage diversity and people here are trying to create an environment that is welcoming and respectable for women. It is a place that LGBTQ community has called home for decades. For me, believing in equality for all, fair pay, right to choose and clean energy solutions are not just campaign promises, but these define who I am. It forms my moral code. Furthermore, I also genuinely believe that any sane, self-respecting human would recognize that these are objectively right ideals to follow.
As such, a candidate that constantly objectifies women, passes derogatory remarks about people of color and call climate change a hoax was unthinkable for me as a president. I was certain, like many polls of Hillary’s win. But that’s not how it panned out and I was in panic mode as the election night progressed. Are majority of the citizens of this country truly racist, misogynist, homophobic and xenophobic? It must be that or at least their moral code is not founded upon same principles as mine. And isn’t that just horrible? How can there be so many humans in the 21st century who don’t care about these ideals?
But what I ignored, is that I am privileged. Yes, I am a woman of color, so I am not privileged in the white-privilege sense, but I am economically more stable than many Americans. My job isn’t replaced by machines yet and I don’t really have to worry about putting food on the table. And that is a privilege in these highly unequal socioeconomic times. Privilege is invisible to those who have it, but it shapes their frame of reference nevertheless. I am no exception. Notice how among all the ideals I said that I would like from the president of USA, I didn’t really talk about income safety. Because I have it. Even if I lose my current job, I know I can figure something out quickly. In the places where livelihoods are at stake though, equality takes a very different meaning. I hope I never have to make a choice between my principles and food, but faced with impossible choice like that, what would you do? I hope I am made of stronger stuff, but I am not sure what I would pick. The point is, a lot of people who voted for Trump are trying to bring attention to their issues. Issues that nobody cares about, at least in part because these issues are not front and center in the media. I travel to Iowa, Wisconsin, central Illinois and Michigan for work. These places are NOTHING like coastal America. Entire towns live and die by factories where they work. If Trump promised them their jobs back, why that’s what they wanted to hear. It didn’t matter that he provided no elaborate plans. It didn’t matter that he would screw up environment in the process. It didn’t matter he practically confessed to attempting a sexual assault. And it certainly didn’t matter that he was cheating the government by not paying taxes. The government isn’t working to solve their problems anyway.
Yes, I would call this being extremely short-sighted. It is a desperate attempt to serve their immediate self-interest. Of course, for them, EPA regulating, liberal, highly educated and financially sound urban snobs (aka me and people like me) are looking for their self-interests by having Hillary for President. The difference is EPA regulations, equality, higher education are simply the “right” things according to me for our future generations, regardless of whose interests they serve today. To my scientific, well-traveled mind, the grim future is crystal clear if we continue with fossil fuels dependency. And yet, I have to ask, how much would I care about any of that, if I am struggling to feed my family? When your livelihood is on the line, does it matter what’s objectively right?
Education opens doors and allows people to reinvent themselves. But even that has limits. My other Chemical Engineering friends work in traditional chemical factories or on oil rigs. They acknowledge their industry is harming the planet, but their expertise prohibits them (at least on the face of it) from taking jobs in alternative energy sectors. Besides, alternative energy sectors are nowhere as big or as wide-spread as oil industry. Which brings to me my other point- development. In conjunction with education, this has the most potential to improve the situation in locations where Trump supporters are feeling abandoned. Governments have a huge responsibility of bringing development to them. I would also think that jobs are jobs. It doesn’t matter if that’s to build solar panels and wind farms or to extract coal. I know this is idealistic; lobbies and globalization prevent this, but one must dream if they wish to see the change happen.
I guess the point is, we are in real crisis and I think growing divide between urban and rural will continue to make things worse. There is of course, no denying that the election of Mr. Donald Trump to presidency is going to set this country back. Social equality will likely suffer and environment will suffer too. To top it off, senate and congress have stayed majority republican. That ensures that a lot of President Obama’s policies which were unpopular with republican party are likely to change if not outright repealed. Progress such as we have seen for our future generations will get traded for immediate satisfaction. But, none of this will shake my belief that universal health care, social equality, scientific and technological progress to curb climate change are the right things to strive for.
When shit hits the fan, two things happen- first everyone gets sprayed and finally everyone together, tries to stop that from happening. We all have to change our frame of reference to understand the other side to make that happen. Yes, we are entering tough times. But difficult times are the crucible where real change gets forged. I am hopeful that after a long night, a dawn will bring with it a fairer, healthier and cleaner Earth. And won’t that be sweet?
P.S. This thought process was influenced by this article.
P.P.S. I can’t vote in this country, but I am entitled to my opinions.