The Atom Age: Meandering Thoughts on the US Presidential Elections

So, have you purchased your opinion about the US Elections? Don’t cultivate one, that takes too much time! Just pluck one from your Facebook newsfeed, quick and simple! That’s how we do human relationships these days too, so why not?

This is another one of my speedy bite-size posts, in part to rebel against Lengthy ‘Analytical’ Posts; in part because I can’t really be bothered to dig into reams of “data”;  in part because the analysis has been done to death. You did not come here for a(nother) break-down of the Trump/Hilary dichotomy, and I cannot be bothered to put up a rehearsal of “OMG Trump”. These days, I try to avoid the blog equivalent of a pumpkin-spice latte. This is not a rational post; it may even be a polemic. Certainly, don’t come here in search for citations. This is a stream-of-consciousness article, moving from one thought to another. If you like facts I think you can find them in libraries. Or *gasp* your Facebook newsfeed.

Where were you when the results for the elections of a country halfway across the world slowly came in? Where were you after? As I watched the red line expand across my Google search results, my heart sank. First there was disbelief, then anger, then shock, then, then…

Then everyone suddenly has an Opinion about the US Elections. As Bertha Henson pointed out in an article for the Middle Ground, we seemed more concerned for the results of a reality TV show – I mean, ELECTION – thousands of kilometres away than our very own elected presidency. There are lots of issues embedded in this sudden move to secure a minority slot for our Presidents, but political manoeuvering aside, it was striking to me that on the day a orange-haired, trash-talking demagogue was being elected to the most vocal and militant (not so sure about greatest, how do you measure greatness? It depends on who you ask) democracy in the world, Singapore was quietly debating the possibility of having a female, minority Head of State. And the ‘strangest’ thing – strange because race and gender are supposed to be the most explosive things these days, as they apparently always were – the ‘strangest’ thing was that Singaporeans barely batted an eyelid. Sure, it was/is being called out as a political move by the Singaporean state to keep out certain candidates and keep in others. Maybe we have been conditioned to well. Maybe we were too polite to do say anything in public. But what struck me was that nobody seemed to actually mind the idea of a minority candidate being the President of the Republic of Singapore. Say what you want about figurehead positions. The Presidency still stands for something. Say what you want about tokenism. But in a world and a modern history rife with ethnic riots, conflicts, massacres, wars, ethnic cleansing, Islamophobia, I was rather proud to be a Singaporean that day, as the debate on the (Singaporean) Presidency developed.

What a fool, you may be thinking, as you read this irreverent, irrelevant blogpost that is not substantiated by many figures and many ‘facts’. And yes, I confess my ignorance here. I haven’t been reading up. US Politics has never been a research area for this historian, as much as it has been for you, reading your Facebook newsfeed. Your learned opinion off newspaper articles and opinion pieces must count for something…right?

Echoing Chambers & the Capitol

My short time in the university has taught me some things; the most important skill it has anointed me with is to know how much I don’t know, to borrow Socrates’ line. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. And I cannot help but be skeptical about the echoing chamber I inhabit. This was especially so the day after the results of the Biggest US Reality TV Show came out. I mean the US Presidential Elections.

I was disheartened and demoralised. David Wong’s article on “How Half of America Lost Its Fking Mind” left a deep impression on me. But it’s shared on a website that makes dick jokes, someone on my newsfeed objected. Yeah, so much for not being racist and judging the book by its cover, huh? Down with Trump! Because! He is! etc etc etc.!

Wong’s image of us city folk as the strange Capitol people from the Hunger Games left a deep impression on me. What happens in America doesn’t affect me directly. But it struck me how great that disconnect could be. How things in books do play out too.

Contemplate: we weren’t the Katniss Everdeens, and our parents weren’t the striking coal miners. Nor the moisture farmers of Tatooine. No, we were the bourgeois in the metropole, the addled, soma-induced folk in the feelies. We were the strange, rich city folk who changed our opinions and trends faster than we changed our underwears! Wong’s article wasn’t layered and buttressed with facts and statistics or historical data. But there was pathos in the writing. And it called on us to empathise.

I did not know how to feel after reading that piece. It made me uncomfortable, jolted me from my frustration and irritation at how people could vote for someone as petulant and incoherent as Trump. But soul-searching articles from heartbroken liberals (or ‘analysts’) made a good point. It was the point Atticus Finch had once made:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” | Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Empathy. In such troubled and confusing times, I think TKAM is a good place to turn back to. I couldn’t help but see a strange emotional parallel between the psychic shock of America (and the world), and Scout Finch’s distress when Tom Robinson, the innocent black man, was wrongly convicted of raping Mayella Ewell.

“I’m not bitter, just tired. I’m going to bed.”

“Atticus-” said Jem bleakly.

He turned in the doorway. “What, son?”

“How could they do it, how could they?”

“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night.”

That was how I think most of the world felt in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Correction: that was how most of my newsfeed felt. The soul-searching that is happening even as we speak, the quest to make sense of what has happened has turned up several answers and scapegoats/explanations.

One of them is the fact that we live in increasingly insular echoing chambers. The city folk of the Capitol, who were so certain in their hubris they never saw this coming…that’s one way to understand the Trump victory.

Complexities and Binaries

Suddenly, we are all experts on Donald Trump and how Hilary Clinton is SO AMAZING cos, you know what, she’s the chao mugger. Therefore, we should root for her. Uh huh. Effectively effacing her problematic political record, of course. You’re with her because…she is a creature of the political system. And this by default makes her the best candidate. Perhaps.

But this whopper, though: Hillary is the perfect example  of how a woman who has worked her whole life for a position  can be beaten by a man with no experience.

Go feminism! Boo patriarchy!

Give me a break.

Yes, of course. I know there are clear biological differences between a man and a woman. I know that our modern industrialised societies often disadvantage women in numerous systemic ways. We must all speak up and work to change that, if and when we can. But garnering likes for a snarky post changes nothing.

Simplifying this WHOLE ELECTION  to a cut-and-dried tale about a woman losing to a man again is irresponsible, facile and absurd. It ignores the complex realities of (for example) history, race, region, class, politics. Deny the woman her experience and experiences? Hey, what about the angry, disenfranchised men and women who didn’t believe Hillary stood for their futures? Don’t you deny them their perspectives when you reduce it to “OMG Hillary didn’t win because SHE WAS A WOMAN.” And all the demographic groups who didn’t vote for her, of course. What about them? Does playing this simplistic man/woman dichotomy explain anything besides your personal, incoherent outrage? Yeah, I am #triggered too. I believe we should try to acknowledge reality is far more complex than simple binaries. Wasn’t that why everyone was getting so hissy at Donald Trump?

There are many facets to the complex realities we inhabit. One thing I know, is that I know nothing. In the months to come, as more information becomes available, we will have a better idea of what happened. Maybe America will be so jolted by this event it will try to heal itself. And us in the rest of the world watching on, we can only hope for the best. Or not. Reality is too complex to quickly pin down, no matter what the optimistic social scientist will confidently tell you, with their statistics, laws of human behaviour, theoretical frameworks and modelling models. My sense is that just like Obama’s terms were nowhere as amazing as his soaring rhetoric promised, Trump’s term(s?) won’t be anywhere as awful as the doomsday dreamers foretell. Then again, that’s what they had said about Hitler’s Germany too…I digress and ruminate and woolgather.

As usual, we live in interesting times, and the world is always ending.

Suspiciously Easy

What I have grown weary of, although I have just been as guilty of, are the trigger-happy, trigger-angry opinions of people watching this whole debacle and spectacle that is the US Presidential Elections. The day Trump was elected (my emotional side cannot bring myself to put ‘President-Elect’ next to ‘Trump’), there was a massive shock all across my newsfeed. Everyone was moping, yelling, gnashing their teeth, and offering an Opinion.

It’s fascinating at first. But then like car accidents and circus shows, you get bored after a while, because everyone is saying the same thing, albeit in slightly varying tones. It is amusing, maybe even heartening, to see someone suddenly catch a Political Opinion – if these opinions weren’t so bland, so cherry-picked, and so self-righteous.

Doesn’t it seem suspicious that Trump is so easy to hate? Wasn’t Hillary the mugger-toad too easy to love, all the more so because we live in a time where it’s no longer safe  or politically neutral to express an opinion about women (“YOU. VICTIM-BLAMING ME. RAPE CULTURE. OMG. LET ME EXPRESS MY OUTRAGE BY TYPING A LONG FACEBOOK POST TO TEENAGE MAGAZINE WITH THE BIG WORDS I LEARNT IN MY UNIVERSITY WRITING CLASS. THAT SAVES THE WORLD. DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHAL RAPE CULTURE” Nobody actually bothered to find out how the rape victim herself felt, did they. The subaltern truly cannot speak.)?

The Atom Age

Some have said Trump’s victory represents the ultimate failure in democracy. The vote of the unwashed masses, pushing a clown into power. First, despite my personal distaste for the man I have watched in the Presidential Debates, that is a disgustingly elitist opinion to take. Because I refuse to believe half of America is composed of uneducated white supremacists. That’s dangerously close to the British colonial powers saying Chinese people were untrustworthy pricks and Malays were lazy. I also wonder if Trump’s victory actually represents the success of democracy – that in spite of the incredible media assault and carpet-bombing and character assassination, this guy actually crossed the finish line first.

We live in an age where we have been saturated with too much information. Too many numbers and percentages. We live in a de-centred, multi-polar world where you can find your own little niche and simply stay under your rock. We live in a time where you can block out your ears and repeat ‘Oppressionoppressionoppression’ until your intellectual opponent walks away. We live in the Atom Age, where technology has emulsified us into our little echoing chambers. For many of us reading this, we have the material resources to continue living in our little bubbles for as long as we want.

I have refused to put facts and figures into this opinion piece. We have seen too much and too many of that in the past week, cherry-picked to suit some agenda, to make you feel one way or another. Strange as it sounds, this piece is trying its best to convince you that it has no argument. It is tired of arguments, and opinions, especially strident ones that actually ring emptier for the ringing. This essay is deliberately full of holes, and lacking in PEEL. It has no substance besides an opinion. My writing class professor would puke blood reading this. Then again, this isn’t an essay, and I’m reveling in the freedom of not having a deadline studded with citations for the next few weeks.

So the Election has come and gone. You have liked the posts here and there. You have shared an article. ‘Raised awareness’, you like to think. Maybe even written something out. ‘I’m with her’ you cry. So you seem to have an Opinion.

Now what?  What are you going to do next – since you claim to stand for Minority Rights, Feminism, LGBTQ rights, because you stand for the Left, apparently (what are labels, anyway? Hey, did you know Lim Chin Siong also stood for a Left?) ? Are you going to stand up, speak up and organise, in YOUR country, because Trump is now going to make this world a more dangerous place to live in now? Let’s face it. We all know what’s next.

What are you going to share on your Facebook now?

Time to look for another Reality TV show then.


One thought on “The Atom Age: Meandering Thoughts on the US Presidential Elections

  1. I’m sure this is too much of a request, but I would really like to know your thoughts on the prolonged social issue of racism/reverse racism in the Western countries, especially the US. (If you have any, of course.) Thank you. 🙂


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