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Weighing the Cost: How Americans Treat Values and Practicality

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

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…Well first…let me start by saying, HOLY FUCK?!

That was the reaction coming from half the American populace and most of the rest of the world after Donald Trump won the election in 2016. The entire season had been something of an emotional cluster fuck to begin with. I haven’t seen us so split as we had been during that time. I wanted to talk about an increasingly heart rendering realization I had as I was watching the polls.

Two-Face

If there are two things Americans have always prided themselves on, it’s our values and our practicality. Decades past have portrayed these two ideals as going hand in hand: the protestant work ethic. The reality though has been that they have been at odds more time than not throughout our history, or have been interpreted differently by many people to mean several different things.

When Trump started his campaign, he opened up with a brutal stereotype of Mexicans as criminals and said he was going to build a wall along the southern border. Not too long after that, he openly voiced his support for banning Muslims from the United States. He quickly went from funny businessman to the physical manifestation of America’s worst aspects: a dark image of ourselves we were trying to get passed.

Then the recording came out where he openly talked about grabbing women's vaginas and pretty much endorsing sexual assault. While many of his supporters were racists and hateful people, fueled by rage and not reason, the rest thought of themselves as decent people. These were not actions that they themselves would do, and yet they still voted for this person who hasn’t even actively apologized for his comments, past or present. And this is what blew our collective minds.

What the fuck happened to those vaunted values that we boast about so often?

The Scales

What happened was they hedged their bets. In their eyes, Trump may be a man with horrible character that most of them perhaps would never do themselves. However, those ethics were weighed against their economic security/comfort, and a hatred of the elite that had betrayed them as Hillary Clinton seemed to represent to them. The elite also included celebrities, politicians, and lobbyists. They were either preached to about how common people should be without knowing anything about them or were more interested in maintaining other’s expense.

In some ways I wasn’t surprised by this. In many ways, human history can be divided between a struggle in developing higher values and maintaining our own security and comfort zone. Ideals often develop in times of peace and security, like in the 1920s and 1950s. A cushion has been established that allows future generations to not only flourish but to put more energy into developing their society. However, when that cushion is threatened to be removed, when people are facing danger and hard times, ideology takes a back seat, because ideology won’t put food on the table or fend off those attacking you.

Many of the people who voted for Trump felt that their situation was not going to be addressed by Hillary Clinton. She was the face of the elites in their eyes, and it's said that 53% of his votes came from White women. Eight years or so of resentment finally bubbled over.

Not My Values

Most of us would say that this doesn’t justify the sexism, racism, and willful ignorance and arrogance Trump represents. And that’s absolutely true. But the reality was that those values, like environmentalism and LGBT rights, were not his supporters’ values. It doesn’t mean they didn’t care (at least most of them hopefully). It means that when weigh against their own security, someone had to go.

The same also applies for those of us who voted for the left. I had said in an earlier article that one of the reasons that Trump became Republican nominee was because he was riding on his supporters’ feelings that they weren’t being heard in the midst of all these progressive changes. If they remotely voiced anything sounding close to conservative values, they were demonized and crucified as homophobic racists, even if they actually weren’t.

However, for many progressive people, those values of economic security weren’t their own values. They were concerned with basic human rights and the struggle to be recognized as human beings rather than pariahs or outside of America’s good graces. Many may have been aware of the concerns of Trump’s supporters, but again, when weighed against their own security and ethics, one had to go by the way side.

Perception is Everything

And the 2016 election isn’t the first time the scale has been employed. It happened back when Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s. Because of his affair with his intern, many Americans felt he had horrible character and disrespected the office. When he lied about it and was convicted and almost impeached, it further strengthened their conviction that the White House was being run by an oversexed and cheating president. His supporters brushed it off in favor of the good he was doing. Besides, it was just a blowjob, right? And there was the numerous other cases of women he had been sleeping with that were being investigated…

Then it happened again with George W. Bush. When he ran for a second term, many Americans were already upset at the war in Iraq and the policies that bordered on invasion of privacy and were outright illegal, like kidnapping suspects and taking them to overseas torture sites. Yet in spite of this, half the population voted him in because of they wanted security and he had Christian values. They weighed it and chose security.

The common thread between linking these presidents and presidential hopefuls is that they had values and ethics like their rivals. But no matter what personal indifference they may have had to their concerns, they chose the needs of their own over the concerns of the others.

Awful Truth

Let me be clear that none of this justifies disrespecting other people.

At the same time, it is a trend and may be continuing to trend as the hostility Americans have towards each other, whether because of prejudice, security, economy, or classism, has never been more intense. If the 2016 election has proven one thing, it's that no matter how far we think, we've come, it is never impossible for things to slip back to what they were, no matter how comfortable we are.

It’s also shown that Americans weigh their ethics against their needs rather than always being lead by morals, and that we may find the former expendable when push comes to shove. Half of the American population, half of those voters women, elected someone with a racist agenda and who believes talk about nonconsensual treatment of women is “locker room” talk. Those facts have laid bare this reality of our spectrum of ethics and practicality and that they are not unified. We are not a unified people.

We are not a unified people because we do not want to come together to talk about each other’s concerns or discuss what scares us and the rights we cherish. We associate with our own, judging those who disagree, while trying to maintain the idea that somehow we all value the same things. November 2016 has shown that clearly we don’t. America has a long way to go to reach that place where we truly value each others' respect, rights, and welfare.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.