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All Things Impact for November 11th: four reflections on the election of Donald J. Trump

Brian WalshComment
Hi friends,
 
This week marks the one year anniversary since I started sending out this email newsletter, and this is the 42nd edition. I usually share three links from across the spectrum of ways that people deploy money to make social and environmental impact – responsible investing (in the public markets), impact investing (in the private markets), and effective philanthropy – plus a “wildcard” topic. (For previous issues, to learn more, and to subscribe, visit All Things Impact.)
 
As we come to terms with the implications of the surprising (at least to those who follow polls and media predictions) election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, this week I instead offer four links reflecting on this historic event. As always, I do not necessarily agree nor disagree with these views; I am merely curating content I found interesting. 

I will return to regular postings in the next issue.Please send me any recommendations you have of insightful content worth sharing.

Until then: be kind to one another, and be hopeful. 

We got this.

All the best,
Brian

Brian Walsh
Head of Impact at LiquidnetFull Bio.
brianjwalsh@gmail.com @brianwalsh

 
1. Leslie Knope’s Letter to America
A member of the writing staff of the TV show Parks and Recreation wrote a “letter to America” in Vox from the perspective of the fictional heroine of that show, Leslie Knope.
“I acknowledge that Donald Trump is the president. I understand, intellectually, that he won the election. But I do not accept that our country has descended into the hatred-swirled slop pile that he lives in. I reject out of hand the notion that we have thrown up our hands and succumbed to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and crypto-fascism. I do not accept that. I reject that. I fight that. Today, and tomorrow, and every day until the next election, I reject and fight that story.
 
I work hard and I form ideas and I meet and talk to other people who feel like me, and we sit down and drink hot chocolate (I have plenty) and we plan. We plan like mofos. We figure out how to fight back, and do good in this infuriating world that constantly wants to bend toward the bad. And we will be kind to each other, and supportive of each other’s ideas, and we will do literally anything but accept this as our fate.
 
And let me say something to the young girls who are reading this. Hi, girls. On behalf of the grown-ups of America who care about you and your futures, I am awfully sorry about how miserably we screwed this up…
 
Our president-elect is everything you should abhor and fear in a male role model. He has spent his life telling you, and girls and women like you, that your lives are valueless except as sexual objects. He has demeaned you, and belittled you, and put you in a little box to be looked at and not heard. It is your job, and the job of girls and women like you, to bust out.
 
You are going to run this country, and this world, very soon. So you will not listen to this man, or the 75-year-old, doughy-faced, gray-haired nightmare men like him, when they try to tell you where to stand or how to behave or what you can and cannot do with your own bodies, or what you should or should not think with your own minds. You will not be cowed or discouraged by his stream of retrogressive babble. You won’t have time to be cowed, because you will be too busy working and learning and communing with other girls and women like you. And when the time comes, you will effortlessly flick away his miserable, petty, misogynistic worldview like a fly on your picnic potato salad.
 
He is the present, sadly, but he is not the future. You are the future. Your strength is a million times his. Your power is a billion times his. We will acknowledge this result, but we will not accept it. We will overcome it, and we will defeat it.
 
Now find your team, and get to work.”
 
2. The Five Baskets of Trump Voters
William Saletan writes in Slate that the “deplorables make up only one basket. If Democrats dismiss the other four, they’ll keep losing elections.”
“You’re sick to your stomach at the results of this election. Maybe, like me, you’ve had trouble sleeping and eating. You can’t believe your country elected a transparent bigot, misogynist, and conman as president of the United States. You can’t believe voters rejected a supremely qualified woman. The people who did this, the people who voted for Donald Trump, are bad people. They’ve declared war on you. They’ve declared war on all of us…
 
When we talk about Trump’s voters, we’re really talking about five baskets. The first basket is the deplorables: people who love to hate. These are the folks who paint swastikas and write racial slurs on Twitter. The second basket is people who liked Trump’s vilification of immigrants or agreed with him that Clinton didn’t “look like a president.” They’re easily manipulated. The third basket is people who don’t see racism or sexism anywhere. The fourth basket is people who don’t think it’s a big deal. They shrug off Trump’s taped comments about grabbing women as “locker room talk.” And the fifth basket is people who were genuinely troubled by the way Trump treated women, or the way he talked about a Mexican American judge or the mother of a Muslim American soldier, but who voted for him anyway, or stayed home, because they couldn’t stand Clinton.
 
If you talk about all these people as though they’re the same thing—if you call them all racists or sexists or bigots or haters—you’ll lose more elections. And you’ll deserve to lose, because by lumping them all together and dismissing them, you’re doing to them what the worst of them have done to you.
 
Instead, separate the baskets. Ignore the first one. You’re not going to win over these people, and you shouldn’t try to be the kind of party that would. Set the second basket aside and come back to those folks later. They’re educable, but it’ll take a while. Focus on the last three baskets. Try to help these people recognize bias and structural inequality and why those problems matter. If the issue moves them, great. But if it doesn’t, connect with them in other ways. Inspire them with a vision of opportunity. Explain how you can improve their lives. Appeal to values that transcend identity.”
 
3. Autocracy: Six Rules for Survival
Writing in The New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen – a lesbian, Jewish, Russian American dissident who is one of Putin’s chief critics – warns us to take Trump at his word. “I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect." 

It might be worth considering them now:
Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable…
 
Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Consider the financial markets this week, which, having tanked overnight, rebounded following the Clinton and Obama speeches. Confronted with political volatility, the markets become suckers for calming rhetoric from authority figures. So do people. Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time….
 
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.
 
Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. Both Clinton and Obama in their speeches stressed the importance and strength of these institutions. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.
 
The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism….
 
Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself…
 
Rule #5: Don’t make compromises. Like Ted Cruz, who made the journey from calling Trump “utterly amoral” and a “pathological liar” to endorsing him in late September to praising his win as an “amazing victory for the American worker,” Republican politicians have fallen into line. Conservative pundits who broke ranks during the campaign will return to the fold. Democrats in Congress will begin to make the case for cooperation, for the sake of getting anything done—or at least, they will say, minimizing the damage. Nongovernmental organizations, many of which are reeling at the moment, faced with a transition period in which there is no opening for their input, will grasp at chances to work with the new administration. This will be fruitless—damage cannot be minimized, much less reversed, when mobilization is the goal—but worse, it will be soul-destroying. In an autocracy, politics as the art of the possible is in fact utterly amoral…
 
Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past…”
 
 4. How to restore your faith in democracy
Joshua Rothman writes in the New Yorker about his recent conversations with the noted Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor:
“I believe it’s a higher mode of being to participate in your own self-government.” In Taylor’s view, cool disengagement is a fiction; an ardent search for goodness is the human reality. “We all seek a sense of what it would be like to be fully connected to something. We all have a sense of what really living, and not just existing, would be. We know that there’s a level of life that’s rare to attain. And whether we attain that or not can be a source of deep satisfaction or shame to us.” It’s possible, Taylor said, to live as a “resident alien” in a democracy, going to work and raising your family without “getting a charge” out of the democratic story. But something might happen to change that. “The feeling that I’m really happy to be living in this society or that I’m really upset; that I’m either living fully or being deprived of that experience—those feelings are signs that the ethic of democracy has seized you….”
 
Taylor believes that, as individuals, we derive our sense of selfhood from shared values that are, in turn, embodied in public institutions. When those institutions change, those changes reverberate within us: they can seem to endanger the very meanings of our lives. It’s partly for this reason that events in the political world can devastate us so intimately, striking us with the force of a breakup or a death. (Similarly, a charismatic candidate can, like a new object of infatuation, help us find new possibilities within ourselves.)
 
Taylor’s calm, scholarly empathy is reassuring; his three-point program for engaging with one’s political opponents—“Try to listen; find out what’s troubling them; stop condemning”—is deeply humane. At times, speaking about Trump’s racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic rhetoric, his voice would rise in anger. Then he would pause, take a breath, and remind me that enthusiasm for Trump could be seen as a genuine and ardent, if misguided, expression of the democratic ethos. “The belief that democracy is supposed to be a system in which non-élites have a say—that principle is built right into the nature of democracy,” he said…
 
Plato proposed a republic run by enlightened philosophers, and Taylor has some ideas about what he might do if he were in charge. In big cities, he told me, it’s easy for people to feel engaged in the project of democracy; they’re surrounded by the drama of inclusion. But in the countryside, where jobs are disappearing, main streets are empty, and church attendance is down, democracy seems like a fantasy, and people end up “sitting at home, watching television. Their only contact with the country’s problems is a sense that everything’s going absolutely crazy. They have no sense of control.” He advocates raising taxes and giving the money to small towns, so that they can rebuild. He is in favor of localism and “subsidiarity”—the principle, cited by Alexis de Tocqueville and originating in Catholicism, that problems should be solved by people who are nearby. Perhaps, instead of questing for political meaning on Facebook and YouTube, we could begin finding it in projects located near to us. By that means, we could get a grip on our political selves, and be less inclined toward nihilism on the national scale. (It would help if there were less gerrymandering and money in politics, too.)
 
One imagines what this sort of rooted, meaningful democracy might look like. A political life centered on local schools, town governments, voluntary associations, and churches; a house in the woods with the television turned off. Inside, family members aren’t glued to their phones. They talk, over dinner, about politics, history, and faith, about national movements and local ones; they feel, all the time, that they’re doing something. It’s a pastoral vision, miles away from the media-driven election we’ve just concluded. But it’s not a fantasy."