Love: It’s What Makes This Election So Different
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
I’m tired of this.
Tired of my Facebook newsfeed filling up with “grab them by the pussy” and “doesn’t pay any taxes” and “33,000 deleted emails” and “Lock Her Up.”
Ick. Just. Ick.
As an American teacher of international students, I look out at my classroom and I tell them, “Guys, really… We are so much better than this.”
They have questions:
Will we be sent home if Donald Trump becomes president?
Why don’t people like Hillary Clinton?
How did Donald Trump get this far in the race?
Some days, I just don’t feel like I can take it anymore.
Some days, I wonder just what in the hell the other side is thinking.
How can we think so differently about what our country is right now and what our country can be in the future?
And then I came across this episode of the podcast, “Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vedantam.
In this episode, “When It Comes to Politics, Family Matters,” Vedantam discusses linguist George Lakoff’s exploration of family metaphors in American political discussions.
He identifies two major camps in which Americans fall in regard to how they talk about what they want in a political candidate.
Camp A: The Strict Father
“…the job of the father is not just to support and protect the family but also, with respect to children, to teach them right from wrong so they have the right moral views.”
This struck me, especially after seeing this clip from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in which correspondents interview Trump supporters about why Trump is so appealing to them.
Pay attention around 4:09.
Trump is going to be daddy. And whether you like it or not, you have to listen to daddy. And if you don’t, you get the belt.
As Lakoff points out in his analysis, families are the first place where we learn about rules and governance. For some people, this strict parenting model is what resonates the most with them because it’s the model that they grew up with. But more important, they believe that it is effective in governance (i.e., raising children). As a result, they’re more likely to seek out models of Strict Parents in presidential candidates.
They’re more likely to take hard stances and showcasing power to other countries as a means of keeping the country safe.
They’re more likely to decry efforts to expand government assistance and entitlements to citizens.
They’re more likely to champion strength, self-reliance, and independence.
They’re more likely to see the world as a big, scary place from which we need the protection of our fathers and their strong guidance so that we can survive in this world.
And then there’s the other side.
Camp B: The Nurturant Parent
“…feel their job is to empathize with their child, to know what their child needs, and to have open two-way discussions with their child.”
Those who find this parenting style more appealing are more likely to seek out presidential candidates who practice humility and find value in dialogue and negotiations with other countries.
They’re more likely to emphasize the importance of government programs that provide financial help to citizens.
They’re more likely to see the world as a place where kindness and goodness can be found everywhere.
They’re more likely to encourage our children to not be scared of difference, but rather seek to understand it.
As Vedantam points out, many of us grew up in families where both of these parenting styles were at play. Sometimes, our parents were the strict authoritarians who told us No means no and Get to bed this instant! At other times, our parents asked us What’s wrong? and asked us how they could help us.
What determines our orientation is how we judge the effectiveness of each model.
If we think that The Strict Parent doesn’t usually have a place in our families, we’re more likely to cling to the Democrat side.
If we think that The Nurturant Parent doesn’t usually have a place in our families, we’re more likely to cling to the Republican Side.
But most of us lie somewhere in the middle.
Most of us see the value in both. Especially if we are parents.
We’ve experienced those moments when our children need strict leadership. But we’ve also found ourselves in moments when our children needed compassion and acceptance.
I love Vedantam’s observation that,
The nation is in the middle of a parenting dispute.
I will add on to Vedantam’s observation and argue that we are so divided and polarized on so many issues because we’ve lost our respect for the opposing parenting style.
We want to pretend that we only need The Strict Parent. That he’s going to be the one to solve all of our problems because he’s strong, knows a lot, and will protect us from all the “bad guys.”
We want to pretend that we only need The Nurturant Parent. That she’s going to be the one listen to what we need, to make sure that no one lacks needed care, and to help us keep the peace around the world.
In this great American parenting dispute, we have name-called each other and pointed fingers and blamed each other. Then, we feel utterly mystified at why the other side can’t see the world in the way that we do. What we don’t understand is that,
The idea that we have alternative worldviews is not part of our discourse.
Vedantam is right.
The truth is much harder. What fuels our inflexible certainty isn’t stupidity or callousness: It’s love.
That is where I find my comfort in this bizarre, soul-crushing election season.
That even though I so passionately disagree with supporters of the other side, I find comfort in the fact that their intentions and decision-making are driven–just like me–by love.
Love: Because we all want what is best for our country.
We just disagree about “best” means.
And that’s okay.
If we love our country and truly want what’s best for it, then I think we might get through this.
But… is that true this year?
Are Trump supporters simply seeking out a candidate who is a Strict Parent?
Or is there another stronger force at work?
I think that’s it.
That’s what is so difficult about this election.
Usually, I disagree passionately with the other side’s policies about what is best for our country. I’ve felt that the political discourse was becoming increasingly divisive and polarized. I’ve felt that we were starting to demonize each other and create assumptions about each other’s intentions.
But not until this year did I feel like the political discourse was full of hatred.
During previous elections, I could see the opposing side’s good intentions because the debates focused on the issues instead of personal attacks. Although plenty of personal attacks were made on the sidelines, the official political debates stayed civil. I could force myself to open up and see that even if we disagreed about how to help our country, both candidates showed their sincere desire to improve the country.
But this year, Trump has told us that…
- Mexicans are rapists and drug smugglers.
- Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen.
- Muslims should be banned from entering the United States.
- We shouldn’t accept Syrian women and children refugees. Because they could be terrorists.
- Prisoners of war aren’t good soldiers.
- Veterans who suffer from PTSD aren’t strong.
- A good tactic to fight ISIS is to “bomb the shit out of them.”
- It’s normal for men to talk about grabbing women’s genitals without consent.
- Political opponents should be jailed after elections. (Can I just say, this is truly, truly shocking and one of the most anti-American statements yet.)
- The 19th amendment should be repealed so women can’t vote (This one is courtesy of Trump supporters).
And this is just a sampling.
Typically, election years are full of hyperbole, generalization, and oversimplification. We’re used to those.
But this year, Donald Trump surrounds us with racism. Sexism. Xenophobia.
Then he tells us that’s not what we’re hearing.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
Hate. Hate. Hate.
I’m truly struggling to see the good intentions at the heart of the Trump campaign. I’m really struggling to see Trump as fitting into that Strict Parent model.
Because the Strict Parent operates from a place of love.
What love is there in this campaign?
Do you see it?
For the life of me, I cannot.