Let’s travel back in time to November 4, 2008; two events that will transform my life have just occurred. Barack Obama has become the 44th president of the United States. And, yesterday, I gave birth to my sweet-baby girl.
I feel high on the messages of “Hope”; “Change We Can Believe In”; and “Yes We Can.” (Perhaps I am also a little high on love since, much like The Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.) I feel a sense of possibility, peace, and pride of country. And the thought of bringing my precious baby into a world that is ready to look past our differences and work together to make the future better for all of us is exciting. A world where she will be accepted for who she is and can realize her full potential.
Mudslinging on Steroids
Fast forward to the 2016 presidential campaigns, the season my naivety got its ass kicked. I knew we had a long way to go in the fight for civil rights, decorum, social responsibility, etc., but my expectation was that we were getting close. The divides, or Expectation Gaps, between us were getting smaller. Was I ever wrong!
2016’s was by far the most divisive election cycle I can remember. Unfortunately, political mudslinging is nothing new and something we’ve become desensitized to, but this campaign went far beyond that. This time the attacks were not merely aimed at the opponent’s policies or political actions. The attacks were personal, aimed directly at both the opponent and the opponent’s supporters.
Hillary Clinton’s weapon of choice was political ads. The ads she ran were disproportionately aimed at Trump’s personality over his policies, by a long shot, according to Kantar Media/CMAG . Since I don’t watch much network TV, I didn’t see very many of these ads, and the ones I did see didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
Donald Trump’s weapon of choice was disparaging nicknames: Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Pocahontas (Elizabeth Warren), Little Marco Rubio, and so on. Anyone who utilizes any form of media has heard at least one of these nicknames, and they definitely leave an impression.
I feel the need to make my intentions clear before I go any further. On the political spectrum, I definitely lean more toward the democratic end, but I hold no allegiance to any party and do not call myself a “democrat.” My intention is not to further divide the parties by speculating that either party is better than the other.
My intention is to show that both parties have played a role in widening the Gaps between us. Through this post, we will expose some of the ways in which our emotions have been preyed upon and decide that we will not accept their manipulations.
To be honest, neither candidate did much to impress me. They are both “crooked” in their own ways, so I eliminated that variable from my decision-making equation. Next, I looked at the issues, and, as you might expect, Hillary’s platform aligned more with my values. Last, I looked at public persona, which, like it or not, is a very important piece of the puzzle.
I believe a good leader should be poised, prudent, judicious, diplomatic, and empathetic. In my opinion, Trump’s public persona is none of these things, and I believed him to be the more divisive of the two candidates. So there was no way in the world I could vote for him.
My expectation was that most voters would be in my camp, having followed a similar decision tree. I thought a majority of Americans still wanted to work together toward “Hope” and “Change.” I thought voters would tire of Trump’s antics, which were so far over the top it seemed like we were watching a reality TV show rather than a presidential campaign.
I expected the electorate to remember that he claimed he could shoot somebody and not lose any voters; that he bragged about grabbing women by the p*ssy (I don’t even like typing that word); that he called Putin a great leader; that he gloated about not paying taxes; and that at any moment, one of his Twitter rants could launch a nuclear war. (Yes, I know Hillary did bad shit too, but these were the thoughts weighing on my mind.)
As November 8, 2016 neared, I felt the Gaps widening until that fateful day when it felt like America had been broken in half. I was in a state of shock and disbelief for days, weeks, maybe even months following that day. But what I felt most was sorrow and a real concern for our future, my baby’s future.
Check out the companion post to this one, “Why I’m Proud to Be a Liberal.”
Before You Call Me a "Snowflake" . . .
No, my sorrow was not one of loss to the opponent. Nor did it originate from an unwillingness to entertain opposing opinions. What I felt was a deep-rooted sadness born of the realization that our society is so out of touch with its humanity. Boorish behavior, formerly relegated to guilty-pleasure TV, has become so prevalent, we willingly accept it from our representatives. Which leads to the inevitable reduction of our ballot options to the lesser of two evils.
And it became apparent to me that the majority of our population is living in fear — fear that is leading us to make choices that may not be in our best interest.
Admittedly, I had never followed politics that closely. I’d catch sound bites here and there on the morning news. I watched The Daily Show once in a while. I’d hear “conservative” rhetoric thrown around the office. (I’m a CPA in West Michigan; it’s pretty commonplace.) But as soon as it became clear that Trump actually had a chance of winning the election, I started paying attention.
All of a sudden, I felt it was my duty to make an informed decision. The weight of this responsibility compounded after the election. I felt a calling to be “more involved” somehow, so I started educating myself and started to become a bit obsessed with soaking in as much as I could about social/political issues.
All that did was overwhelm and discourage me. Now I had all this information but felt helpless to do anything about it. After all, I have a family, career, etc., and not much free time to join an activist movement. That wasn’t the answer. But my gut kept yelling at me to take some kind of action.
At the same time, the logical part of my brain desperately wanted to understand what drives us to make the decisions we do. Why is it that we are so divided? Consequently, I became a bit obsessed with soaking in as much as I could about how our minds work and how I could better understand myself. Down that long and windy road, I ended up here, underneath a great big sign that says, “You need to speak your truth and help people see that we can close The Expectation Gaps between us.”
I have accepted the reality that in an eight-year time span we went from a nation voting for hope and change (terms used to unite) to a nation voting for strength, wealth, pride, and safety (terms used to divide and buzzwords used to close Trump’s inaugural address).
In my search to gain an understanding of how this came to be, it dawned on me: campaign slogans act as catalysts. With just a few words, spoken confidently over and over again, we can easily be united or divided. Let’s take a look at a few campaign slogans and the Gaps hiding within them.
For a comparison of inaugural addresses, see my post, “Side-by-Side Inaugural Addresses: Trump & Obama.”
Words Can Hurt Us
The popular slogans used in the 2008 election don’t appear to be divisive at all, at least not in regard to the electorate. Obama’s were “Change We Can Believe In,” and “Hope.” John McCain’s were “Country First,” and “Reform, Prosperity and Peace.” With words like these being bandied about, it’s no wonder I felt optimistic after the 2008 election.
In contrast, here’s what was pumped into our psyche in 2016.
Trump’s slogan was arguably the most notable, “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). There are a few Gaps hiding in this one.
The first Gap we need to expose is the underlying expectation that we are not already great, that we somehow need to be fixed. And that somehow this “new” administration is going to be the one to fix us. We do not need to be fixed! We do need to focus on bettering ourselves (reform as McCain put it). Two very different things. “Fixing” is an action someone takes on our behalf; it’s passive and finite. “Bettering” is an action we take on our own behalf; it’s active and infinite.
But even more importantly, this simple statement preys on our biggest insecurity, that we’re not good enough. This message serves to divide us because it really hits at the heart of the campaign’s biggest supporters, the white working class. I am reminded of a passage that has stuck with me. It’s from a memoir written by J.D. Vance, who grew up in both Appalachia and the Rust Belt, and gives us insight into the mindset of the white working class.
“Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it — not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”
The second Gap stems from the use of fear to influence voters. The expectation is that we have to be Great (strong) because everyone is out to get us, and it’s a pretty blatant call for division. All those immigrants and foreign countries are out to get us. The government is out to get us. And so is the media. Oh, and don’t forget about “Crooked Hillary.”
The third Gap was formed by the use of the word “again.” When I hear MAGA, I picture a 1950’s black and white TV show depicting a (white) suburban neighborhood with identical houses all lined up, perfectly manicured lawns welcoming us in. Dad is coming home from work in his suit and well polished sedan. Mom is waiting for him at the door, looking beautiful in her crinoline skirt and heels, with nary a hair out of place. The kids are well mannered, perfectly groomed and so excited that Daddy is home. A “simpler” time. Ahhhhh…..
The underlying expectation is that if Trump keeps his promises, we’re all going to be living in a 1950’s sitcom. Only during the time depicted in this picture-perfect image, life was far from great for so many marginalized groups of people. And the divisiveness of this message can be felt by them all.
Then there was Michelle Obama’s slogan, which was adopted by Hillary Clinton, “When They Go Low, We Go High.”
Sounds like a positive message, right? But upon further dissection, the Gap is revealed.
The ringer in this slogan is its use of the divisive word “They.” The expectation is that “They” are beneath us (“We”). But beneath us in what way? This statement seems to be in reference to decorum. But what else could be hidden between the lines. Are “They” beneath us in intelligence? Morality? Social standing? Influence? Fashion sense? The possibilities are endless, but the bottom line is, this slogan is definitely not one of Hope and Change.
And then there’s Clinton’s zinger, “Love Trumps Hate.”
I have to say, the word play is amazing and whoever wrote this deserves the highest award a sloganier can receive. However, here we have another negative Gap wrapped in a positive message.
The expectation is that love is reserved for Clinton supporters and Hate is reserved for Trump supporters. And there’s Trump right in the middle, dividing the two sides. Which begs the question, can’t we all just get along?
Love and hate exist on both sides, and it’s actually okay. It’s perfectly natural to feel both of these emotions, sometimes even toward the same person or thing. It is not our emotions that define us but our actions.
All in all, the message is empowering, but the use of the word “Trumps” creates the Gap.
Call to Action
Let’s embrace the results of the 2016 election as a call to action, a call to narrow the Gaps. With these campaign slogans among the weapons in their arsenal, those in power expect to divide us because they expect us to be complacent. It is up to each and every one of us to release these expectations, to create “Change We Can Believe In.”
Change could begin with the simple act of saying hello to a stranger. It could begin with making sure your kids understand the importance of acceptance and justice. It could begin with a donation to a charitable organization that promotes these virtues. It could begin with joining an activist movement or starting one of your own. The point is, no matter where you are in life, there is something you can do to start the change.
Most importantly, the change has to begin within each of us. We have to learn to accept ourselves before we can truly accept others. We have to work toward speaking our truth if we wish to be a voice for others. And we have to acknowledge the fact that giving audience to differing views is the only way to better ourselves. I talk a bit about embracing differing view in my post “3 People Who Will Help You Become Your Best Self.”
I challenge us all to release the expectation that we can’t make a difference and take one action every day to narrow the Gaps between us. In the process, as our compassion for others increases, we will find that we have actually begun the journey to realizing our full potential.
What action will you take today? Let us know in the comments!