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The Grey Space In Between

by Ellyn van Valkengoed

I have never felt less excited about writing an article than I do about this one. Until about 3am last night I didn’t think I’d be writing this. By now I’ve had about five or six hours to get used to a reality in which Barack Obama will pack his personal belongings into a cardboard box, so that Donald J. Trump can take his place in the Oval Office. The Audacity of Hope replaced by Make American Great Again. Six hours are not nearly enough: I can’t begin to explain to you why the polls and the media were unable to predict this plot twist. Or what people are so angry about, out there in the Rust Belt or in the Disneyland State.

As the results rolled in tonight, it felt a bit too much like Brexit all over again. My complete surprise that Trump - who plays so outrageously fast and loose with the truth -  could inspire adoration on a massive scale leads me to two conclusions.  I’ve underestimated the satisfaction that sticking it to The Man (or perhaps The Woman) brings when you’re in a dark place. I also underestimated the underlying racism and xenophobia of the people, now with a misogynistic sauce to top it off and make everything just a little more upsetting.  

My British friends have joked about how it would be a good idea to restore the USA to British rule and reinstall the Queen as monarch (except over Kansas, which she does not fancy). It now seems that where the mother nation goes, the colonies follow.

The demographics are in some ways surprising. It’s hard to not wonder what 55% of American women see in Trump, considering all the contempt he displays towards our minds and bodies.  But what about the generation gap, which became so painfully clear during Brexit?  Young people (18-29) did mostly vote democrat, but at 55% for Clinton and 39% for Trump the difference is not overwhelming (although a millennial-only electoral college would paint the map blue). What does stand out is the relatively large amount of people in the grey zone who voted for neither candidate – 8%. This also applies to the 30-44 bracket, whereas the ‘don’t know’ gap was much smaller for everyone over 45.*

I know how that 8% feels. Watching the world these days – whether it is through the windows of our tv sets, smartphones, or desktop computers – is pretty depressing. To tell you the truth, I’ve never felt more like hiding from the world than I do this morning, convinced that half the people in the world are beyond reasoning with, living in their own (social) media bubbles that no word from my lips or fingers can pop.

Recently I watched Etienne Augé present his research on propaganda.  According to him, its definition is very simple: “when you do propaganda, you have to reduce the options — people have to believe there’s only two options and one of them is something they don’t want. So there’s really only one option.”

Overnight,  I’ve been whispering the words- ‘reduce the options’-  to  myself over and over again. Because I think that’s exactly what’s happened to politics in America and in Europe. This morning, most of us will feel like we either won or lost catastrophically (I’m going to guess most of you reading this lost, even though we’re not American and never cast a single vote in this election).  But why?

I think the grey space - between Trump and Hillary, between Republicans and Democrats, between populists and progressives-  is where we can begin to find a way to make everything not suck. It’s not going to be easy.  Creating options requires a leap of the imagination; to start thinking about the future when all the political debate is about the present.

Let’s not forget that plenty of people are already making such a leap. Young people especially, and there is  no reason why we can’t join them.  Remember Bernie Sanders and his 27 dollars? I thought Bernie and his supporters would fade away until I watched this documentary, which proves me wrong. Bernie’s ideas at least are still alive and kicking. Countless people he inspired are setting up projects of their own to start fixing up America’s democracy– including Brand New Congress, which aims to revolutionize the elections by setting up a single, unified campaign for 2018 that should help over 400 average citizens have a shot at Congress.

Arun Chaudhary, Bernie’s old campaign strategist, says:

In an election, everyone knows what’s possible – maybe the person will win. When you’re building a movement, you’re trying to change the idea of what’s possible in people’s minds.”

So with that in mind, let’s talk about tomorrow.