I was watching Dave Rubin’s interview with Professor Jordan Peterson, during which I realized why this election cycle had been so disheartening for me to witness. I had already decided that I personally had no horse in the race very early on, so I wasn’t struck with the same amount of emotion as many other people over every scandal, controversy, and the eventual end result of Trump winning. After a while, I was just along for the ride, sarcastically content in the knowledge that there was no chance of me liking the future president no matter what.
Now, many liberals since then have woken up to why the Clinton run went so poorly. They put on the hindsight googles. News outlets apologized for being so biased (before promptly returning to that bias as soon as the cloud of self-reflection passed over them in a great breeze). People got in front of cameras to point out that demonization and moral smugness don’t win elections. They called for understanding, actual understanding not “I took a race theory class”-brand understanding. There were at least some epiphanies being had, to give credit where credit is due.
And, for a while, I was unable to truly explicate why I was so uncomfortable and deeply unhappy with this election. It wasn’t the shitty candidates. It wasn’t the hilariously partisan news sources. It wasn’t the obsession with scandal over policy. I was amused by those things more than anything else. Looking at in in retrospect, however, and after watching that aforementioned interview, I came to an epiphany of my own as to why I was so uncomfortable.
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This election led to a compromising of individual principles. Not only that, but it was a compromising of principles cloaked in smug righteousness meant to obscure what was actually happening. Meant to make that compromise look like a good, smart thing to do.
The best way I could explain it before was that people sold out. Bernie Sanders sold out. Elizabeth Warren sold out. The former Bernie supporters sold out. That’s all I could really say, and while it still works to get the point across, I don’t think it accurately conveys how deeply harmful that action actually is. Perhaps it’s too vernacular. Perhaps it’s too evocative of trivial things for people to take as a serious criticism. And I wasn’t happy with the explanation either, all I knew was that there were certain sentiments that I was just viscerally opposed to.
I remember reading the article after article deriding Sanders supporters as childish and immature. I remember the Onion article making fun of people who didn’t want to vote for either of the candidates. I remember Sanders going up on stage, talking about how “we couldn’t let Trump win no matter what.” What really struck me, though, was sitting in a class post-election results talking about what had happened. My professor had come to the conclusion that since we were all surely traumatized by the turnout, it’d be good to take half of class time to talk about. During that little therapy session, one of my classmates who I actually think is a very intelligent person made a comment along the lines of “people voted for Trump/didn’t vote for Clinton because of some misplaced notion that the DNC did something wrong.”
I was legitimately angry at that comment. I didn’t speak up because I didn’t go to Japanese literature class to talk about contemporary American politics, but I was still viscerally opposed to what he had said in the same way that I was opposed to the articles that had come before, the same way I was disgusted with Sanders (a candidate who I wasn’t even sure I supported) getting up on stage and saying we needed to vote for Hillary Clinton, a woman who was essentially the personification of the corporate, monied interest in politics that he built his campaign fighting against.
Watching Peterson’s interview, he spoke about how the way to ensure that you don’t become a normal person who does evil things, the way to ensure that you won’t be like an Auschwitz guard, was to be honest. You had to know what your principles were, and you had to develop and shape them. And you had to be honest about them, to yourself and all of those around you. The second you started lying to yourself and others was how you became susceptible to moral corruption and manipulation. The second you threw away a principle or compromised your integrity in the name of what someone told you was “the greater good” was the second that you became a potential Auschwitz guard.
And all of the speakers, all of the articles outright sneering at people for daring not to vote for Clinton on the basis of having principles that they weren’t willing to go against even in the name of the greater good, were frightening. They were frightening. I think that’s what I was missing before. I thought they were stupid, and I thought they were angering. Back then, I don’t think I understood how deeply afraid the sentiment made me. That’s what I wouldn’t have been able to express in the middle of our impromptu therapy session that day a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t have been able to explain just how dangerous it was to say that people should have accepted corruption in their own camp simply in the name of fighting “the enemy.” They should have ignored their own moral qualms and gone with the rest of the group so that “we” would have power.
It is a sentiment that mocked people for holding onto their moral and ethical principles. It is a sentiment that told people that “the greater good” had to be achieved at all costs, even if it meant supporting a lesser evil. It is a sentiment that refused to even acknowledge that the lesser evil was still an evil at all. It is a sentiment that set up shop at the moral high ground and told people that supporting what it thought was right was the only morally acceptable option. And that was what they were spreading as a mainstream, accepted idea. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.
I’m not saying Hillary Clinton is fucking Hitler. If this election taught me anything, it’s that comparing someone to Hitler is an easy way to get on my shit list very quickly. That being said, the sentiments behind many of those who supported her–the willful ignoring of her flaws, the smug condescension towards anyone who didn’t toe the line, the insistence that voting for her was a moral imperative no matter what you actually thought of her, the derision with which the very idea of “voting on principle” was treated–was dangerous. And it still is dangerous.
That was my bit of self-reflection for the day.