An Incredibly Reductionist Explanation of the 2016 Election

There are some days that I feel entirely open of mind and adventurous of spirit. On those days, I can listen to the newest, most progressive, most sonically-challenging music, whether it’s Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Car Seat Headrest or Solange. On those days, I’m equally good with Grimes, Mitski, Parquet Courts or Chance the Rapper. The newer, the more interesting, the most reflective of America’s diversity and seismic demographic shifts the better.

But then, on other days/ weeks/ months, everything makes me anxious or sad or fearful. And on said days/weeks/months, the only channels my hand touches on Sirius XM are channels devoted to soothing comfort food rock of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Petty and Springsteen. These are channels that make me feel cozy. These are songs I know every word to. And in no way do these channels in any manner reflect the rapidly shifting musical and cultural landscape that is the world.

And that is how I interpret elections, especially the 2016 presidential race, but really all elections. Sometimes America feels okay with the massive change happening around them. And sometimes they don’t. And when they don’t, they assiduously and vigorously turn back the clock to something that makes them feel more comfortable.

You should know that I am not a historian. Though I did major in American Civilization at Brown University, a school I would never get into now. Nor am I a psychiatrist. Though I have spent enough hours on my therapist’s couch that it almost seems unfair that I can’t at least prescribe Zoloft in certain test cases.

But what I am is an incredibly deep-feeling observer of human behavior. And because of this, I have long proffered my untested theory that all elections are referendums on how comfortable any one voter feels that moment about change.

You might already be screaming at the computer, “what about her emails?” “What about racism?” “What about the impact of right wing media?” “What about reactionary pushback to the Obama years?”

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. In fact, you can ask a myriad more questions and I’ll blithely answer “yes” to all of them. Because there are a million factors that go into electoral success (even Russian electoral meddling.)

I told you at the outset that I was offering a wholly reductionist viewpoint. It’s in the title, for chrissakes. But still that may not stop you from asserting that surely issues must play a major role.

Of course. I’m a super lefty/ Jewtastic/ West Coast liberal Democrat. I vote based on preserving women’s reproductive freedoms, marriage equality, expanding voting rights and workers’ rights, maintaining affordable health care, passing sensible gun legislation, fighting for DACA and the release of immigrant children from cages and the maintenance of a social safety net to provide equal opportunity to all.

That’s what I THINK. But what I FELT was “Deep in my soul, I feel awesome about the changes of the President Obama era.” We had an African-American President and a female Democratic nominee. Gay marriage went from a pariah issue to the law of the land. And gay and trans soldiers could openly and transparently serve alongside everyone else. Dreamer children were provided a path to American citizenship and health coverage became available to the poor, elderly and those sick with preexisting conditions.

Change was promised. Change came. And I and millions of my fellow citizens loved it.

But my completely unscientific hunch is that no everyone felt as comfortable with the speed of change. (And yes, that does include but not excuse, discomfort at the changing color of their once, all-White neighborhoods or schools.)

Going back to Nixon’s Southern Strategy of 1968, the GOP has always sought to tap into white discomfort with change, with integration, with the expansion of voter rights, with coastal elites, with student protesters. Going even further back, they have sought to channel the same anti-intellectual and anti-elitist rage of the original Populists.

Again, I don’t have the data to fully ascertain how much of the Trump victory was race-based. Or how much was a function of men not liking a woman in a pantsuit (or any woman in any power for that matter.) And believe you me, I am not excusing or defending any Trump supporter here. I honestly just want to understand what happened and preclude such a fascistic rejection of democratic values and institutions from ever happening again.

And as someone who has suffered an adulthood’s worth of severe panic attacks, I believe it all comes down to anxiety.

It can be real economic anxiety. Or perceived existential anxiety. Or just your run-of-the-mill free-floating anxiety about today, tomorrow and the future. It’s anxiety that fuels people buying into Trump’s canards about El Salvadoran gangs taking over our cities and shooting up our citizens. It’s anxiety that lets Trump pass an executive order banning travelers to our country based strictly on their Muslim religion. It’s anxiety ( or let’s call it what it really is-fear) that allows 90 per cent of Republicans to turn a blind eye when immigrants seeking asylum are separated from their children.

The issues are almost irrelevant. It all comes down to anxiety and fear. Fear and anxiety. If you don’t feel comfortable, you will cavalierly accept Trump’s claims that China is screwing us in trade deals, that our military has never been weaker, that every major metropolitan area is overrun by rampant, insidious crime.

If you are uncomfortable, you will accept these fear-based narratives. If you are not, you will reject them for the scapegoating and scaremongering that they so clearly are.

And what it ultimately comes down to is, on the day you’re voting, are you feeling okay with the changes happening around you? Are you comfortable with modernity and demographic shifts and brand-new gender definitions? Or do you look around and say that America looks and feels different and that scares you inside?

In short, we talk about race of voters. Their age, gender, religious affiliation, gun ownership and almost everything else.

What we don’t talk about much is what the voters are FEELING.

And we should. Because the future of this nation kind of depends on it.

TV Writer. Emotional Eater.