Compassion is the answer to the U.S. Election

My take on the election: I do not believe Trump won because the United States is any more sexist, racist, or Islamaphobic than it was two days ago, rather I believe he won despite him showing all of these signs. He won because whether he realized it or not, the new political divide in the world today is not between right and left as we have known them for the last forty years, but rather between a globalizing elite and those who feel left behind by the new world.

The New York Times has an outstanding graphic which shows geographically which areas Trump outperformed Romney four years ago. It is very clear: he won the former industrial mid-west, in particular those areas with relatively fewer college graduates – in other words, the white working class. His racist and sexist attitudes probably cost him more votes than he won by them. Many of the haters would have voted for him anyways, many more were grossly turned off by them. The people he flipped were working class whites, former union people and a large portion of the population who normally don’t vote at all, in particular in rural areas. We see the same thing in Brexit and around the developed world.

The truth is the situation of poor, low-education, working class whites in America has become a disaster. And the truth is globalization has played a large part in that decline. These people are forced to compete with literally billions of new entrants into the global middle class, primarily in East Asia, India and yes Latin America. In their gut, the white working class know globalization has played a massive role in their prospects becoming so grim. When somebody comes along who tells them what they feel in their bones to be true, they think “finally, somebody who gets it and somebody who has the balls and will to reverse it,” and so they come out in sufficient numbers to propel him to victory (it only takes a few percent of the voting population to flip the election result in swing states, and thus the country).

Why did the pollsters and data wizards get it wrong? The only explanations I can think of are (1) many people weren’t willing to share openly their support for Trump with pollsters precisely because they knew Trump was so politically incorrect and they feared being stigmatized as racists and sexists by expressing their support, and (2) because modern polling techniques have some sort of systematic sample bias of primarily polling those who have been hurt less by deindustrialization (technology and communication habits, most likely).

The reality is this – Economics correctly states globalization benefits the country more than it hurts it, but there are populations which lose out from it. The solution, of course, is for the winners of globalization to compensate the losers so that we are all better off. This basic bargain hasn’t been implemented. The globalized elite have pocketed their gains and live in informational bubbles where they do not even encounter people who have lost from globalization. I find it telling that Trump supporters just knew Trump would win because everybody they knew supported Trump, and the same is true for Hillary supporters – they just knew Hillary would win because everyone they knew despised Trump and because Nate Silver was never wrong. But we live in different worlds. The failure of the left to insist on some form of compensation for those left behind by globalization as a condition for their support of it is a primary reason why Trump won. Why did the left not care? Because we had, consciously or not, labeled such people deplorables. Because some of them were haters and we thought they were all going to vote Republican (or not vote at all) anyways, we just wrote them off. We arrogantly called them “racist, ignorant white trash.” We also didn’t really know they existed because we live and travel in cities and fly over or drive quickly past their reality.

None of this is to say Trump’s stated policies will make their situation any better. In fact, I fear they could make us all much, much worse off. I think many of these people have been conned into supporting somebody who will not be able to deliver on his promises to them. Eventually that con will be revealed. Maybe these people know it is probably a bunch of false promises, but figure they have nothing to lose by trying it Trump’s way. But it is not enough for us to just wait for his failure to meet expectations to happen. Progressives need to find solutions for poor whites too. I am not saying globalization is entirely to blame. Technological advances in robotics also play a huge role. Most of the failure is actually one of policy support for the working class.

People on the left now face a challenge: we have been criticizing Republicans for putting party before country. Will we now do the same? There are parts of Trump’s agenda which are good, most notably his plans for massive increases in infrastructure spending (I am not talking about the Wall here) and his at least stated intention to do something about campaign finance (though his Supreme Court picks are likely to undo any progress here). But mostly, we need to start thinking of new solutions.

I think we can easily make the case that universal health care, universal pre-K, support for working mothers, free job retrainings and apprenticeships – in short, public support for the working poor – simultaneously helps the poor live middle class lives and keeps the cost of hiring workers low, enabling U.S. companies to compete globally. This is the case we need to make. Just labeling them all racists, sexists, and deplorables will not bring us any closer to solutions or any closer together as a country. We need to heal the divisions this election has laid bare. We can do that with compassion for our fellow citiizens who have communicated clearly they have been hurting and we haven’t been bothered to care.

As Kadampas, we need to remember our fight is with delusions, starting with our own.  There is no creator other than mind.  Everything that appears to us is mere karmic appearance of mind.  This world is our dream, it is our responsibility to reconstruct it.  How?  Through wisdom, compassion, and pure view.  We must resist racism, sexism, Islamaphobia, of course, but we must also resist the elitism and arrogance and uncaring in our own mind.  We must also realize that samsara is the nature of suffering and is the nature of deception.  We know political solutions will only take us so far.  The real solution lies in us destroying the demons of self-cherishing, self-grasping, ordinary conceptions, and ordinary appearances in our own mind, then helping others do the same.  We live in degenerate times.  We must be sources of good.

7 thoughts on “Compassion is the answer to the U.S. Election

  1. I didn’t, couldn’t, vote in this election, and I ‘watched’ it unfolding kind of through my fingers as it were. Now Brexit has been repeated, and I knew I had to find a Dharma answer for it. And I knew I could trust you Ryan to lay it out clearly, calmly and compassionately. This is our karma we have created. We must deal with it and learn from it and hope that we can find the lessons we need to from it. Thank you.

  2. I could say a lot about this article but probably people wouldn’t be interested anyway 🙂

    You asked “Why did the pollsters and data wizards get it wrong?” I can provide at least four answers to this.
    (1) Polls are only printed in newspapers: newspapers often have an agenda, so will commission polls that benefit their right/left wing view – pollsters aren’t predictors of elections, they are creators.
    (2) Pollsters like to keep in line with other polls (for example, one pollster correctly predicted the British 2015 general election but suppressed their information as it wasn’t in line with other polls).
    (3) Right wing people tend to have full-time jobs so won’t answer their phone to pollsters, whereas Lefties tend to reply to polls.
    (4) Left wing people tend to be younger but don’t have the habit of voting.

    I read the sentence where you stated: “Economics correctly states globalization benefits the country more than it hurts it” – this is a bit contentious. Firstly, globalization can be interpreted in different ways. One way to interpret it is de-industrialization which, as you say, harms the working class. I would also say that we don’t have many local shops because they’ve been overtaken by the monopoly of Walmart, McDonalds, Starbucks. Local shops cannot compete with the production line of big business. Don’t forget we used to think “the trickle down effect” would solve the majority of human problems but economics has realized it is a load of crap.

    Anyway, enough from me. Thanks for the article. You’re right – “We must be sources of good, wisdom, compassion, and pure view.”

  3. The subtle hubris of this article is quite glaring actually. It’s assuming that most of the individuals who voted for Donald Trump are downtrodden, poor white folk. That is an assumption rooted in arrogance. As a dharma practitioner, someone who practices Lamrim, you should know better than to mix dharma with Politics. Seems we in the west think that this is a healthy thing. Dharma should never be mixed with politics. It should never be used for that purpose. I feel it very necessary to address this because if it is not, it will pollute the great Kadampa teachings here in the west. In my opinion, dharma should never be discussed, nor referred to when dealing with political matters.

    • Hi Eric,

      Thank you for your comment. Sorry if I wasn’t clear or offended in some way. People in my karmic orbit are generating some real delusions in response to the rise of Trump, and I am trying to counter those by encouraging them to generate compassion instead. I am not assuming all of Trump’s supporters are poor white folk, I am merely saying it was poor white folk who “made the electoral difference.” They were the marginal voter in the election, they swung to Trump, causing the swing states to go his way, causing him to win. There are plenty of others who also supported Trump, but they would have likely supported a Republican anyways. Their support didn’t swing the election, poor white people did.

      On mixing Dharma with politics, I think we need to make a distinction between mixing Dharma with politics and Dharma practitioners having political views. Mixing Dharma with politics means we use politics and state power to enforce certain religious views. Not mixing the two does not mean Dharma practitioners are not allowed to have political views about normal political stuff. Our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. In democracies, having political views is part of modern life, therefore we must integrate the Dharma into it. I try vote and support the least deluded and most compassionate policies according to my admittedly very limited understanding of the world. I try skillfully encourage others to do the same, without forcing anybody to think the way I do. I certainly don’t use political power to enforce certain religious views.

      I also don’t think it is good to assume any one political position is the only one a Dharma practitioner can support. That is a misuse of Dharma, I agree. Our battle is against delusion and delusion alone. But people generate all sorts of delusions with respect to politics, so I don’t think there is any harm in bringing wisdom and compassion into such discussions.

      Perhaps I am wrong.


      • I appreciate the reply. Just a note on “politics.” It is divisive, plotting one side against another. It breeds conflict. It is devised from delusion, thus ‘I’m right and you are wrong.’ Most often we can see that one side, rather it be the “left,” or the “right” alienates the other. Therefore, Dharma, in my opinion, should be used to illuminate the delusion of politics, not used as a tool to simply understand the delusion of the “other side.” I understand most in the west will not agree with this view and that’s perfectly okay. However, in my opinion, there is no left, or right, we or them. It is simply us.

    • Dear Eric. If I was an Enlightened being, I would have no problem with any politics and strife anywhere, because I would realise without effort that politics like everything else is empty of inherent existance. But I am not, and so politics still affects me, both externally and internally. When I worry about the stuff happening in the world over which I have no more control over than one vote (I’m not American, but I did vote in the UK referendum), then I try to look for a Dharma solution rather than try to ‘solve it’ on my own with brute force and a very deluded mind. I could bury my head in the sand, avoid the internet, news, and other people and then politics would not exist for me. But that is not where I live. People like Ryan, and Luna, help with this, they are far wiser and more experienced in Dharma than I am, and they help to put this messy world into a Dharma context for me.

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