THE BLOG

​What's Going On, Donald?

15/11/2016 11:47

On my Facebook feed, at my workplace and at the events I go to - I haven't seen a single Trump supporter. Same goes for my colleagues and friends.

Over the course of this psychedelic presidential election season, and particularly after the election results, I have been flooded with gifs and memes ridiculing Trump supporters and everyone who voted for him. From where my social circle stands, they are all sexist, racist, narrow minded and generally backwards.

For the last few days, I've been thinking where and how can I meet a Trump supporter and if I did - what would we talk about. It takes me a lot of intellectual effort to imagine what, social and political views aside, makes a person to physically cast a vote for a 70-year old "agent provocateur" with orange hair, neck deep in scandal, no manners and a companion who looks like everything my mother told me a woman shouldn't be. In an unlikely event of this encounter, would we laugh at the same jokes, share similar tastes in music or even understand each other's social codes?

But isn't it essentially the problem? Today, we seem to be living a dual existence. On paper, what binds us are national anthems and citizenships but the true sense of belonging manifests through social formations that transcend geopolitical structures. They are scattered across online and offline worlds. As the events of 2016 in the UK and the US have shown, the walls of those formations are even more robust than the Iron Curtain. Within those formations, there are tacitly chosen "leaders" (clearly in mine it's Michelle Obama), anthems, laws and behavioural codes. There are other satellite formations we let close but generally we get pretty unnerved when we have to explore the broader planet. Inter-formation relationships, private or business, are generally rare and frowned upon.

The problem is - geographically defined nations still exist and political processes need to be agreed upon by the representatives of all social formations. That's probably the only moment when we are forced to leave the comfort of those robust walls and confront others. This is when we realise that there were trends and views taking shape at our doorstep we knew nothing (or little) about; it takes a shocking political move to actually see them. Yes, to see them but what about understanding them?

Ok, enough of the quirky metaphors. Journalists, politicians, NGOs, analysts and simple mortals have been toying with the data post-Brexit vote in the UK and now post-Trump election in the US. We focus on Philadelphia, disconnected rural areas, Facebook feeds that don't flag fake news, or biased media... We point fingers at each other "You, the angry pleb!" or "You, the rotting hipster!"

If we all took a deep breath for a moment, we might see that it is all boiling down to a rather "simple" problem: we are lost in translation. The humanist in me is telling me that behind those hasty conclusions and nervous accusations, lie underlying pains and struggles, very basic human worries and concerns for tomorrow, for the future that have very little or nothing to do with sexism or racism. We would understand if we learnt to communicate, if we wanted to communicate without fear or prejudice. We don't have to be friends but we at least have to sit around the table.

Clearly, if Trump or Leave campaigners can understand what is going on within those social entities and tap into the common threads, so can everyone else. They didn't do it alone. Allegedly, Cambridge Analytica is an agency that was hired both by the Republican candidates in the UK and the Leave campaign in the UK. They boast a capacity to target voters with "uniquely crafted messages based on their unconscious bias". Their systems picked up on those social movements many of us ignored.

Perhaps it is the unconscious bias - this terribly scientific term I'm still trying to fully comprehend as I'm typing it - that determines those social entities. They are difficult to pinpoint as they don't have headquarters, regular assemblies or physical manifestos. If you asked me or someone else from my social entity what defines it, we would probably struggle or even be a bit in denial. Unconsciously, though, we feel it.

Yet, the lessons of 2016 have taught us that this comfort of social isolationism comes at a painfully high cost. Humanity learnt to evolve and adapt to various cultural set-ups, build trade agreements and exchange rates between strikingly different entities. Maybe we are entering a new cycle where we need to create new community bridges that will help us all to fully comprehend who we are, who the other is and what we stand for as humanity in the 21st century.

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