This is not a normal entry about Bangkok or life in Asia. These are some of my thoughts about the decision made by my countrymen this week. There are lots of links to follow for more reading.
Women at the Democrats Abroad Thailand election watch party (I use "party" loosely) sit in stunned silence as the US election results come in at the Roadhouse BBQ, an American restaurant in Bangkok.
The United States' held its Presidential election Wednesday (Tuesday night in the US, but I watched results come in from Bangkok, which is 12 hours ahead of Washington DC, so it was Wednesday morning).
A lot of people, including me, are disappointed with the results. Most of us thought the country would pick a flawed but qualified technocrat to run the country over a man-child with no impulse control.
To me, based on character alone, it wasn't even close. The eventual victor is manifestly unqualified to be President.
The mood at the Roadhouse was dour all morning.
I always felt being a photojournalist was close to having the best job in the world. My life behind the camera exposed me to people and circumstances few others get to experience.
I saw, during my travels in out-state Arizona and elsewhere in America, how shallow the economic recovery was and how angry people were. From ranchers and farmers who could barely make ends meet selling their products to middlemen who reaped disproportionally higher profits to copper miners who suffered through paycuts, loss of benefits and layoffs and worse as the mines, that once supplied copper to a nation, closed up and their communities became literal ghost towns, to factory workers who lived in permanent fear of their jobs being shipped to Mexico.
I knew I was incredibly lucky and privileged to be getting paid well to do something I loved and I something I thought was important.
There was never anything to cheer about during the long morning's election watch.
I know people are/were angry. NAFTA and other "free trade" agreements left them behind while corporations reported higher and higher profits. Not one banker was prosecuted for causing the world's greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
What I don't understand is how people channelled their anger. In the states hardest hit by the Great Recession they voted for Republicans. Republicans who cut their unemployment benefits and social services. Republicans who laid off their teachers and closed their schools. Republicans who railed against minorities and created fear of "people not like us."
As the situation in those states got worse, they reelected the Republicans. They voted against their own interests over and over and over again.
Kansas, Louisiana, Arizona, Wisconsin, all kept voting for Republicans who, while they cut taxes, also gutted social services and education, and let infrastructure crumble. The tax cuts disproportionately benefit the elite at the very top of the social ladder. The education and social services cuts hurt the people at the bottom of the ladder. They've guaranteed a permanent underclass that scrapes to get by.
States that elected Democratic leadership, in comparison, did and are doing, better. Things are not perfect and there's a real urban/rural divide but places like Minnesota and California have worker shortages and higher wages while Wisconsin and Arizona flounder. (Professional sports stadiums in the Twin Cities bus in workers from out of state.) Taxes are higher but people are seeing benefits to those taxes in stronger education systems, better infrastructure and better social services.
Nothing to cheer about.
I'm not surprised a protest candidate
won came in second in the popular vote.
But I'm left shaking my head over who the protest candidate is.
- A man-child who once bragged about being able to stand in the middle of 5th Ave in New York and shoot people and not lose votes.
- An anti-immigration firebrand who housed some of his undocumented workers in his apartments.
- A "businessman" who has bankrupted multiple companies and left thousands of workers on the hook for his decisions. A businessman who doesn't build teams but delights in saying to people, "You're fired."
- A serial philanderer who bragged about sexually assaulting women, who bragged about walking through beauty pageant dressing rooms to see naked girls.
- A media whore who boasted about his sex life on radio shows.
- A coward who dodged the draft insulting Gold Star families and American servicemen.
The day was nothing but a flood of bad news.
I think the vote was also revenge.
Revenge by older white people against people of color because we just finished eight years with a popular, stable, mature black man as our popularly elected President.* This revenge is characterized by the NRA's allegation that he was just a "demographically symbolic" choice and various GOP depictions of President Obama as less than human. A man who, with his family, can be a role model for all Americans. I am proud of President Obama and wish him well. The nation betrayed him. He deserved better.
We deserve better.
The vote was revenge by the "straight" community (and radically conservative Christians) against the social advances made in the LGBQT community. Revenge against gay marriage. Against transgendered people having the same rights the rest of us have. Fear that "they" would somehow hurt "us" even though there is no evidence of that. They deserve better.
We deserve better.
The United States used to be a shining city on a hill. A country that stood for something.
We were an imperfect nation to be sure and terrible things were done in our name, starting with the conquest of the continent and genocide against Native People, from coups in Guatemala and Iran to the Vietnam War to the current chaos in the Middle East.
But we also threw off the shackles of isolationism and eventually came to the aid of the forces of democracy in World War 2. We helped rebuild Europe after the war.
We provide humanitarian assistance in times of disaster, whether a tsunami in Asia, an earthquake in Haiti, or an ebola epidemic in Africa. The response is not always perfect but no one in the world does logistics better than the American military. When we put our minds to it, we can be agents of change.
The Republicans, and their
candidate President-Elect, want to destroy all of that. To make torture a tool of national policy. Use racial profiling to marginalize and harass communities of color. To slam shut the door on immigration. To codify religious bigotry.
We deserve better. The world deserves better.
Finally, I guess that after the President Obama's tenure, American males of a certain age were so afraid of a woman becoming President, doing the one last thing a woman had never done, that they selected someone who is not woman. But neither is he a man we can look up to.
We try to go back to the US once a year. Each time I go back I feel more like a stranger in a strange land. Feeling out of place around people who look like me and talk like me but are not like me. It's a weird feeling. I'm dreading the feelings that will get dredged up when we go back next April.
* If there is anything I take from the election, it's that our better angels didn't completely desert us. We must remember The GOP candidate did not "win" the election. He came in second.
The popular vote was won by Hillary Clinton, who got more than 60,467,601 votes. The GOP candidate got only about 60,072,551 votes. It's not a huge gap, but it will grow as California and New York count their absentee ballots. So of the majority of people who voted, most voted for Hillary Clinton. Voter turnout was abysmally bad though. The President-Elect did not win. He will probably be selected by the Electoral College (although Electors have been known to change their votes, it's very unusual), an archaic body created, in part, to maintain the power of slave owners.
The GOP candidate, an unrepentant racist, owes his Presidency to a vestigial body created to protect slavery. Maybe we got exactly what we deserve.