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After the Election Letter to Lyman Boys

November 10, 2016

Dear Oliver, Ted, Nat & Brad,

I am sure that each of you has a complex set of thoughts and emotions after last night’s election results. I am sharing mine with the aim of helping you. As citizens in a representative democracy, we now give those who win elections their due and, regardless of our preferences, allow them the opportunity to succeed. In this instance, this means that I now set aside whatever personal animus I might have for President-elect Trump, given that he will now lead our nation.

It is important to understand what the election result means. This requires distinguishing between electing and governing:

– electing is about what the candidates said and did and how the process operated as it did; and

– governing is about who will now hold office and why the process reached the conclusion it did.

It is reasonable to bemoan what the candidates said (Trump’s demeaning denigrations; Clinton’s dismissiveness of ‘deplorables’) and to critique what they did (Trump’s appealing to certain demographics but not others; Clinton’s relying on the DNC, big data and celebrity supporters). It is also sensible to evaluate polling methods and accuracy and question the Electoral College and the other means and methods by which the result is determined.

It is more constructive to examine what Trump said he would do not just at the rhetorical level (‘make America great’ or ‘build the wall’) but also in more detailed policy areas (immigration, free trade, deficit & debt, health care, environmental protection). It then is incumbent upon all citizens to hold him to account to do as he said but also to call him out if he does it in a way that is counter-productive or inefficient or ineffective.

At the end, however, it is vastly more important than any of these – especially if you are young, as you all are – to contemplate what the election result really means. I have never found it appropriate to deem those with whom I disagreed, even sharply, too stupid or ignorant to know what they were voting for. All votes – including yours and mine – will necessarily be for candidates with whom we disagree, at least in part, and whose intentions we do not know, at least in part.

So, think long and hard about why a plurality of Americans (yielding an electoral college majority) voted for Trump. They knew he was misogynistic, racist, and otherwise generally offensive to many. And, if you accept my premise that they are not all similarly inclined, you can begin to look more closely at what they saw in his candidacy.

For me, I believe they saw his one truly insightful point – in this era of globalization, income inequality and cultural pluralism yield profound insecurity and uncertainty for many (based on the exit polls, not just low income white men, as the pre-election pundits might have you anticipate). The views of those voters – your and my fellow citizens – reflect important matters to which we should all give attention for the good of our country, other countries and people around the world.

I’m of course more than pleased to discuss any of this or other thoughts or feelings you have about the election, if you’d find it useful. Do not despair as if there is nothing to be done; dedicate yourselves to contributing as you believe best. I certainly intend on continuing to do the same. I love you all.

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