In Search of Simple Answers

There’s an interesting fall-out to this year’s election season: an amazing amount of “Monday morning quarterbacking”.

With the election results being what they are, it’s difficult to read much media that doesn’t include someone’s attempt at explaining exactly why things turned out the way they have, as well as trying to understand exactly why it seemed such a big surprise.

The various theories include:

The rebellion of the white, working, middle class. This under-appreciated segment of the voting populace turned out to rebel against what they saw as a progressive decline in values that they hold dear. While some segment of this group might be characterized as racist and misogynistic to a fault, the majority were simply tired of things like political correctness, and of perceived liberal pandering to those most easily offended. This isn’t so much a move toward a specific conservative candidate as it is an extreme reaction to the liberal alternative.

The inflexibility of the religious conservative. This argument is similar to the previous, but for different reasons. Seeing the decline in values that they consider to be non-negotiable since they are literally religiously dictated by an authority higher than any government, the backlash here is against the same progressive liberal way of thinking that might more readily accommodate different points of view. Once again this isn’t as much an endorsement of specific conservative candidates as it is an adoption of an entire conservative mindset over the opposition.

The legitimization of extreme behavior. The conservative candidate, through his words and actions,  legitimized behavior that was otherwise being suppressed by a large majority of the American populace. It became apparent that with his election it would presumably become acceptable to once again publicly express and act on opinions that bordered on the racist, misogynistic, and isolationist. The theory here is that the segment of the population that held these previously suppressed opinions was larger than anticipated, and their support of the candidate was a way to once again legitimize their own way of thinking.

The distastefulness of both candidates kept voters at home. With no alternative to truly vote for, many people didn’t vote at all, or threw away their votes at third party candidates. That the winner received only a tad over one-quarter of votes from eligible voters seems to support this theory.

Honestly … I think it’s all of those things and more.

Particularly in the face of crisis we want simple answers. Unfortunately, simple answers are rare.

We want our answers in simple, single sentences, and the media is more than happy to comply with appropriately snack-sized sound-bites and headlines. Actually understanding the issues – even the depth of the examples provided above – takes time and thought and a deeper reading of materials available. Time and thought and reading that most don’t employ.

The sad part is that the winning candidate knew this all along. His campaign was an example of sound-bite journalism, proposed simple solutions to complex problems, and anything else he could offer to encourage an affinity without encouraging too much thought.

The question is will we learn? Will we, as a society, come to understand that complex issues typically require an investment of thought, and usually result in complex solutions?

Unfortunately there’s no simple answer for that either.