This week was the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, so NPR affiliate KCRW in Los Angeles did a call-in retrospective of the spectrum of reactions people had to the election and to Trump’s Presidency thus far. Most of the callers recounted their feelings of shock, sadness, disappointment and so on, but I just rolled my eyes, remembering that I feared he could actually win all throughout the campaign season. How did I know? For me it wasn’t hard to tell if you knew the state of the country as I see it. Heck, I was reminded of that when I joined a live tweet for last weekend’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead:”
Though The Walking Dead is on its surface a show about killing zombies, I’m a fan because to me it’s really about human nature, and what people do in situations that are bleak. The best episodes to me are about character, and the show is so popular that doing its broadcast, fans get on Twitter and “tweet” out their reactions to each episode in real time. This season the show features what I see as a moral dilemma, as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse find themselves at war with another group of extremely savage and violent survivors. As the main characters fight their battles, they find themselves struggling with whether it’s better to kill those who have or tried to kill them in the past, or to show mercy. I believe that mercy means realizing that when put into a desperate situation, people will do desperate things to survive but are ultimately still people, and thus possible to rehabilitate. I feel that our civilization itself argues for this, and I see it in our criminal justice system: I think we as a society believe that it’s better to give people a chance than it is to take revenge, hence “innocent until proven guilty,” hence states in the US without a death penalty, hence even our prison industrial complex, unfortunately. I thought the Walking Dead’s fans were like me, but through the live tweet I realized that to the vast majority of them, it’s just an eye for an eye, kill or be killed, if you kill my dog I will slay your cat, and I believe that kind of thinking is what gave us Donald Trump too. That’s why I felt the election would go as it did.
If there is one thing I see and hear consistently in all of Trump’s speeches and his supporters words it’s anger. I feel that many of his supporters are barely-educated lowbrows whose only answer to everything is to hit somebody, like a child might. To me they seem to value machismo a lot too, which is what I gathered from the bulk of the tweets of the Walking Dead’s fans also. Growing up all over this country has led me to believe that there are a lot of these people like this, so when they encounter a storyline in which there is a clear “bad guy” on the Walking Dead, they understand only one kind of reaction as valid: Hit him. Kill him. So while I’d always believed that because Walking Dead has earned a decent amount of critical acclaim its audience was more sophisticated, the live tweet forced me to accept the obvious: The Walking Dead is a popular show about killing zombies, so its audience would naturally reflect popular opinion, the same opinions that got us Trump.
In my life I’ve gotten tons of advice that later turned out not to work as intended: be honest. Be yourself. Do well in school. Dreams do come true. In every case, I had to adjust what I was taught to fit reality as I knew it. While this has allowed me to survive and even thrive, at the end of the day, I feel that the world is a certain way, and while you can re-frame it to cope, when the rubber meets the road, it is what it is. We are the culture of the quarterback and the prom queen. Cheaters prosper all the time. Bad things happen to good people on a regular basis, and as my therapist taught me, what is “good” anyway? Most importantly, our culture, the same culture that loves the Walking Dead but doesn’t understand higher forms of morality, voted for and elected the guy that reflected their sensibilities. Regardless of whether we like it, that’s reality too, and I believe that the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can deal.
I realize how cynical that sounds, but I honestly believe it’s realism, not cynicism. In the French philosopher Voltaire’s 18th century satire Candide, he muses that in the final analysis, we as individuals have the greatest amount of control over our immediate sphere – our family, our house, our neighborhood; perhaps our town. I always took that to mean that we do the best we can with anything above and beyond ourselves, but we ultimately are most directly responsible for our own experience of life. In Candide, awful things happen to the main characters constantly, but they adjust and keep going because that’s really the most that they can possibly do. This is how I live my life too. If I can influence somebody who might vote for Trump I do, but I recognize that I might not be able to. At the same time, Trump moves people so much more than I possibly could, so I feel that I have to prepare to live in the world that I get, regardless of whether it’s going my way. I feel that what helps me to do that best is to recognize and accept the fundamental truth that we live in a country full of people that love and support Trump, but that not everybody did. and they won the election. Though The Walking Dead’s live tweet suggests there are a lot of them, the goal of those of us who aren’t should be to come together, “find our tribe” as others have put it, and work toward making the best life – in our immediate sphere – that we possibly can. I feel that at the end of the day, it won’t matter what those who disagree with us are doing. They can kill all of the innocent people they want, we will stop them if we have to, and not do the same because we believe that’s what’s best for us. As long as we acknowledge that they exist but decide and live by what’s right for us, I believe that we truly can all get along. Denying what’s so however, or abdicating our ability to make things better for ourselves seems to me to be just a recipe for misery and conflict, and I refuse to live that way. Even in a world full of people who would elect Donald Trump.