As I watch what’s unfolded over the last month or so in media coverage, I realize that many have still not learned the lessons of 2016. I learned well myself in 2016 that it’s often best in intense times to not focus so much on a given poll or two, or on the breathless takes of a given moment on cable news, but to take some moments to reflect and look at the broader shifting of tectonic plates in American politics — and in the world today.
In 2016, after the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced of then-candidate Donald Trump’s crude remarks, many in the media said the race was over. Some polls even showed HIllary Clinton with a double-digit lead after the video came out. Less than two weeks later, Trump won an electoral college victory because of the broad movements of a large American public. And regardless of the myth that developed, Trump didn’t win because of himself, he won in spite of himself.
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Trump won in part because change had come to America too fast and too sharply for many voters, and these voters weren’t given a chance to catch up to this disruption. Many of those advocating for change merely told parts of America to hurry up, to process, to get with the program. Americans were flooded with this message — chaos and constant communication of that chaos.
Tom Reel/Pool via Getty ImagesSen. Ted Cruz debates Rep. Beto O’Rourke in a televised debate on Oct. 16, 2018 in San Antonio.
“Flooding” in psychology is when there’s too much of something, too quickly, too intensely, and people either shut down or look backwards. If more time had been dedicated to listening and showing compassion to those Americans undergoing these rapid changes, I doubt very much Trump ever would’ve been elected.
Let us understand that 300 million Americans don’t move suddenly in any one direction. The American public moves slowly and with intention toward a better way. It doesn’t make drastic shifts based upon some political current event, or some key moment. If given the chance — and not forced by leaders or by the media — many will listen, learn and take steps toward helping America into the future. Sometimes they’ll make mistakes, but they’ll always learn. But if they’re forced to accept intense changes too quickly, they’ll become flooded — and maybe shut down or stick with the status quo.
Just a few weeks ago there was wild speculation that Americans were going to punish Democrats for how Brett Kavanaugh was treated in the Senate Judiciary hearings. Then, just days later, their was much speculation that because Kavanaugh was approved as a Supreme Court Justice, the GOP would be punished at the polls for how upset many were at what they saw as an injustice having occurred. Neither appears to have happened, but Election Day will give us some indicator.
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Where are we today? We are right back where we were two months ago, where we were six months ago, and where we were a year ago. Donald Trump remains a very unpopular President, and Americans want Congress to hold him accountable and be a check on his actions. Also, as things stand at this moment, Democrats are likely to win the House, the GOP is likely to keep the Senate, and Democrats are very likely to win a net gain in governorships and in state legislatures. But there’s no guarantee of any of this, and we must wait to see what 100 million Americans are going to say on Nov. 6.
I’ve learned in my personal relationships that by allowing people I care about to have time to process something I tell them, or that if I’m making a decision that affects them, I should give them time to process this information and to reflect on what’s going on. I feel this exact same way myself, and I can tell when I get flooded with too much and I have gotten better at asking for time to reflect before I respond.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty ImagesBrett Kavanaugh (L) is sworn-in as Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court by retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy at the White House, Oct. 8, 2018.
Let us not get hung up on the latest breaking news or a new poll or the constant speculation of cable news shows. Let’s give ourselves, and other voters, a bit of pause. Let’s reflect on the broad shifts of the American public that come slowly and methodically. And let’s choose leaders strong enough to use reflection in their decision making, rather than those who immediately go on social media to stir things up based on fear and hate.
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And then once we choose those leaders, let’s give them the space they need without demanding immediate, microwaved reactions to every single moment that occurs.
We also should do this in our own lives, with our partners and loved ones, and we should be demanding it from the media and political leaders as well. Otherwise, we won’t understand where the world’s really headed, we won’t be able to understand diverse voices and we’ll flood one another with too much, too fast — fear will rise as the connections we crave become frayed.
I’m confident that if we give each other this compassion and space voters, over time, over a series of elections, will move our country forward into a bright future. And although this election is incredibly important, it won’t be the conclusion of our American story — just another chapter in the book all of us have the responsibility to co-author.
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