We should be appalled that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States but we should not be surprised. Tuesday’s result may have been unexpected based on polls, but the seeds that sowed Trump’s success have been growing for years. And it’s we—the people who are well aware of the problems—who haven’t done nearly enough to stop them. It’s tempting to blame our institutions for President-elect Trump and they deserve their share, but we must accept our own responsibility. It pains me to say it, but here are five reasons Donald Trump is the president we deserve.
We Have Worshiped Celebrities to Our Detriment
After Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Governor Jesse Ventura in Minnesota it was only a matter of time before a grossly unqualified celebrity—one with no political experience whatsoever ― would become president. I was betting on Tom Brady in 2028, but America beat me to the punch.
The outsized attention that we give actors, musicians, and athletes has always been unhealthy. But social media has allowed us to embrace our worst impulses toward celebrity culture. Following the words and deeds of celebrities went from being harmless escapism to a national compulsion, and today Justin Bieber has more Twitter followers than Barack Obama.
We have collectively ignored scholars, politicians, activists, authors, scientists, and others who have something worthwhile to say, while analyzing the words of Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus as if they were Pulitzer Prize winners. Nobody forced us to spend hours upon hours immersed in the lives of entertainers but that’s what we have chosen to do. We shouldn’t be surprised that after elevating celebrities to the status of demigod that we ended up electing one president.
We Have Been Politically Apathetic Slacktivists
I believe millions of Americans were thinking the same thing I was as the election results rolled in—I should have done more. I should have knocked on doors for Hillary. I should have called those friends in Michigan and made sure they weren’t voting for Trump. I should have been more politically engaged and active in an election year. But I know that’s only half the truth. The whole truth is that we need to be more politically engaged all the time.
It’s been clear for decades that our government increasingly carries on without our meaningful involvement. Critical votes in Congress occur without our knowledge. Bills that could lower the cost of health care or offer powerful campaign finance reform are killed and we don’t make a peep. We know our government is failing us, we get upset about it from time to time, and then we go back to discussing television shows.
When we do get riled up too many of us practice slacktivism instead of activism. We share an amusing post on Facebook or retweet a meme instead of setting up a meeting with our elected officials. We sign pointless petitions instead of mobilizing and demanding real reforms. We vote for do-nothing incumbents simply because they share our party affiliation. We have forgotten how to do our job as citizens.
In a country of politically informed and engaged Americans Donald Trump would have been laughed off the political stage. By letting our guard down and letting politics take a back seat to nearly everything else we gave Trump an uninformed electorate to swindle.
We Have Not Prioritized Critical Thinking
In 2016 Donald Trump gave the worst presidential debate performances of any candidate I’ve seen in my 35 years. His answers were often incoherent and untethered from reality. He lied so much that he won Politifact’s Lie of the Year award. He blamed Hillary Clinton for nearly everything that happened during her time in government even though no First Lady, Senator, or Secretary of State can unilaterally pass a law. He offered few concrete plans. He made promises no president can keep. But we elected him anyway.
Donald Trump could not have succeeded in a country of critical thinkers, or at least in a country where enough critical thinkers routinely confronted those who weren’t critical enough. Presidential debates and campaigns are only useful if the viewers are willing to analyze the candidates’ answers, do their own research, and can tell the difference between facts and falsehoods. But we have not prioritized those skills in our schools and in our homes to the degree that’s necessary in a representative democracy. President Trump is the product of an electorate that could not tell the difference between the real deal and an impostor.
We Have Rewarded the Media’s Focus on Nonsense Over Substance
It has been well noted that the three major news networks devoted just 32 minutes of coverage to policy issues in the election since the beginning of 2016, a number that was down from 114 minutes in 2012 and 220 minutes in 2008. Those numbers show that the media has gotten lazy and irresponsible but we are the ones who have rewarded them for it.
It may be difficult to be a judicious content consumer in the internet age but it is not impossible. We are the ones who clicked on the clickbait. We are the ones who talked more about Trump’s salacious statement than his stance on the issues. We are the ones who shared the post about that show on Netflix instead of the one comparing the candidate’s tax plans.
I wish it weren’t our job to hold media to a standard they should meet on their own, but now that is our job. There is no united mainstream media. There are mostly large corporations trying to attract eyeballs to make money. As long as we keep clicking on, watching, and sharing the worthless content they offer then that’s what they will provide. If we want substance we have to start rewarding those who give it to us.
We Have Lived in Our Own Bubbles and Allowed Others to Live in Theirs
I don’t know a single person in my circle of friends and family members who voted for Donald Trump and in other parts of the country I suspect there are people who don’t know a single Clinton voter. The internet has enabled all of us to live in self-affirming bubbles where we read and discuss what we’re already inclined to agree with and gain false certainty that the world is the way we see it. That kind of insularity might work well for a Meetup group but it’s hell on a representative democracy.
Truth isn’t gleaned from reading and hearing what you already think. Truth comes from testing what you believe against all evidence to the contrary. Those of us who happen to live in the well informed bubble are lucky, but we’re foolish to believe that those outside our bubble have the same information or view it in the same way. It’s our job to confront those Americans who live in the bubble where facts don’t hold primacy.
Trump did not win by a landslide. 300,000 votes in the right states would have swung the election to Clinton. If just 1 in 150 Clinton supporters had convinced a Trump supporter in a swing state to vote differently, Clinton would have won the presidency. But too many of us stayed in our bubbles because it would have been unpleasant to venture out. We let fear, decorum, and comfort stand in our way and we ended up with Trump.
It is said that evil prevails when good people do nothing, but again, that’s only half true. Evil prevails when good people don’t do enough—and we didn’t. We were complacent and we allowed our political system to be hijacked by a man who appeals to our worst impulses. We got what we deserve.
It’s too late for us to change the past. But we can remember how we feel today and use those feelings as fuel to make sure that we never deserve a leader like Donald Trump again. If we want America to become the country we envision, we have to earn it. Let’s get to work.