Our deepest held beliefs, the things we feel most - who we fall in love with, our sense of right and wrong, which sports teams we root for – are for the most part unexplainable. Something out there hits us and a part of us responds “that’s me”. And that sense, once acquired, is hard to shake. Religious belief is obviously so, especially for people whose sense of reality from birth has been molded by it, but it applies to other beliefs as well. It takes a lot of bad behavior on your loved one’s part to make you stop loving them. If you’ve never been a thief it requires a pretty high level of desperation for you to grab someone else’s money and run. Your team can lose all season and you’ll be back in the stands next year convinced that “this year we’ll do it”.
What happened in the election was that Donald Trump was able to inspire belief in his followers and Hillary Clinton wasn’t. It’s as simple as that. Trumps’ message, hammered home over and over again, was straightforward an uncomplicated: “Your political leaders have sold you out to foreigners – your jobs, your neighborhoods, your security. Elect me and we’ll take our country back.” The “foreigner” definition got spread pretty wide, taking in religious and ethnic “others” of all sorts - in short, anybody who’s not us. Almost exactly a quarter of the country locked into that message the minute they heard it. All the confusion, frustration and anxiety of the past two decades, especially the world since 9/11, was explained and solved in a single sentence: “They did this to our country and it’s up to us to fix it.” Once that moment of connection was made, additional information was neither welcome nor relevant. It didn’t matter that none of the experts (the ultimate others) thought that Trump’s simplistic solutions (“a fifteen minute meeting in the oval office”) would work, or how many women he groped. He was the man with the message and the message transcended the man.
Poor Hilary was obviously more “qualified”. But to the true believers, this just made her one of them. The true believers wanted a “non-politician” for the most important political job on earth and Hillary Clinton was the living embodiment of everything they despised. And, worse, while she was able to inspire confidence in her supporters, she was not able to inspire belief. Her message wasn’t simple. She honestly faced the world for the complicated mess it is. The true believers didn’t want to hear it. And even her own supporters were followers not believers. She didn’t have the armor and shield of the message bearer to protect her from the non-stop attacks the other side kept throwing at her. It’s the same problem secularists have with fundamentalists. The fundamentalist’s message is simpler and stronger. When the battle lines are drawn, open mindedness loses out to someone with God on their side. In the end, confidence wasn’t enough. Belief was. It always is.
Half the country didn’t vote. You can bet that the believers did, every one of them. That silent half, whether they meant to or not, have validated Trump’s message – that the American people have lost Faith (capital F) in their political system. He was right about that. Unfortunately being right about that doesn’t mean he knows what to do with the presidency now that he’s got it.
What we do about it now will require more faith then we’ve ever had.