Bubbles, Bubbles, Everywhere

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I’ve been exchanging thoughts about the election with a friend of mine from high school.  Chris and I grew up in Kansas City. We migrated to opposite coasts. Chris eventually returned to Kansas City, while I have spent the last 25 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Chris was bemoaning how the “coastal elites” view those who live in the heartland. He believes that those in the “coastal elite bubble” base their reporting or prognostication on their own elite perspectives and then act surprised when the voters in the “hinterland” vote differently.

There’s certainly truth in what Chris says, there is an “elite” that is surprised when their point of view is not accepted.  But it’s not coastal. And there is no geographic “elite” bubble limited to the coasts.

Yes, there are people on the coasts who make dumb comments about “The Wizard of Oz” and “flyover country” and assume that everyone in the middle of the country is some sort of idiotic hick or rube. But that’s just a result of lack of exposure.  I’m regularly astonished at the number of smart, sophisticated people I know who have never set foot in the land that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the states along the Atlantic.

That being said, I think the “coastal” elite thing is overstated. It’s not the coast vs the heartland. Instead, the divide is a divide of class, education and urban/rural. Geography is not that consequential. There are “elites” everywhere. There may be greater concentrations in some areas than in others, but the “elites” are everywhere.

I know I live in a bubble, but my bubble is not a geographic one. My friends who live away from the Coasts are almost uniformly part of the upper(ish) class, educated, urban/suburban “elite.” And with a few — very few — exceptions, my friends are appalled by Trump and astonished by the outcome of the election regardless of where they live.

So if the “elites” are in bubbles, there are bubbles everywhere, not just on the coasts. There are “elites” in New York and Washington and San Francisco, but there are also “elites” in Kansas City and Tulsa and Louisville. And the bubbles we live in are those made of class, education and the opportunity to be exposed to and become comfortable with the “other” that is available because of greater diversity in urban/suburban areas.

If someone is not well educated, lives in a rural area and is in economic distress, s/he is not likely to know Muslims, or openly LGBT people or Asians or undocumented residents, or highly educated women etc. It’s much easier to view those “other” people with suspicion when you don’t know them. And Trump fed that fear.

But the lack of understanding goes two ways. In my bubble, I don’t know rural America. I don’t know many people who didn’t go to college. I don’t know many people who are suffering from the displacement caused by the evolution of our economy away from manufacturing jobs. I don’t know many people who have never left their state, not to mention traveled abroad.

I find it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because I’m “smarter” and more sophisticated/worldly, I know better. But the thing is, I don’t know — at all. I don’t know the experience that made Trump supporters buy into the fear he peddled.

And I think it’s only when those of us who are the “elites” (geography be damned) open up our eyes and try to understand these “others” that we can even begin to move forward. We, the “elite,” have the resources to figure out why many Trump supporters think the way they do. They don’t have the resources to figure out why we think the way we do.

So it’s on us, “elites,” to make an effort to figure out WTF is going on and whether there’s anything we can do to change the situation.  Maybe there isn’t. Maybe Trump’s supporters are just a bunch of racist, sexist assholes for no reason. But I doubt it’s that simple. We don’t have to agree with the Trump supporters or respect their thinking.  But we do need to understand the roots of their thinking if we want that thinking to change.

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