By MATT SHAPIRO
Young mother Eula Biss was struggling to keep her infant son safe. She was frustrated at the lack of regulation around lotion ingredients (cosmetics are not regulated by the FDA) and polyvinal chloride in her son's mattress. During this time, the Deepwater Horizion spill was gushing oil into the Gulf and BP was using millions of gallons of Corexit to disperse the oil slick.
In he frustration, she cried, "If our government can't keep phthalates out of my baby's bedroom and parabens out of his lotion, and 210 million gallons of crude oil and 1.84 million gallons of dispersant out of the Gulf of Mexico, for the love of God, then what is it good for?"
You could pedantically point out that the government does all sorts of valuable things, from medical regulation to defense, from social services to infrastructure. You could calmly chide her for insisting the government concern itself first and foremost with her narrow interests or ask her to look at the big picture.
You could do these things. If you are an asshole.
The truth is she saw every pain point in her life, all the things that were wrong with the the world, and a government she trusted to take care of these things was doing a terrible job. If the fail rate is high on the things we care about, we tend not to notice the successes.
I think we're all hitting this point. We're all looking at the failures, the pain, the injustice around us and we are all asking "what is government good for"? (The exception to this rule is the people who came up with the "America is already great" slogan, people who have taken the bold counter-cultural stand to see all the things wrong in the world and declare, in a single loud voice, that everything is just fine, thank you and shut up.)
There is a certain part of me that is still in shock that Donald Trump collected enough votes to take over the party I most closely align with (I won't call it "my party" because I've always only been loosely affiliated). But when I think about the frustration and desperation, I wonder if this or something like this was always inevitable.
I've always struggled with the condemnations of Trump voters (aren't they listening? Don't they know? Can't they figure it out? Are they stupid?) because something about the tone assigned to Trump voters didn't seem to fit. David Blankenhorn wrote an amazing piece quoting Trump voters that I think speaks more truthfully to the sentiment. It's not that they trust or even like Trump. It's that they see him as a break from the career politician who got into office on lies, then spoke lies and whom they feel is now lying to them. They're willing to take a chance on Trump because ... what's the worst that can happen? He's lying to them?
Oh no. Not a politician who lies. However will we recover from that.
It is the cry of the distressed mother. Things are broken. They can't get anything right. What are they even good for?
I wish I could give an answer to this question. I understand the frustration, but I don't share in it. I don't think things are as bad as many people say they are. Even if they were that bad, I don't think blowing up the entire system is the solution. Lots of bad things come out of chaos. America didn't rise out of chaos but out of a widely held, widely debated, extremely eloquent ideological order. There was a war, yes. But there was a well-conceived order to replace the old order.
Donald Trump has no concept of ideological order. We can see this in the Blankenhorn's piece: Trump supporters have few good things to say about Trump other than "he is a good businessman," which is an opinion derived almost entirely from his own self-proclamations and his reality show.
Trump is the sort of person who arises out of chaos: an amoral strongman who relies on the power of the state to control his subjects. Outside of the most extreme alt-right fringe, this is not the kind of person Trump supporters really want. They see a system rotten to the core and Trump as their chance to blow it up. I'm not even sure they want what Trump will replace it with ... they just want it to be replaced.
Even to this end, Trump is not the solution. He is not the sort of person who blows a system up so much as the sort of person who milks a system dry for his own personal gain. People are mistaking his bluster and anger as opposition to the status quo. Trump is opposed to the status quo when it comes to kindness and standards of basic human decency, but in terms of governance, he is a platonic ideal of the sort of big business / big government / big interest / cronyism that has given us the broken system against which we are seeing rebellion.
I could go on a sort of standard litany of the reasons I can't vote for Donald Trump, but many people have gone through that laundry list more effectively than I can. I do hope that I can convince even one person that if you're voting for Trump in order to blow up the system, Trump is not the person who will do it because he is not what he says he is.
If you really do want to upend the system, my recommendation is to vote for Gary Johnson. He comes with his own set of problems, but Johnson's vision of a libertarian government is the only thing resembling the deep and dramatic change of direction that could be considered "blowing up the system." Trump will simply retain the system to favor one and only one interest: his own.
Matt is a software engineer, data vis designer, genetics data hobbyist, and technical educator based in Seattle. He tweets under @politicalmath, where he is occasionally right about some things.