Hello my friend,
I’m going to talk about the election. If you are tired of reading about it or hearing about it, I totally understand and wanted to save you the energy of reading any further. It’s also not short.
We live in incredible times.
Among the things that make these times so incredible are the many things that divide us in America. Recently, the presidential election seems to drive us to see the country as two different countries, because there are two major parties that can win as the system is currently operating. When I say “us” in that last sentence, I include myself, as someone who participated in voting for one of the two major party candidates with a philosophy that I must exercise my vote and that any vote other than for the two major parties does not really count.
I am now realizing how myopic my view on this has been.
Let’s look at the data for a second.
Only 57.9% of eligible voters actually voted. Out of 231.5 million eligible voters, around 134 million actually voted. That leaves 97.5 million people that didn’t vote. (note: You can find this data and other interesting data at electproject.org)
Let’s go ahead and say that voter suppression is real, and that it has impacted some percent of that 97.5 million people. Let’s be generous and say 20% of the non voting, eligible electorate was impacted by voter suppression. That would still leave us with 78 million people who for some reason or another, did not vote.
Let’s go further and say that 10% of them forgot, got caught up at work, or had some other obstacle that got in there way. That would still leave us with 68 million people that didn’t vote, because they didn’t want to. 68 million, at least.
We are not an equally divided country of red and blue states. We are a very diverse country with a difficult history and aspirations to represent the best things in humanity. Just by that definition, we are almost certain to fall short most of the time. I think the sentiment in America right now is that many of us feel that we did just fall short of who we believe we are.
A little more math…
Let’s take the voters that did vote either red or blue, which we will say is around 98% of the voting electorate, 131 million people. Let’s split that number right down the middle, 65.5 million reds and 65.5 million blues. Neither the red or blue voting electorate is larger than the 68 million (at least) eligible voters who decided that they were just not going to participate.
I met one of those people this week at Summit at Sea. If you’ve never heard of Summit at Sea, it’s a gathering for the Summit community which is a group of very high performing people in a wide array of fields coming together to share, learn and be inspired by each other. By measure of accomplishment, it’s easily one of the most impressive groups of people I’ve ever been a part of. I say that to say, this person who I met who decided not to vote is no slouch. He is very smart, very accomplished, and should be respected for his point of view. And his view was that he is not voting in this election because he could not find a candidate that he could get behind.
He and at least 68 million other people feel that way.
So now, let us look back at the events of the past week and even this election cycle and ask ourselves… what have we done to engage those 68 million people. The actual majority. The ones who basically think the whole system is so poorly designed that it’s either not worth voting for or they morally can not contribute to it even with their vote.
Pause. Before you think I’m justifying anything with math, let’s level set.
I’ve been black and a US citizen all my life, so I’ve always been aware of discrimination. It’s part of my identity just like my birthday and being born and raised in Brooklyn. My ancestors were slaves here. I have never and will never apologize for the way that my people have been treated in this country since its creation, that honor is reserved for the descendants of the perpetrators.
While the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, was supposed to ensure that all US citizens regardless of race could vote, it wasn’t until 1965 when Lyndon Johnson passed the voters rights act which stopped some bad state laws (mostly in the South) from preventing black people from voting. That’s only 51 years ago.
So I am under no illusion that I can get along with everyone and connect in discourse with all people. Some people are too far gone. That’s part of the diversity of our country too, the fact that we have some people with ideologies that consider me, people like me and people unlike them to be less than human. Let’s not confuse diversity with inclusion. Diverse just means varied.
But I don’t think those people are the actual majority. It seems to me than many of the really dangerous people out there would have fallen into the Trump camp as that campaign, its rallies more than its rhetoric (which is incredible as the rhetoric was very scary), were havens for racism and religious intolerance. So who are the actual majority?
I’m not pretending to have the answers. We have data, and I’ve got questions about the data. The progressive citizenry who voted for the Democratic candidate, which I am a part of, was for the most part astounded at the result from this election. That to me is the scariest thing.
In business, when you don’t know your market and you lose touch with your customer, you go out of business. The same seems to be true in politics because the Democrats just effectively went out of business in Washington DC.
In the business world, we have come to understand that nothing is more important to growth and health of your business than knowing what your customers actually think about you. That’s why the best businesses in the world live and die by their Net Promoter Score or something like it. In the political world, we had a drop in voters by percent of eligible voters of 1.6%. We are losing customers. They aren’t buying into this idea that voting matters, or that the system is working. They aren’t buying it.
Are we really just going to rant and shake our heads (SMH) and talk about how stupid they are for not voting? I’ve been guilty of it and I’m realizing how wrong I was. Somehow we have to dig into the actual majority that is growing. As it grows it leaves us with only two extreme sides that seem to be willing to go to any length to elect a President that will speak in extremes, which is why we feel like a country divided.
This is hard stuff.
Living in Nashville is helpful for recognizing the balancing act here. Let me explain.
Nashville is for the most part a progressive city as far as cities in America go. However many of the most powerful people in town belong to a country club founded in 1901 that doesn’t count Blacks and Jews as members except in a few exceptions. I have some friends who belong to this club. There are meetings at this club in which my businesses have been discussed, but I’ve never been there. The club’s history isn’t a secret and people openly acknowledge that it operates this way. There are people actively working to change it, which is honorable, but it hasn’t come very far.
I’m offended by the history of this club as I understand it, and when my friends have mentioned they’d like me to meet someone there, I’m against it. Just as it’s their right to be members there, it’s my right to not want to go there based on what it represents to me. However I can not and do not pass judgment on my friends who happen to be members of the club as having the same personal policy (written or unwritten as it may be) as the club in terms of admission. I choose to believe that my friends have good hearts and have to live out their conscience, not mine.
Before you say I’m just accepting this because I live in the south, there are examples of this kind of difficulty all over the country. San Francisco is known for being a very progressive city however I know lots of Black people who say there is a strong racist undertone there and the police department there has been a subject of review as blatantly racists text messages between officers have been exposed this year. And I grew up in New York City, perhaps the bastion of American progressiveness, during the Giuliani era and was the recipient of early stop and frisk treatment as he “cleaned up” the city.
This country has a difficult history. People are coming from different points of view with different upbringings and different values. We are the United States of America, a collection of states with significant autonomous power, unified by a common constitution. None of this is going to be easy, and for a country that is 240 years old with a history of democratic equality (fragile still to this day) of only 50 years, we are far from done with the work necessary to be all that we say we want to be.
People living in “blue states” need to quit looking down on people in “red states” or you are going to find yourself in a smaller and smaller bubble of your own making. We in “blue dots” in “red states” need to venture out of the dot and figure out why we remain just a dot. And people that are saying they are going to leave, just do it already. It’s a free world and no one is stopping you.
I’m going to take some time and really look deeply at myself, past my own very real issues with this country, and figure out how I’m going to get in touch with the actual majority. I think part of that will have to come from being more honest about things, but also I need to become a much better listener.
What we do in this country has a massive impact on the entire world. The union we seek to create may take a hundred more years before it’s delivered. Maybe more. We may not get there in our lifetime. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth working on. It’s worth it, and it makes our lives more purposeful that all the hard work isn’t done yet. In that, there is a blessing.
Final note. To the New Americans who are feeling real fear as a result of a rise in xenophobic behavior since the Trump was elected, I am with you. This country was founded by outsiders and it’s a great hypocrisy for us to not commit to a respectable path to citizenship for you. I know you have paid taxes without having the rights that should come with that, brought value by commerce and richness in culture to this country by joining us, and we should be more grateful, compassionate and kind.
I also know that if I don’t stand up for you, they will come for me next. I’m not special, I’m not exempt, I’m just like you. We will keep working on this. You are not alone.
To a more perfect union… on the Grind,