It’s an interesting time to be alive. It is an even more exciting time to be in the US, no doubt. Having spent some time in the (southern) Midwest and now in the Bay Area, I already got a pretty good impression of some fault lines that run through American society after the recent presidential election. For instance, doing whiskey shots with some history teachers at Arnie’s Bar (10/10 would recommend) in Tulsa, everyone pretty much agreed on how devastating the election will prove for the years to come. That is until a young white guy joined us at the table and started aggressively promoting his ideas of racial segregation, circa 1920. Of course, everyone was quite baffled but we still tried to convince him of how wrong his views actually were. We had a discussion with a white supremacist, at least until he became aggressive and was kicked out the bar.
On the next morning, standing outside the Hyatt, a man I had seen in one of the conference panels joined me. He gave me his business card and introduced himself as Ben, Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe. After learning that I was from Germany, he mentioned Karl May. I started to immediately shrink from the topic because in academia May’s books are commonly seen as essentialist, or at least as quite offensive to Native Americans. “To be honest,” I told him, “as a kid I was really fascinating by these stories.” In fact, I often picked one up from my father’s bookshelf and flew through the pages, hidden under the cover of my blanket after bedtime, using a small flashlight so my parents wouldn’t see a shimmer of light under my door. To my surprise, I learned that for Ben it was not so different. He too read Karl May in secret, although for him relishing in the romantic and chivalrous adventures of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand was an act of rebellion against his parents who were not fond of the way their heritage and struggles was being stereotyped by a German who in actuality knew very little of their predicament.
As for Trump’s election, which I think for many voters was also an act of rebellion (although against what seems to be a matter of much more complexity and controversy), I see U.S. society historically swaying back and forth between liberalism and conservatism, moderate and radical ideas. This is not a recent trend by any means and is nothing to be too worried about, actually. I can remember people freaking out after Bush Jr.’s election in 2000. Yet life went on. Even after 9/11 it went on. And it will go on this time as well. However, what is worrying and dangerous is that more and more people no longer take the time to discuss and try to understand the views of their political opponents to reach a compromise. For some it seems, an easier and more convenient way is to label, point fingers, and dehumanize people, so that extremism and violence finally appear as acceptable solutions. Discussion and compromise, on an everyday grassroots level as well as in institutional settings, is vital for any functioning democracy. And we all want to keep democracy alive, right? So shame on the anti-democratic forces who claim to posses the only viable opinion, who twist reality to be able to neatly divide the world in light and dark, ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and who try to undermine dialog between classes, races, sexes, and religions. As Mikhail Bakhtin wrote:
Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.
In this sprit:
Good night, and good luck.