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Red Waves, Blue Walls, and Why The Middle is the Strongest Position

NOTE: This post was written in November, 2022.

I wasn't the least bit surprised when Donald Trump won the US Presidential election on November 8, 2016. You can ask my wife.

We sat in our living room watching the play-by-play, state-by-state results and commentary on several television networks. You will recall the pervasive, public assumption that Hillary Rodham Clinton was a shoo-in and the talking heads reflected it.

But as the evening wore on and results were being confirmed, the publicized mood (a particularly important nuance) shifted from assumption to awareness (a particularly important shift).

I will always remember the minutes after the results were announced. We bounced around the different stations, and nearly everyone seemed a little stunned. Even the more conservative news desks seemed gobsmacked for a minute. Did that just...did he he now???

What followed was the expected footage of elated rooms, cutting to devastated rooms (though it was more pronounced than I ever remember seeing before).

In this post:

I think if you were to ask anyone on either side what they were thinking that night, you might’ve heard a lot of “How did we not see this coming?!”

So, why wasn’t I surprised?

I’m certainly not more “in-the-know”. I think it’d be advisable for me to spend even more time researching candidates and policies in an election year. I’m not a political maven. I read a bit, listen a bit, pray a lot, and vote.

How’d I see it coming?

Let's Assume We Have No Idea

Any time one narrative is publicly assumed, there’s a very good chance we’re not hearing most of the truth.

Any time one narrative is publicly assumed, there’s a very good chance we’re not hearing most of the truth.

Take any current "well of course that's the way it is" examples...

  • All Republicans are MAGA / Trump devotees

  • All Democrats are financially short-sighted, nanny-state enablers

  • Pro-Life voters don't care about women

  • Pro-Choice voters want more abortions

  • Conservatives don't care about the environment

  • Liberals don't care about businesses

For each one of these assumptions, we could easily name exceptions. And every time I encounter someone who is an exception to the assumption (which is, frankly, more often than not), I'm invited to question the entire premise / assumption / narrative.

So, when I heard publicized assumptions of a "Red Wave" in this last election (unclear what percentage of change constituted a "wave"), I naturally expected that it wouldn't end up as the landslide we were supposed to prepare for.

Some seats changed color. There was a tipping of some scales. Maybe the "Blue Wall" stopped some of the "Red Wave", but we still remain incredibly close to half-and-half.

Which leads me to question another well-worn topic of headlines.

Are We Actually As Divided As We've Heard?

"We're more divided as a nation than ever!" is another "well, of course that's true". It feels true. It's what seems to be publicly assumed as true.

There are statistics to reinforce it!

Researchers have clocked Congressional voting data since 1949, and it reveals a juvenile trend. I've included few snapshots below. The grey represents times both parties collaborated and, as the years have rolled on, the grey has disappeared. This is part of why some call this "an age of hyper-partisanship". Hyper-divided. See?!!

The grey represents times when both parties have collaborated on legislation

I believe our politics operate downstream from our culture. In other words, this trend to hyper-partisanship didn't begin in the halls of congress, it began in our friendships, neighborhoods, churches, and dinner tables. More recently, it's perpetuated through our late night comedy, blogs, comments, and tweets. When our culture assumes (or behaves as though we assume) there are 2 radically opposed sides—with waves and walls, good guys and bad guys—we shouldn't be surprised if our political theatre plays to this to get the vote.

But I don't believe this is the entire story—or even most of the story.

The middle seems to be disappearing, but I think the middle is the largest political party we have—and possibly the most helpful. I think the middle has the best ideas, the greatest compassion, the most radical diversity, and the most opportunity. I think the middle is best equipped to bring unity and progress. But I think the middle struggles to be noticed because there's no dramatic battle cry. The instinct to slow down, consider each other's motives and arguments, and routinely change our minds isn't a snappy campaign slogan.

I think the middle is the largest political party we have.

I don’t think we have 2 categories of people. I think some of of get angry or scared and it seems like our best shot for being seen and understood is to run to the closest crowd. We aggregate.

We might not completely align with an entire platform, but there’s strength in numbers and our fear magnetizes us to the nearest mob.

Our subtle, patient and thoughtful voices get absorbed into the riotous chants of our ideological next-of-kin. Then, what gets tweeted and reported on is the most simplistic story: a war between two (and only two) monstrous sides—two sides that are actually comprised of a whole lot of fluid, considerate, open-minded "middle".

The costs of denying there's a middle are severe. We reduce our empathy. People are seen as positions and not…people. We make wild, uninformed assumptions (and then post them). We easily believe false narratives about the state of our union. We miss great opportunities because we miss diverse voices. We spend so much more energy defending our certainty and ridiculing the "enemy" than we do leveraging all the ways we might harmonize.

But maybe you didn't want a wave or a wall. Maybe you believe there's a lot of merit in perspectives different from your own. Maybe you're willing to see how other people with similar motives could choose different strategies. Guess what?! I think you represent the Middle Majority.





So, What Can Be Done About It?

Well, I will continue to vote. It’s an historic privilege. It impacts people's lives. You should vote.

However, I not-so-secretly long for the day when the most electable candidates are ones who would say things like "You know, my opponent actually has some decent ideas" and "I know we disagree on this, but I think we both want what's best". I know that seems idealistic (maybe even naive). But this is what I want, not what I expect.

I don't expect it to start on The Hill. I think this will start with us. And I believe "Us" starts with me. I'm compelled to remind myself of this every election cycle. When I share it, I'm sometimes met with a pat-on-the-head "What will that change?" response. But I know of no other force in my arsenal more powerful than my personal choices. I may want all kinds of issues to be resolved and justice to be served and nobility to be celebrated, but it's not until those things are sown can I expect any measure of them to be reaped.

I think this will start with us. And I believe "Us" starts with me.

I will commit to you (and invite you to make this commitment) to believe that what lies behind a singular choice in a ballot box is a vast landscape of thoughts and passions. I commit to never assume that, because you voted for "X" means you must wholeheartedly endorse any other candidate or legislation or ideology unless you expressly tell me so. I commit to the conviction that my fellow citizen wants what's best for our world even if we differ on the approach.

I believe there are so many more of us in the curious, open-minded, open-hearted middle. The more we act like this is true, the less appealing (and less electable) mob-mentalities will become. Who's with me?

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