The day after the election, I went to bed restless and worried, thankful that I did not have children who I had to explain this to, or kids in a classroom I had to face today and say, "Sorry, but sometimes the bad guy wins. Sometimes the bully gets his way." The pit in my stomach was starting to feel like some kind of avocado-sized tumor of pessimism and regret, and I started to imagine all the tumors of anger and disbelief, growing overnight. So I started counting them like sheep, and even then, I could not fall asleep. And when I woke up from the little naps I cobbled together, I started thinking about how amazing it was that I had slept as well as I did these past two years.
I should have been sleepless much earlier, because Trump's election is the product of our country putting education so far on the back burner that we've forgotten it's a privileged, lifelong pursuit, not just a compulsory mainstream school system.
We are obsessed with technology and instant gratification, with television and media consumption, and we live in a free world with freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And in theory — none of that sounds bad. It sounds like the coupling of forward progress with the personal freedoms we have as citizens of a democracy. But it's not as easy as criticizing the pairing of those things. The mistake we made here was not in their coupling. It was that we never bothered to curate this specific and evolving type of consumption.
America has been mixing this cocktail for a long time, the one where we choose entertainment over education. For anyone thinking that last night came out of nowhere, I assure you it did not, and here's why:
When we paid a professional athlete $40 million a year and a professional teacher only $40,000 — we raised this kind of vote.
When we embraced a reality-television star who found joy in saying "You're fired" while the country was in a recession, we raised this kind of vote.
When our television didn't show us the violence and humanitarian crises across the globe — things we should have been helping with a long time ago — we created a third-party presidential candidate who didn't know what Aleppo was, and we raised this kind of vote.
When we said it was OK for a celebrity to sexually assault a woman and then still keep his job, we raised this kind of vote.
When we looked the other way when a beloved movie star went on an anti-Semitic rant and then we still gave him the money to make movies, we raised this kind of vote.
When we put reality-television stars on the Time 100 list, we said that they are more impactful than the aid workers in the refugee crisis — and we raised this kind of vote.
And when we turned the news on every day to watch Donald Trump with his bigoted, racist comments, we gave networks ratings, and money, and attention — and we raised this kind of vote.
And now the product of this behavior is coming at a price. Instead of empathy, we are choosing escapism. And not the kind of escapism you think when you hear that word.
Trump was perhaps the grandest example of escapism of all. He exists in a retro space of his own invention, where facts are fungible and everything wrong with America can be pinned on the backs of immigrants and people of color.
President-elect Trump should be taking accountability for his words as well as his actions, for his insults toward almost every person in this world other than straight white males — but that's not really the point here. The point isn't that we enabled him. The point isn't even that we elected him. The point is that we invented him, because we weren't paying attention.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians. But what I am saying is that only watching that and never flipping the channel to world events is no different than the kid who can't make the distinction between violence in a video game and violence in real life. And even when we are paying attention to world events, it's often in a bubble of our own biased creation. We see one existence, one set of reactions, one point of view of a story. We are developing a lopsided sense of what's going on out there — and in effect a lopsided response.