Friday, November 11, 2016

Risk Mitigation Case Study -- President Trump Edition: Part One, Post Mortem

I've been on a bit of a media blackout sabbatical. After major ancestor work on Halloween, I had a quick work trip to our Northern neighbors (yes, I came back). Then a pile of mundane day job work as well as some magical self care.

So, let's get to it. I'm going to skip both the Monday morning quarterbacking and recriminating and skip right to the practical (as is my habit).

Let's start with lessons learned. In the business world, this is called, charmingly enough, the post-mortem.

 Please hold your death of democracy jokes until the end

1. You can't plan for the worst case scenario if you aren't willing to acknowledge its possibility.

Some very smart people I trust were forecasting this outcome (one of them sleeps beside me in bed). But I admit that I had a hard time believing it. I was focused on the polling numbers at a site I trust (which turned out as wrong as everyone else who tracked the polls). So I was surprised, though not as shocked as some obviously were. I did learn a lesson from 2012 -- there were many, MANY republicans who were caught flatfooted by Obama's success. They were convinced that Romney was going to trounce him. I don't know where they were getting their information (*cough* fox news *cough*) but the bubble they were in told them something that wasn't in line with the truth. This time, it was the democrats' turn to be in the bubble.

Since the election, Obamacare enrollment has shot way up*. I bet we'll see passport applications also increase (if you need a passport for upcoming travel, you better get in ahead of the crowd). The Canadian immigration site crashed. These are mitigation actions people could have taken before the election, if they had only been willing to accept the possibility of this outcome.

* Please note the bleak irony of this. We'd recently heard that ACA premiums were going up. This was no surprise to me, since the weakness of the plan was always that healthy people (who pay in more than they get back, a necessary component of any sustainable insurance program) would stay out and pay the minor fine instead. Now that they might loose it, they suddenly decide it's worth the money. What were they going to do if Hillary won? Wait until they got sick to join? Nice hypocrisy there.

2. You can't know what's in a person's secret heart.

There's been a lot of poll-splaining in the past few days. And there are many reasons (both general and specific to this election) that the polls might have been so wrong. These include the ever popular confirmation bias, the reduction of landlines among certain demographics, and so on. I'm leery of trusting a lot of this analysis right now (listening too closely to the people who mucked it up so badly doesn't make sense to me). But one particularly interesting suggestion that has some comparative data to back it up is that people seemed to respond differently to robo-polling than human polling. That maybe a bunch of people felt differently than they were willing to say to another person beforehand. That in the secrecy and privacy of the voting booth, they could do what they really wanted to do. And what they wanted to do was say "fuck you" to the establishment and the government and all the other people who they think are to blame.

3. Ideas are contagious, bad ideas more so.

One question that's been going around is "just how many bigots (racists/sexists/homophobes) are there?" Responses range from ALL OF THEM (who didn't vote for the Hill) to maybe a tiny minority of Trump supporters (so don't worry your little heads about it). The answer really is: "just as many as there were last week." It's the same country.

... for now ...

We have to remember that bigotry isn't a binary state. You aren't bigoted or not bigoted by birth or by flipping a switch. No, people are way more complicate and squishy that that. There are plenty of people who are convinced they aren't racist or misogynist where the people of color or women in their lives would disagree with them. Or people who are completely illogical about it (what? illogical people? who knew?) like they hate immigrants despite the fact that their brother-in-law is from Nicaragua. This is the "some of my best friends are..." and "I don't mean you, you aren't like those people" crowd. The most horrible people have no idea how horrible they are.

Having a shitty life makes more of those people, but so does being empowered by having their ideas validated. When I was pretty young, I pulled my mom aside one day and asked her "how could the Germans let that happen? Why didn't everyone just stand up and say no." My mom's explanation was as follows: After WWI, the German people were crushed, despondent, and broke. Then along came a guy who told them it was going to be OK. That they were awesome. That it was really great to be German, in fact it was the best thing to be German. All their problems were caused by these other people and he was going to make Germany great again.

This was very appealing. They wanted to feel good, they wanted prosperity, and it felt good to have something concrete to blame, someone to point the finger at. Obviously some proportion of the people were anti-Semitic. Otherwise he would have been laughed right off the stage. Having their ideas validated empowered them. Others were sucked in by this very bad idea. They became anti-Semitic, particularly when they saw their Jewish neighbors being successful when they weren't. And saw the other Germans embracing the idea that the Jews were to blame (everyone thinks so). So they elected this guy and by the time that things were spiraling way out of control, well it was too late. And by then your personal views mattered fuck all. My mom had Jewish people hiding in her basement, but my uncles still fought in the war.

So, let's not fool ourselves. However many bigots there are now, there will be more of them. Which really sucks, because my preferred candidate had all the "fuck you system, fuck you right in the ass" energy without the attached deplorableness.  But I didn't get my preferred candidate because of cheating and manipulation by the self-same system.

4. People really want a hero.

When Natural Born Killers came out, it caused a lot of commotion. It was an edgy movie, yes, but the thing that really seemed to shake people was that there weren't any good guys. It was a postmodern tour de force -- nothing right or wrong, everyone corrupt and flawed, and no one you can root for without feeling dirty. The thing that fascinated me was how its lack of morality caused me to question my own. Watching the movie, my brain would search desperately for someone to side with, only to have my brief illusions of empathy shattered by the character's behavior.

Welcome to modern American politics.

The other story my mom tells is how she lost her faith in the Church. It was at the end of the War that we talked about the start of above. Her hometown was flooded with refugees and it was bitterly cold. She stood in the plaza outside the cathedral, a young teen the same age as my own child. It was starting to snow and all around here people were literally dying on the stones, from cold, from hunger, from injury. The doors of the balcony opened and the Bishop appeared to bless the crowd. "Now," mom thought "they will open the doors and give the people food and shelter." But the doors never opened. That was when my mother lost her faith in human institutions of religion.

By Aconcagua - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Obama was how I lost my faith in American politics. In 2008, on election night I cried with joy. I really felt like things were going to be OK. That we finally had someone who actually cared about the people in this country... in 2012, I was mildly pleased that he beat Romney (what an ass) but mostly disillusioned. Tuesday night I was surprised, yes, but not crushed the way so many Hillary supporters were. I'd resisted the urge to make her my hero, because while I really wanted to support her emotionally (a woman president, yay!) I just couldn't intellectually.

That doesn't mean I'm pleased with the outcome. I'm the opposite of pleased. But the truth is that I wouldn't have been happy in either case. No heroes. No good guys.

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