Soapbox

Suspending disbelief in the voting booth

I am a college professor in California who voted for Hillary Clinton.

As I headed to class on Wednesday morning to share with my students the best of what I thought the humanities could offer, I felt a sudden and renewed urgency in needing to defend myself. In light of news about the election, I could not help but think that Donald Trump’s victory reflected a vote by American citizens against an educated liberal establishment.

Whatever their background or views, Trumps’ supporters wanted to be winners in a system that is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as having sold them out. Working at a major public university that has struggled to fulfill its mission in an era of privatization, I understand this position.

Skyrocketing tuition, dwindling career prospects and fierce competition from out-of-state students leave many Americans wholly disillusioned with the merits of higher education. I sympathize with the embitterment that many Americans are feeling.

Unfortunately, Trump pitched victory to voters through demagoguery: draw sharp lines between one’s own supporters and perceived weaklings, minorities, relativists and anyone who might say that a nation’s dominant historical identity, in this case white American manpower, has somehow passed its heyday.

The story of his divisive tactics has been discussed by many others. Election night opened a whole new chapter to this story, however. Even more than winning, Trump’s supporters wanted certainty.

In the several weeks before Election Day, many media outlets reported that voters were heading to the polls feeling profoundly “uncertain.” Most Trump voters, however, even if hesitant or reluctant to voice public support, sought a rarer faith: enacting certainty at the very same moment that they took a maximal gamble.

The casino business knows such logic. It is called a suspension of disbelief, as Trump, a casino magnate for 30 years, knows. Gamblers want to experience a momentary fantasy of empowerment through their own action, even one as trivial as pulling the lever of a slot machine.

In this case, the fantasy involved dropping a ballot in a box and imagining that one’s voice could count in what was held to be a rigged and racist democracy. The pay-out for many such voters has been thrilling. The night, however, is still young.

Flagg Miller is a professor of religious studies at UC Davis and author of “The Audacious Ascetic: What the bin Laden Tapes Reveal about Al-Qa`ida.” fmiller@ucdavis.edu

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