Donald Trump was elected. Fact. Now what? As a social scientist with psychology and criminal justice expertise, I see clear problems and a concerning direction for the nation. As a university professor and scholar professionally situated at the intersection of social science, law and public health, I see possible solutions.
Here I would like to outline a social science perspective on where we may be going, and what we can do about it.
Where might we end up?
Social science, at least disciplines such as social psychology, sociology of health and social movements and public health, envisions these possibilities of where we might be headed.
Internal U.S. conflict.
My own research, as well as political science, social psychology and other disciplines highlight this potential path. First, urban and low socio-economic status protest will meet oppressive and violent rhetoric, and class-based reaction. Sadly, at least in small doses, this is already occurring. Be it the former KKK leader’s response to Trump’s election, use of Trump’s election to justify hate directed toward LGBTQ persons, or violent anti-Trump protests, social science says we are somewhat to highly likely to experience a violent manifestation of bipartisan and ideological divide. Speech, decision and action grounded in a cut and dry, literal and figurative black-and-white style of thinking, flames a social psychological “us” versus “them” mentality. What’s next? Then there will be a new power and an order of military influence. Martial law, as history and criminological literature shows, can be the dire consequence and state-sanctioned over-controlling reaction to a slowly developing path to violence. Finally, there will be potentially uncontrollable hate and violence, unending, with everyone at risk, from police and military, to first responders and innocent citizens.
Potential for external conflict.
History and ingroup/outgroup thinking, and perhaps simple mob mentality, suggest we are now also at elevated risk for another international armed conflict. For an insightful piece addressing the historical grounding for this potentiality, peruse this easy read for a lesson in recent world war history.
A basic scientific principle applies: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. We have been down this road before. Isolationism. White upper class male dominance. Electing rhetoric to “fix” a country. War may ensue. And whether it be internal or international, we are all at risk. Violence does not discriminate, as history and social science tells us – violence in extreme forms does not care what suburb, house, school district or any other section of town you live in. When war in any form happens, it happens to everyone, eventually.
What can we do?
At this point, I hope you are uncomfortable. That is perhaps the point – for solutions to happen I think we all need to be a tad uncomfortable. If you think I am presenting an Armageddon perspective, I would counter that this is the exactly what has, and is, actually happening … and we are all to blame. Here are a few solution-focused ideas that may help resolve some of the critical issues that fuel our continual divide.
1. Invest in telemedicine to help rural health care problems.
A large part of the vote that ended up with President-elect Trump certainly possesses legitimate economic and health care gripes. Many rural blue-collar people, no doubt, voted for their version of hope. They voted anti-D.C. They voted for their own identity and what it means to be a rural American. This represents a legitimate social influence in the eyes of sociology, no matter which end of the political spectrum you support.
For much more on the matter, read this recent well-articulated and research-informed piece on sociologically-based research concerning Wisconsin rural consciousness. In short, there is a tremendous portion of the populous that voted Trump because of a geographically-based lack of access to economic and health care. Health care spending in the U.S. follows the old Star Trek wisdom: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Seeing past the nerd reference, the point is, health care spending is determined, in large part, by population density. This does disenfranchise a significant portion of the US, those residing in US Census-defined rural areas.
A movement in healthcare, telemedicine, holds promise in alleviating some of the health-related ails in rural America. At its core, telemedicine capitalizes on mobile and healthcare technology to provide access to a variety of health professionals such as nurses, dentists, psychologists and M.D.s. This approach, unfortunately, is in its infancy, is grossly under-funded, and represents a polemic for ethical/regulatory boards and the law (read: the law cannot keep up with the changing technology). You can read more details on the background on telemedicine (and its limitations) here. Telemedicine represents promise to support equal access and utilization for rural areas, with sufficient testing, implementation and funding. Of all areas of health care, we may benefit politically as a whole in assisting those rural persons, no matter race, ethnicity or creed, through investing in telehealth and mobile health centers.
2. Shift the conversation concerning diversity and prejudice from punishment to prevention.
Social science tells us that prejudice, be it unconscious or intentional, is at play. In a basic sense, we all have biases. Biases, from the social psychological perspective, are not bad. They are simple preferences. We all have biases – for food, jobs, politics, people, and so forth. What social science also warns is that the expression of those biases can do harm. This is prejudice. And prejudice reduction literature shows time and again that we first must acknowledge such a presence in all of us – Republican/Democrat, white/black, male/female, and so on.
What does not work? Ironically, social science shows as that “bashing the prejudiced basher” only further promotes prejudice and conflict. We prosecute hate legally, but hate crime laws are divisive in and of themselves (see here for more). A legal or moral view of hate and prejudice serves very little in terms of actual social progress. As yet untested, I suggest that prejudice be framed from a public health view. In other words, treat stigmatism, prejudice and hate as a social disease to be prevented rather than punished. Social and clinical science demonstrates that acts of hate cause mental, physical and economic strain on victims, families, perpetrators, the legal system, the health system and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that any social disease is defined by harm done to the public, and that such diseases require prevention, as opposed to punitive, efforts. Let us follow this logic to speak with one another in a tenor of hate as a disease requiring eradication. That is, let’s shoot for successful management of biases that we each possess; let us reflect on our individual and collective responsibility to manage, check at the door, discuss, and ultimately end prejudice.
3. Denounce hate.
Point two is hopeful. This one, not so much. Social science, no matter how bleeding heart or optimistic we are, tells us that psychopathy, evil and unalterable hate all exist. This is where a collective, unpartisan voice, led by those at the top, is necessary. Prevention science suggests individual, day-to-day problems get solved when there is societal and policy top-down support of such solutions. Hate is no exception. Denouncing of hate from the top down, in its truest sense, is a scientific need if we are to solve the problem.
4. Focus on character.
How we evaluate any person’s character is actually a quick, cognitively efficient process. We tend to judge a person’s character traits (e.g., honesty, competence) in time periods as short as seconds. Although several models of judging a person’s character and personality exist, most include assessments of these traits: knowledge/competence, trustworthiness/honesty, confidence and likeability. The best available data show both major party candidates failed the character test.
Nominating a perfect candidate is literally impossible. Nominating a decent human being shouldn’t be. It is on both political leadership and the average voter to consider trustworthiness, likeability, confidence and knowledge in choosing who will lead, be it at the local or national level. Credibility assessment – a tremendous determinant of our political, social and legal decision-making – is now a social responsibility for all of us at every stage of identifying and ruling in or out leadership. It is irrefutable that the masses valued character in this election (no matter how it was assessed or measured); it is now on all of us to think carefully about how we go about putting credibility to meaningful use.
5. Improve media and polling methodologies.
We believe what we are told (yes, often for confirmation bias and low cognitive effort reasons, in part) without having the know how to discern soundly derived data from sham CNN, Fox News and other partisan sources. Polling “methodology” often uses, at best, random digit dial or other phone calls, or perhaps old fashioned paper/pencil surveys that target a very limited demographic group. On the other side, some social networking-based methodologies tap into age, geographic and education groups. Neither approach is sufficiently comprehensive in order to capture a representative sample of the U.S. Statistical weighting solutions fall far short to correct for these limitations too. Thus, we often make decisions on bad information. The media, both sides of it, as well as the public opinion survey field, need to be held to a higher standard – one that reflects the best medical, psychiatric, biological and other sciences. The same scientific rigor applied to peer-reviewed science must be implemented in the world of pollsters. It is arguably the ethical responsibility of those conducting the surveys and providing the data to disseminate sound, objectively derived information for the masses. A simple starting point is establishment of peer-review or quality assurance style standards, although the steps for doing so are unclear.
6. Think and discern, even if you don’t have time or see the point.
At the end of the day, social science cannot help you with this one. You, the hopeful reader, must overcome time constraints, intense emotionality, poor public survey data, mental shortcuts, holding on to your past, myopic views, black-and-white thinking, internal discomfort, biases, prejudice, and so much more. These, at the end of the day, are what social science tells us drives the individual to contribute to negative outcomes. You and I must instead think, discern, discuss, ask, listen, and God forbid, let go of insecurities. Revel in your discomfort and have the courage to adopt someone else’s perspective (what the cognitive psychologists would call perspective taking, be it for children or adults). We must see past our need to be right, and instead strive to get it right, adopting an open mind to see that there is more than a singular valid perspective. It is on you. It is on me. It is on President-elect Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and every single person on down to ensure we do not end up in a time and place of hate, prejudice, violence, and on the fast track to war.
The writer would like to thank Irv Harrell and Joseph Chandler, Ph.D. for their consultation and comments on the piece.