A Matter of Perspective

I have found myself thinking a lot about optical illusions this past week. You know, the type where one person sees a young woman turning her head, but the next views the same image as an old crone. Or at first glance it’s a wine goblet but then it turns into a pair of profiles. Or viewed one way the image is a rabbit but if you look the other way it’s a duck.


It’s this that puzzles me the most about this election, how such a large number of people (but not, thankfully, the majority of voters) can see the same person in such a completely different light. A person who has built a brand on hate and exclusion, on lies and half-truths, and on violence and boasts of assault is embraced by the party of “family values”. A person who is the dictionary-definition of “elite” with gold-plated bootstraps is viewed as a hero of the working class. A person who, at every step, espouses views that violate the tenets that Americans are supposed to hold dear.

Written on the very symbol of America, Lady Liberty herself, are Emma Lazarus’ immortal words:

Give me your
tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse
of your teeming shore.
Send these, the
homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp
beside the golden door!

… and he wants to build a wall. [As an archaeological aside, over 2000 years ago the Chinese started construction on a wall to keep out invaders and defend their territory. How well did this work? It didn’t. The Great Wall of China managed to repel invaders exactly 0 times. But hey, it makes a great tourist attraction.]

America is a country that was founded on freedom of religion … and he wants to ban one.

The peaceful transfer of power is a cornerstone of our democracy … and he threw a tantrum before the results were even known.

What I think is lost in the hysteria of the past few weeks is that this isn’t about losing an election or sour grapes. It’s about wanting to protect common decency. It’s about showing respect for all people. It’s about making sure the gains made over the years are not swept away in a tide of bile.

The other perspective is not perfect by any means. And if it had been a “normal” election year, I would have grumbled a day or two, then moved on. Because normal candidates have grasped that it is possible to disagree with someone and still remain civil. Yet I felt it necessary to tell a friend, a fellow American ex-pat, to stay safe when she traveled home to the United States for Thanksgiving. Why? Because her skin is brown and I’m worried she may have to deal with xenophobic abuse in the country she grew up in. Why would people choose to usher in such a world? To embolden a mindset that should have died decades ago? To refute science and ignore facts, despite evidence to the contrary?

Which brings me back to those optical illusions. Because no matter how hard I try, in this situation I cannot see the opposite viewpoint. If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, is it no wonder that I—and millions of others—think the country is anything other than ducked?

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