Binary Societies and Beyond: Reflecting on the 2016 Election and What to do Going Forward

Image by Abby Lass

By Jaehun Lee

Arts Reporter

Computers will rule the world and humanity will become slaves of robots.

This was the fear of many people when science fiction movies became all the rage several decades ago. But there was one fundamental advantage humans had over computers… until recently.

Computers thought in binary and we humans did not. However, we are rapidly losing that ability. Today, human thinking has become so simplified to the point that we too now think in binary and are so unable to move beyond this thinking that it has become dangerously ingrained into our society.

So today, we live in a binary system in which people are right or wrong; in which people are either with us or with the enemy; in which politics are either Democrat or Republican; in which issues are black and white, so that we didn’t have to struggle with the gray. We simplify ideas and concepts to the point that they aren’t the concepts and ideas they were first meant to be. Voltaire’s iconic quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” has been reduced to “I disapprove of what you say.”

This election has put our binary system on full display. People on both sides of the debate were so fixated on their beliefs that they didn’t bother learning about the other side. As someone who lives in a liberal bubble here in Newton, this was very much the case. I scrolled through my Facebook feed every night seeing my friends share videos of Saturday Night Live and Daily Show segments clearly supporting Hillary Clinton. I saw mainstream media news dismiss and ridicule Donald Trump. But what we didn’t see was the other side. We didn’t see why people wanted to vote Trump.

When the Nightly Show put out a segment interviewing people at a Trump rally, they showed clueless Trump supporters. There very well may have been someone who had a very good reason to vote for Trump, but we never saw that. We were trapped in our fantasy that Trump could never win the Presidency.

Today, I saw people shedding tears over the election results. To those people, hear these words: the outcome of the election does not signify the end of our country. Stay strong because we will make it through the next four years. It doesn’t look to be ideal right now, but we’ll get through– this I will guarantee you. The world has learned since 80 years ago. Our Congress is not a powerless body that merely acts as a rubber stamp for the executive.

We will emerge as a stronger nation. Because that’s the beautiful thing about America– we’re resilient. Nothing can truly doom our nation. Look to the words of reporter Elmer Davis when he says, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” Today, we must be the brave. We must be the ones who take action for what we believe in.

Look at this election not as something negative, but as something positive. The near future looks bleak, but that’s only if we continue our defeatist attitude. Do not direct your anger, fear, and confusion to the election outcome. Rather, direct it to the future. When the world knocks you down, you get right back up. You dust yourself off and you continue walking. That is what we must do.

Remember that we are not our president. We are not our elected officials. No matter what foreigners view us as, we are who we are. We are Americans. And we must bond under that common identity. At a public lecture at Harvard Graduate School of Education two weeks ago, Jeb Bush explained how his father (George H.W. Bush) and Bill Clinton got along so well: “Well, you just need to put your differences behind you and unite under your commonalities.”

Today, we, liberals and conservatives alike, must do the same thing. To liberals: I don’t ask that you become best buds with your conservative peer (and vice versa for conservatives). Rather, I ask that you cooperate with each other for the greater good. Because when you dismiss others’ opinions as “wrong”, you’re not going high. You’re going low.

Remember that not all Republicans in Congress supported Trump. Three days ago, The Atlantic posted a list of prominent Republicans who were or were not supporting Donald Trump. While there were many yes’s, there were also many no’s. And remember that although Trump won the electoral vote, Clinton won the popular vote. A majority of people in the United States didn’t want Trump to win the Presidency. We should find this as reassuring news.

And lastly, remember Democrats and Republicans can work together on issues. Look to the famous Gang of 14 in 2005. Look at the Lugar Center Bipartisan Index. Not all politicians are strictly loyal to their parties. Mark Kirk, the Republican Senator who was recently unseated in Illinois, frequently voted with Democrats. In fact, Planned Parenthood thanked him and Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) in 2015 for opposing a bill that would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. We must look at everyone on a case by case basis before drawing conclusions. To not do so would be irresponsible.

To the people who are happy about the outcome of this election, I’ll keep my words for you brief. I respect your sentiment. I may not agree with your opinions, but I am not going to deny that you have the right to express them. However, I ask that you be understanding of the other side, just as I asked them to be understanding of you. Only when both sides understand each other can we work together. And only when we work together can we make progress.

It’s long past time to revert back to an older operating system of thinking, but this election is the final nail in the coffin. By ditching our binary system and trying to understand opinions that differ from ours, we will gain a fuller picture of any given issue. No, I’m not asking you to be more accepting of racism, sexism, or homophobia. No, I’m saying this will be an easy process, but it’s a necessary one. Because in understanding where these perspectives come from, we may be able to change our society– our world– for the better.