I ran into a famous actor today. A legitimate, bona fide Celebrity known to almost anyone between the ages of 25 and 35. I was sitting along the wall at a Starbucks on Ventura Boulevard when he walked in with his wife and their preschool-aged son. They entered from the main entrance on my left. Three or four patrons sat directly across from me along another wall; the entrance was to their right. Their eyes quickly settled on on the actor and his family, and when the party of three sat down, everyone else in the room attempted to catch a glimpse.
This was all very odd to me for two reasons. One, I recognized the guy. (I’m usually horrible with celebrities.) Two, we know each other. I’d interviewed him once at a press junket, the rare event that brought me in contact with famous people outside the sphere of sports. I almost wrote something on Facebook about this — not that this celebrity was in my Starbucks, but how it felt to see someone I know being treated like royalty.
We chatted for a bit. After the coffee, he and his wife were off to cast their ballots. In fact, he was wearing a T-shirt that said “ELECT MURRAY” with Bill Murray’s mug shot in the middle. “I can see which way you’re leaning,” I said. That’s about where we left it. Nothing profound.
Today was so normal in so many ways. My friend’s dog died. Another friend texted me from Mt. Rushmore, where he detoured from a business trip to Rapid City, South Dakota. My brother-in-law shared some photos of his 3-week-old daughter, my beautiful niece Adaline. I called Human Resources to answer some of my questions about Open Enrollment. (Most of the changes to our Flex Plan will help with my surgery, I think.) Tomorrow will be normal in many ways, too.
Of course, life in America took a sharp detour Tuesday. Some friends of ours decided to host an election night party. What began with warm hugs ended in hushed, somber tones. Some people cried. The moment demanded everything my family, my generation, my occupation and my faith taught me.
For a moment I contemplated going on Twitter and asking Curt Schilling to hang me by a noose. Schilling probably wouldn’t mind; I’m a journalist after all. I’d provide the rope and the tree. His mood and mine seemed to meet eye to eye for a moment. Then the moment passed.
Journalism taught me to be strong with my facts, sober with my opinions, and quick to listen. As a country, we spent a lot of time this year talking and gawking. Talking to like-minded folks in our neighborhoods, our families, and our social media circles who reinforced the facts we clung to and the opinions we formed. Gawking at celebrities, like the man and his family I saw at Starbucks this morning. Like the man we voted to be president. Tuesday taught me that Americans suck at actively listening to each other, but we’re really good at standing back and watching.
The political scholar Liliana Mason wrote four years ago, upon the re-election of Barack Obama, that “our identities have become increasingly intertwined with our political affiliation. As a result, we feel ever more certain that our party is right and the other is wrong–even in cases where their positions aren’t far apart.” If that fundamental division of “us” and “them” was apparent to political scholars four years ago, the rest of us figured it out Tuesday. America did not elect a president so much as we came out of the closet.
The Los Angeles Times/USC poll was one of few to correctly predict the outcome of the presidential race. How? Its data collectors listened better. “Trump voters were notably less comfortable about telling a telephone pollster about their vote,” David Lauter wrote. “Voters who backed a third-party candidate were even less comfortable responding to a poll. Women who said they backed Trump were particularly less likely to say they would be comfortable talking to a pollster about their vote.” Millennials gave birth to the term “safe spaces.” Where were the safe spaces between red and blue during this election cycle, if people didn’t feel safe to express their opinion anonymously over the phone?
That bothers me more than the election results. The system isn’t broken as much as the way we’re relating to each other. If you can’t recognize that — you know, after the emotion of victory or defeat wears off — I think you’ve missed out on the tough, necessary and fundamental lesson of 2016. We’re allowed to be tribal. We can’t avoid it. But we can also take time to listen to those outside our own tribe without treating each conversation as a referendum on each other’s facts and opinions. You can do that while living in the United States or you can do that while living in Canada, Costa Rica, Norway, Australia — whichever country it is you want to call home tomorrow.
I haven’t decided that yet, if I’m being honest. But it isn’t the most important decision I’ll make tonight.