The Hope Gap

Last week WIRED took the unusual step of endorsing a presidential candidate: Hillary Clinton. Here is their rationale for endorsing optimism.

Right now we see two possible futures welling up in the present. In one, society’s every decision is dominated by scarcity. Except for a few oligarchs, nobody has enough of anything. In that future, we build literal and figurative walls to keep out those who hope to acquire our stuff, while through guile or violence we try to acquire theirs.

In the other future, the one WIRED is rooting for, new rounds of innovation allow people to do more with less work—in a way that translates into abundance, broadly enjoyed. Governments and markets and entrepreneurs create the conditions that allow us to take effective collective action against climate change. The flashlight beam of science keeps turning up cool stuff in the corners of the universe. The grand social experiments of the 20th and early 21st centuries—the mass entry of women into the workforce, civil rights, LGBTQ rights—continue and give way to new ones that are just as necessary and unsettling and empowering to people who got left out of previous rounds. And the sustainably manufactured, genetically modified fake meat tastes really good too.

I’d quibble with them about the benefits of “fake meat,” but otherwise that is a powerful statement about the two options that are available to us as we assess our future. The breakdown between a mindset of scarcity vs abundance is something I’ve written about before based on Lynne Twist’s book “The Soul of Money.” And while it might be easier for a group of techies at WIRED to believe in a future of abundance, this is a critical point they make:

When we say we’re optimistic, it isn’t just because we can point you to a trove of evidence that we’re all very, very lucky to be alive right now: We live longer, we’re less violent, and there’s less extreme poverty than at any time in human history. And it’s not just because optimism is endemic to Silicon Valley, though that’s also true. It’s because of the way optimism conditions how people act in the world. As Stewart Brand, one of our heroes, once described in these pages, people behave better when they think things are improving: “If you truly think things are getting worse, won’t you grab everything you can, while you can? Reap now, sow nothing. But if you think things are getting better, you invest in the future. Sow now, reap later.”

All of that aligns in an interesting way with and article by Andrew McGill on the data Martin wrote about recently. McGill points out that Trump supporters are not the most economically stressed – but the most isolated from the kinds of changes we’re seeing in this country. Then he points to this:

I’d argue the real dividing line is optimism. Consider this: Two-thirds of Hillary Clinton’s supporters think the next generation will be in better shape than we are today, or least the same, according to Pew Research. The reverse is true for Trump’s camp. Sixty-eight percent of his supporters think the next generation will be worse off. What’s more, the vast majority of Trump voters say life is worse today for people like them than it was 50 years ago. Only two percent —two!— think life is better now and that their children will also see improvement.

What we’re seeing is a hope gap.

Think about that…if you assume that life is worse today for people like you than it was 50 years ago (1966), you’re probably a Trump supporter. You’d be hard pressed to find many people of color, women, or LGBTQ people in that group. There are probably even a lot of white men who wouldn’t want to go back 50 years. But that is the group Trump is appealing to.

The whole mindset of scarcity leads to zero sum game thinking and a fear that the expansion of opportunity for some means a diminishment for others. It cuts off hope for the future and inspires the building of figurative and literal walls. The folks at WIRED pretty well articulated the alternative. That is the hope gap we are seeing played out in this election.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .