Update (Nov. 10): In the wake of the US’s authoritarian takeover, I will sadly understand if foreign students and postdocs no longer wish to study in the US, or if foreign researchers no longer wish to enter the US even for conferences and visits. After all, I wouldn’t feel safe in Erdogan’s Turkey or the Mullahs’ Iran. In any case, I predict that the US’s scientific influence will now start to wane, as top researchers from elsewhere find ways to route around us.
I make just one request: if you do come to the US (as I selfishly hope you will), please don’t avoid places like Austin just because they look on the map like they’re in a sea of red. To understand what’s going on, you need to look at the detailed county-by-county results, which show that even in “red” states, most cities went overwhelmingly for Clinton, while even in “blue” states like New York, most rural areas went for Trump. Here’s Texas, for example (Austin was 66% Clinton, 27% Trump).
I’m ashamed of my country and terrified about the future. When Bush took power in 2000, I was depressed for weeks, but I didn’t feel like I do now, like a fourth-generation refugee in the United States—like someone who happens to have been born here and will presumably continue to live here, unless and until it starts to become unsafe for academics, or Jews, or people who publicly criticize Trump, at which time I guess we’ll pack up and go somewhere else (assuming there still is a somewhere else).
If I ever missed the danger and excitement that so many European scientists and mathematicians felt in the 1930s, that sense of trying to pursue the truth even in the shadow of an aggressive and unironic evil—OK, I can cross that off the list. Since I was seven years old or so, I’ve been obsessed by the realization that there are no guardrails that prevent human beings from choosing the worst, that all the adults who soothingly reassure you that “everything always works out okay in the end” are full of it. Now I get to live through it instead of just reading about it in history books and having nightmares.
If James Comey hadn’t cast what turned out to be utterly unfounded suspicion over Hillary during the height of early voting, maybe the outcome would’ve been different. If young and poor and minority voters in Wisconsin and North Carolina and elsewhere hadn’t been effectively disenfranchised through huge lines and strategic voter ID laws and closures of polling places, maybe the outcome would’ve been different. If Russia and WikiLeaks hadn’t interfered by hacking one side and not the other, maybe the outcome would’ve been different. For that matter, if Russia or some other power hacked the trivially-hackable electronic voting machines that lack paper trails—machines that something like a third of American voters still used this election—there’s an excellent chance we’d never find out.
But in some sense, all of that is beside the point. For take all of it away, and Trump still would’ve at least come within a few terrifying points of winning—and as Scott Alexander rightly stresses, whatever horrible things are true about the American electorate today, would still have been true had Hillary eked out a narrow win. It’s just that now we all get to enjoy the consequences of ½±ε of the country’s horrible values.
There is no silver lining. There’s nothing good about this.
My immediate problem is that, this afternoon, I’m supposed to give a major physics colloquium at UT. The title? “Quantum Supremacy.” That term, which had given me so much comedic mileage through the long campaign season (“will I disavow support from quantum supremacists? I’ll keep you in suspense about it…” ), now just seems dark and horrible, a weight around my neck. Yet, distracted and sleep-deprived and humor-deprived though I am, I’ve decided to power through and give the talk. Why? Because Steven Weinberg says he still wants to hear it.
I see no particular reason to revise anything I’ve said on this blog about the election, except perhaps for my uncritical quoting of all the analyses and prediction markets that gave Trump a small (but still, I stressed, much too high) probability of winning.
I stand by my contempt for the Electoral College, and my advocacy for vote-swapping. The fact that vote-swapping once again failed doesn’t mean it was a bad idea; on the contrary, it means that we didn’t do enough.
I stand by my criticism of some of the excesses of the social justice movement, which seem to me to have played some role in spawning the predictable backlash whose horrific results the world now sees.
Lastly, I stand by what I said about the centrality of Enlightenment norms and values, and of civil discourse even with those with whom we disagree, to my own rejection of Trumpism.
On the other hand, the Trump supporters who are leaving me anonymous taunting comments can go elsewhere. On this day, I think a wholly appropriate Enlightenment response to them is “fuck you.”