I don’t know about you, but I had absolutely no desire to be in the world while election results were coming in on Nov 8. So instead, I went to my favorite “escape from the world” place: a movie theater. A friend and I decided on Trolls. An hour and a half of bright colors and rousing musical numbers just seemed like a good idea before finding out who gets to screw up the country over the next four years.
Trolls was actually a pleasant surprise though. It wasn’t just good in a fun kids movie sort of way, it actually made me realize some important things I needed to remember as my country becomes as divided as I’ve ever seen it. [Spoilers below].
Lesson 1: We can still be happy without shitting on other people
The antagonists of this movie are the Bergens, unhappy creatures that believe the only way to be happy is to eat the trolls. What makes the dynamic of Bergentown especially interesting is that any Bergen under the age of 20, including the king of Bergentown, has never actually tasted a troll, as the trolls escaped captivity 20 years before the primary plot arc of the film. So your primary villain isn’t someone who is just straight up evil, it’s someone who has been socialized to believe a lie, and that belief inspires him to do evil things. The movie isn’t a story of good triumphing over evil, it’s a story of good teaching evil the error in their ways.
Unlike some, I personally do not believe all Trump supporters are just straight up evil. I do however, believe many view the world as a false dichotomy. They have trouble seeing how immigrants and native-born citizens can live in peace and even benefit from each other’s presence, and instead believe one group can only benefit at the expense of the other. They believe that the rights of Americans are more important than the rights of people born elsewhere, even though such people are equally human. And I think for many, those beliefs were instilled in them at a young age. They voted for Trump not because they’re just terrible human beings that Satan sent to destroy America, but because they genuinely believe that was the only way to restore their own prosperity after other systems have failed them. Sad!
Trolls is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be “us vs. them” even when the world around us constantly tells us that it is. There are ways to be happy and successful without infringing on the rights of others.
Lesson 2: It’s nice to be compassionate, even towards people who don’t have compassion for us.
There’s a great moment towards the end of the movie when Princess Poppy has an epiphany: The Bergens’ desire for happiness is just as valid as the trolls’ desire for happiness. The solution to the problem isn’t simply to run away again, it’s to change the social construct that told the Bergens eating Trolls was the only way to be happy.
Trump voters are allowed to be pissed off about unemployment. They’re allowed to be pissed off that politicians haven’t listened to them for decades. They’re allowed to hate “The Establishment” and want something better. While I personally don’t think a Trump presidency will actually fix all these problems, I do think those emotions are valid. The decision to endorse terrible behavior and policies is not, but the emotions themselves are. I wish more people in leftist and libertarian circles would actually engage Trump’s followers in meaningful dialog that benefits everyone, rather than smugly assuming anyone with different views is just an uneducated bigot. I don’t see how Trump voters will ever see the error in their ways if such dialog doesn’t happen.
I get that it’s never going to be as easy as an inspiring monologue in a kids movie, and I also get that no one has a right to your time, attention, or friendship. But I do know that virtually any time I have changed my mind about a specific political issue, it’s because someone I disagreed with was nice and patient with me when they didn’t have to be. I’m grateful for such people. So before you succumb to that instinct that says “Fuck the Trump voters! Anyone that voted for him can just unfriend me now!” Consider that if we exile the alt-right to their own little bubble where they only interact with other people of the alt-right, they will not change. They will vote for Trump again in 2020. The reality is that at least some of the #NeverTrump team needs to try to change some minds. That’s what it’s going to take if we actually want to dismantle the toxic social constructs that got us here.
Lesson 3: The government cannot be trusted to make you happy.
I have full confidence that over the next four years, Donald Trump will make some decisions I don’t like. But one of the great things Trolls reminded me of is that if the government is not making me happy, there are a lot of other things that can. There will still be good music and good movies. There will still be friends and parties. There will still be delicious food and the occasional free gourmet coffee drink if you’re signed up for the right rewards programs. There will still be things that can improve our lives that have nothing to do with the government.
Part of what made Bergentown so miserable to begin with is that they relied heavily on the government to provide trolls to eat. So heavily in fact, that they literally didn’t know how to be happy unless the government was giving them trolls. Many politicians, including Trump and Clinton, want us to believe that electing them is the only way to avoid certain disaster, that there is no way to lead meaningful lives if the wrong people are in power. I plan to spend the next four years proving that isn’t the case.
By all means, fight stupid policies the best you can, but also look for apolitical ways to change the world. We can’t count on the government to do it for us, nor can we count on the government to make us happy, so look for ways to be happy on your own. Fingerpaint. Scrapbook. Sing karaoke. Do some yoga. Go to the movies on election nights. Remember that there is life beyond politics. Focus on the aspects of your life that Trump has no control over.
So yes, Trolls may be a little idealistic, and I probably am too. But dammit, sometimes the world needs a little idealism. And as we brace ourselves for what these next four years may bring, it might just be worth your time and money to forget that for 93 minutes (plus trailers) and embrace the ideal that could happen if we stop shitting on each other and try to get along.