Autistic Future
October 15th, 2016

Just A Mechanic: One Autistic American’s Take On The Election

The elec­tion is an inescapable back­ground rum­ble, but life goes on around it. Law school will be end­ing short­ly, and I’m so busy that I feel some­what removed from it. I’ve most­ly felt its impact in my deal­ings with the inter­net. It may be part of the law’s appeal for me that I’m a sys­tems per­son. I’m good at see­ing pat­terns and fig­ur­ing out how pieces fit togeth­er. In an oil-stained t‑shirt or a suit, writ­ing code, read­ing cas­es, or drop­ping a trans­mis­sion pan, I’m a mechan­ic from a long line of prob­lem-solvers which has pro­duced plen­ty of lawyers and plen­ty of peo­ple who work on engines.

I like to find peo­ple whose needs align with my val­ues, fig­ure out whether and how I can make com­pli­cat­ed sys­tems work for them, and craft a solu­tion in a way that is eth­i­cal, metic­u­lous, and loy­al. Doing this ful­fills some­thing bedrock-deep in the sub­stance of who I am. Sit­u­at­ed in 21st cen­tu­ry Autis­tic cul­ture, it isn’t sur­pris­ing that one of my sys­tems of choice is the internet.


Industrial worker cutting and welding metal with many sharp sparks

Like my grand­fa­ther, who worked with heavy equip­ment and lived on his equip­ment yard, I’m sur­round­ed by my machines.


an image of my shadow hanging over my closed toughbook cf-30 laptop my water bottle, and my cup of coffee on a gorgeous, law library table made of smooth, waxed cherry wood

These web­sites and pro­files lack the loom­ing pres­ence of a 20-ton crane, but I live at close quar­ters with them. Run­ning around the clock, they’re nev­er far from my thoughts, and I’ve been con­cerned about them late­ly. The inter­net has been hot­ter, mean­er. Its reg­u­lar pat­terns of behav­ior have been out of whack. I hope they return to nor­mal when the elec­tion pass­es, but they’ve been off for so long that I’m not sure that things will return to the pre-Trump sta­tus quo. A new nor­mal may emerge, and it may not be an improve­ment on the old one. The more imme­di­ate prob­lem is the sheer num­ber of angry peo­ple look­ing for trou­ble. There has been shad­owy weird­ness and secu­ri­ty issues around the edges of a gen­tle lit­tle inter­net pres­ence which has nev­er had any trou­ble before. It’s noth­ing I can pin on the alt-right, or even on the gen­er­al­ized chaos, but it’s unprece­dent­ed. I don’t like this.

Oth­er than that, my only wor­ries about this elec­tion were ini­tial­ly for women, the poor, and minor­i­ty groups, immi­grants, LGBT peo­ple, peo­ple of col­or, reli­gious minori­ties, and the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty. Even though Trump’s rhetoric toward us has­n’t been as bad as what he has said about some peo­ple, there is, in my expe­ri­ence, a strong cor­re­la­tion between lead­er­ship that is rigid and nev­er stops shout­ing and dis­abled peo­ple not doing well. I gave Clin­ton the mon­ey a stu­dent can spare, and I plan to vote for her. Beyond the imme­di­ate impact of a bad pres­i­den­cy on vul­ner­a­ble, mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple, how­ev­er, I was­n’t wor­ried. The Amer­i­can sys­tem is pret­ty durable. Many of the Framers were deeply flawed as peo­ple, but I respect them as crafts­men. Reas­sured by a won­der­ful sem­i­nar on the Fed­er­al­ist Papers I’m tak­ing this semes­ter, I trust­ed the machine to be durable enough to weath­er a few years of rough han­dling. That all changed on Sun­day when Mr. Trump dis­cussed impris­on­ing his defeat­ed opponent.

That, in and of itself, may have been the last shock­ing remark in his arse­nal. The real punch to the gut was what hap­pened next: peo­ple, pre­sum­ably Amer­i­can vot­ers, cheered. I was nau­seous. I felt like I’d been wind­ed and knocked down. Like the time I shred­ded my hands chang­ing some evap­o­ra­tive emis­sions parts in the rusty, old engine of a car I don’t own any­more, the hurt was bad enough that I did­n’t ful­ly fell it until the next day. A can­di­date for the high­est office in the land was glee­ful­ly threat­en­ing to start cut­ting into the roots of our sys­tem of con­sti­tu­tion­al rights, rule of law, and our most fun­da­men­tal val­ues as Amer­i­cans. Fas­cism and a would-be dic­ta­tor stood, self-exposed, before us, and Amer­i­cans howled with delight. If the years of advo­ca­cy expe­ri­ence I’ve already accu­mu­lat­ed have taught me any­thing, it’s humil­i­ty. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just a mechan­ic, one who grew up play­ing in my grand­fa­ther’s king­dom of gen­tle, fer­rous giants and look­ing up to a mechan­ic who, very reluc­tant­ly, fought in a war against this sort of thing not so long ago. I know sys­tems. I know what it looks like when they’re being under­mined or attacked or cor­rod­ed. I know that I grew up dis­abled in Amer­i­ca and love my auton­o­my and civ­il lib­er­ties as one who does­n’t take them for grant­ed. I know I don’t have any use for fas­cists. I don’t like this.

This isn’t about vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple and groups on the mar­gins of soci­ety any­more. This isn’t about women any­more. This isn’t about the alt-right maraud­ing on the inter­net, and, increas­ing­ly, in the real world. This is about us all. It looks like the one qual­i­fied can­di­date in the race is win­ning the elec­tion. I encour­age every­one to help her as they can, but that is only the begin­ning. Once we’re out of imme­di­ate dan­ger, we have to trou­bleshoot the real prob­lem. We have to under­stand how, with­in liv­ing mem­o­ry of WWII, some of our fel­low Amer­i­cans came to be cheer­ing at the prospect of the win­ner of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion impris­on­ing his defeat­ed oppo­nent. We have to do it quick­ly and take prompt, res­olute action to encour­age the peo­ple who have lost faith in our sys­tem to buy in again. We have to take steps to pre­serve our sys­tem if we want to ensure its survival.