Dismissing Each Other

usaThere’s no shortage of voices discussing our recent election and its fallout. So many that I wondered whether there was any point in adding to the din. But we’re all trying to process something huge here and also, quite frankly, I’m tired of being quiet. It’s a conclusion I reached well before casting my vote but it’s oh so relevant to where we are now.

I know many people, most of us women, who somewhere along the line became diplomatic to a fault. We wanted to be inclusive and kind, even to those we disagree with. But there is a big difference between disagreement and those who seek to do harm, whether intentionally or not.

I never used to be quiet. Not about much of anything. I had to fight to defend myself most of my childhood and I carried that fight into adulthood. And then I got tired. Worn down. Some of those big life things happened and I just didn’t want to fight anymore. I also worried that sometimes I’d been too quick to fight. And instead of finding the balance, I just retreated.

Part of that is in how hard the balance is to find. I’ve read plenty of posts saying fuck the other side, they’ve never played fair so we won’t either. But you lose something when you go down that road and I would argue that it’s not something we want to give up.

I have to believe that you can fight and stand up and advocate without becoming as reductionist and hateful and hopeless as the things you’re fighting against. Who we are matters, how we fight matters. I won’t pretend for a minute that I’ve found that balance yet, but I’m trying.

Hillary was not my first choice candidate but I sure as hell and without hesitation voted for her in the general because I knew what was at stake and because I’ve been voting for imperfect candidates all of my voting life. Policy matters and we pretend that it doesn’t at our peril.

I voted for Sanders in the primary with my whole heart. Not because I agreed with him 100% on every single issue but because his policies most closely aligned with my own ethics more so than any candidate I’ve ever been able to vote for. Not because I’m an idealistic idiot but because I think idealism and articulating a clear vision for a better future is both incredibly brave and imperative to forward progress.  Not because I’m unwilling to compromise but because I don’t believe integrity is a weakness.

If you want to move forward, you don’t start by pitching the compromise. You lay out what could be and then you work from there. I do believe in a government for everyone. But I don’t believe you start from a place of good enough. That’s not realism, it’s giving up on the possible because it’s harder to achieve. And I do absolutely believe that in the system we have, where politicians have long since lost any true accountability to the people they represent, that giving up is intentional. You give the people good enough to try to keep them quiet while you and your friends get richer.

The Democratic party’s refusal to authentically fight for economic equality is just as responsible for Clinton’s loss as are racism and misogyny. That’s the holy trinity of this grotesque election and of the three, it’s the only one worthy of empathy. I’m a public school teacher in what’s billed as a progressive city in a conservative state. I make crap and pay for classroom materials and supplies out of my own pocket constantly. I’m in my 30s and still paying student loans and I’ve got no inherited safety net from family. That’s luxurious compared to where a lot of other people are. And it’s bullshit. Not everyone who lives in urban areas is living high on the hog and those of us who aren’t shouldn’t have a hard time empathizing with people in places like the rust belt who jumped ship, in truth, from both major parties because they aren’t being represented. Rather than allowing ourselves to be divided by false scapegoating, we should stand together and fight for an economy that works for all of us.

If you argue against a living wage for someone else because then they’ll make almost as much as you, you’re missing the point. We’re all undervalued, underpaid, and overworked and we should be on the same side. It’s not immigrants hurting our economy. It’s intentional economic inequality and it’s been allowed to go on unchecked because we all gave up our power. We allowed unions to be villanized and fell for straw man arguments about whose fault our shitty circumstances were and about how all that money at the top was at some point going to trickle down. One might wonder how we fell for an analogy that sounded so much like getting pissed on. We are living in an economy where not just globalization but technology will continue to eat away at available jobs. We’re going to have to change how we value people and structure the norms of work life or our problems will get far more serious than they already are.

I read this week that 53% of white women voted for Trump. I suppose we fall for the piss analogies the same way we rationalize sexual assault and being reduced to numbers on a hotness scale. You’re valuable only to the degree that you’re fuckable. Hillary was never the Great Satan, ladies. She was an average politician made extraordinary simply by what she’d endured and fought as a woman in that field. In that way, gender is no small factor. The idea that she’s more corrupt than the majority of our bought and paid for government, that she’s more corrupt or dishonest than the national embarrassment we now call President Elect is patently ridiculous. She was not my first choice but that’s not because she’s some cartoon villain. Black women voted 93% for Clinton. It’s hard to put into words how gutting those numbers feel. They speak, ever so loudly, for themselves.

And finally comes that thing Trump supporters are so tired of being accused of while their fellow voters drive around spray painting messages of hate and harassing people of color. If you believe this election wasn’t about bigotry, you are lying to yourself. If you think we’re not seeing a big, ugly backlash to the first black president and the advancement of LGBTQ rights, to our country’s growing diversity, the evidence to the contrary has been staring you in the face all election long and it was there well before Trump descended that escalator too. We don’t get to ignore it.

If you think Trump calling Mexicans rapists and bad hombres and making a giant border wall one of his central campaign promises isn’t racist, it fucking is. If you think Trump describing that mythical place where all black people live as the seventh circle of hell and advocating for the return of stop & frisk and just taking guns away from ‘those people’ isn’t racist, it fucking is. If you think saying you will ban an entire religion from our country isn’t hate speech, it fucking is. If you think tapping a Vice Presidential running mate who believes in conversion therapy for gay people isn’t horrifying, it fucking is. If you think Trump being unwilling to condemn the KKK when they endorsed him or staying silent on the hate crimes his supporters are perpetrating right now throughout our country isn’t racist, I’m not quite sure what else to say to you. With the exception of a clear bent towards authoritarianism, there’s a good chance Trump isn’t really as hardcore in terms of policy as he played to get elected but let’s not pretend his bigotry and misogyny are in any doubt.

To the Trump voters who didn’t vote for him because us bitches and <insert racial/ethnic/religious slur of choice> need to know our place, yeah I see you too. A lot of us hear and get many of your frustrations. But this narrative that you aren’t still complicit doesn’t fly. If you honestly didn’t realize that before casting your vote, please own it now and speak out against the rhetoric of your candidate and the acts of your fellow voters. Comedian Hasan Minhaj said it perfectly. “On Dec. 7, 2015, Donald Trump called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States… Seriously, how is that not instantly disqualifying?” he asked. “Even if that’s not why most people voted for him, open racism should just be a deal breaker. You may not personally be a racist, sexist xenophobe, but that comes with the package… so if you take that deal, what you’re telling me is, ‘Hey man, I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you.’” 

Venting is the easy part but figuring out where we go from here is so much harder. There’s been some great writing on the subject (here, here, here, & here) but I’m not sure any of us have really figured it out yet because while we can clearly see the ugly place we are right now, the rest feels like being stuck on a condemned rollercoaster. All we know is it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere good.

But maybe if we can learn to listen harder, to stop dismissing each other, we can find a way that it can be. Did Hillary lose only because this country is more bigoted and misogynist than we all thought? Absolutely not. Were bigotry and misogyny a huge part of this? Hell yes. Is allowing any group of voters to be written off by the worst among them fair? No. But that means the rest of us need to rediscover our voices, our empathy, and our critical thinking skills.

Democrats, get your shit together. You don’t get to be the party of the people while helping to legislate the country’s way to  plutocracy. You don’t get to stand for civil liberties while you join the Republicans in stripping them away. And you don’t get to bash the progressives in your party with some smug idea that moderates are the grown-ups.

Everything is out in the open now and while that can be a dangerous and volatile place to be, it means we get to face it head on. It’s easier to fight something when it’s not hiding in the shadows. Our country’s ugliness just stepped out into a giant fluorescent light. We see it. Let’s stop trying to minimize it and confront it with all we’ve got.

For those of us who don’t feel at home in Trump’s America, I would not presume to tell you what to think or feel or do. There are far too many people already trying to do that. But I’m with you, all of you, and there are so many of us.

I can tell you that my goals, though I know I won’t always succeed, are not to let my voice be silent or corrupted by hate. To stand up and speak up but keep my eyes and heart open. To stand with and for others when I see them being silenced. To let go of fear of offending but never strive to hurt or demean. To look for unity and common cause wherever it exists but not be fooled by oppression that’s better spoken and cloaked in euphemism or neutrality. Somewhere here there is a balance. Let’s work together to find it.

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