So. The Election. This isn’t going to be a vitriolic, reactionary outpouring to the results of the General Election a few days ago. I’ve made my opinions clear on my personal social media page, to the cost of amity between my highly conservative father and myself. It is, in a way, precisely why I waited a few days to write this. I needed time to examine the outcome, to observe the reactions from all quarters. As a student of history and an anthropologist, this is my jam–looking at what people do and connecting dots between action and culture, emotion and language.
I have to say that, while I was emotionally disappointed, saddened, and depressed by the fact that half of our country’s electorate cast their vote for someone I perceive to be outspokenly racist and bigoted, misogynist and fascist–based on his own words, published or recorded by his own campaign–I wasn’t surprised. I was not shocked. Because I have seen for many years the undercurrent of racist sentiments, the practices rooted in misogyny, and the customs that typify what many feel is traditional, which are nakedly a set of rules for a culture that is white, privileged, and male dominated. Given that, how is it possible to be shocked?
The Most Fragile and the Most Beautiful
And yet, there’s a large portion of our culture who are. This, in my estimation, is simply another mark of privilege. These individuals have been afforded the cultural breathing space to create an “America” that is post-racial in large part, that celebrates diversity, human rights, women’s rights, equality, liberal democracy, respect based not on socioeconomic factors but human dignity. It’s a beautiful dream. It is a worthy goal towards which to strive and an ethos we should emulate. But it is not our present cultural reality.
To be shocked that half of our voting population cast a ballot for a bigot or a fascist with no political experience or, really, experience consonant with so much of his base, skirts the fact that this happened, and we allowed it. Because we were happy to dwell in our bubbles of liberalism, educated opinions, and tolerance, shunning with categorical efficiency the perspectives of anyone who did not meet the standards of a narrative we created. We did not hear the needs of so many of our citizenry–out of work, struggling, and underrepresented by so much of our cultural communication network.
Scratch Us, and We All Bleed Ugly
When I consider this, I don’t wonder how it was possible for a hyper-privileged minority to take over the imaginations of that portion of our culture. Yes, some of them are disgustingly racist and bent on committing hate crimes with wild abandon. But are all of them racists, bigots or anti-intellectuals? Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is “yes,” even if they don’t see it. This isn’t because they chose to consciously cleave to a rhetoric that supports the ideas that are in direct contradiction of equality. Many of them would reject naked hatred. But they, and all of us as humans, possess the potential to act based on those ideas.
When I talk about embedded bigotry, misogyny, and racism, what I refer to are ideas that are a part of our cultural ethos. They’re sneaky, and we’ve all had them jump up and bite us upon occasion. The triumph of a truly liberal education is that we can sometimes spot these features within ourselves and take steps to correct them. Without that education, there’s little hope that an individual who lives and works within a community of like-minded individuals will ever recognize the beast beneath the veneer of civility and progress.
Within this country exist islands of ideology. These are influenced by socioeconomic factors, history, and yes, ethnic factors. The pervasive racism and bigotry possessed by the majority of Americans–both liberal and conservative, poor, wealthy, and in between–can be seen in our cultural institutions, in our attitudes towards women, towards impoverished individuals and the homeless, and other groups. Even those who have begun to change their minds will still find attitudes and truisms that rely on the acceptance of fundamental inequality and white, privileged, patriarchy for their existence.
The Abstract and the Concrete
Here’s the largest issue and the greatest failing of the liberal education, the liberal mindset. While many conservative individuals respond to factors of their lives based on deeply emotional rhetoric, fear of Otherness and loss of security, and a desire to retain the basic needs of their lives at any cost, the liberal portion of our population has not provided them with any concrete reasons or incentives to change their minds or hearts. We have made a policy of dealing in ideas, in concepts, with very little support offered to people who don’t share our mindset.
In effect, what many of them experience is the loss of employment, rising prices for everyday commodities, and very real cultural pain for themselves and those they do care about. Simultaneously, we have provided them with a drastically different set of cultural morals–equality of sex, gender, and ethnicity; a sort of intellectual hubris based on that liberal standard of higher education that, for many has no bearing on the realities they face each day–and simultaneously devalued their personal concerns.
How can anyone be shocked that they would, as a largely working-class and undereducated population, run with reckless abandon toward the camp of someone who gave them someone to blame, a target for their mounting fear and anger, and used language that was comforting in its absolute coarseness? Trump played on this undercurrent of dissatisfaction in many, even while he openly courted the segment of the electorate that refers to Obama as the “NIO.”
And, if you’ve forgotten, he had more than 80 weeks to drill into their heads concepts and slogans that, while they were as ultimately damaging to everything they loved about America, resonated with their need to place blame or rage.
In the Event of a National Emergency, Do Something
There have been the inevitable calls for “unity” and a peaceful transition of power from the White House. I believe that these statements were made in an attempt to maintain order and keep us afloat as a nation. Similarly, there are many who espouse a need for “love” and “joy.” But they never really suggest anything more tangible. We should just feel fucking happy and that’s going to make this dumpster fire go away? Will it somehow make it more palatable that a bigoted, vengeful, narcissistic political neophyte surrounded by political voices of the most self-interested and odious sort will be in control of our country for the next four years, will have access to the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet?
No. And it’s not the way to go. I refuse to be happy at this hash of an election. I will maintain respect for the office of the President, but I will not respect the person who has been chosen to fill it. And should anyone insist that I must, I will remind them that they likely did not afford the same courtesy to President Obama, shared disgusting and racist memes about him, contributed to the problems we currently face through their active non-cooperation and threats of armed rebellion should their candidate not emerge the victor on November 9th. They, as much as any non-engaging liberal group, must see how we all play a role in this nightmare. I’m angry. And I’m sickened, even if I understand, by our electorate’s willingness to support someone who does not in any way actively support them.
So what can one do? Rebel? I also disagree with the sort of disastrous political rhetoric that amounts to a fire axe behind glass. It’s a last resort and should not be bandied about in casual conversation. Rather, what we can all do–what we should all do–are several things. To the non-minority liberals so shocked at the election’s outcome, go talk to as many stable conservatives as you can find. Ask them to engage in a conversation about why they supported Trump. What were the driving factors for them? Why do they feel that they can look past many of his objectionable qualities?
And make it clear that you’re not trying to bash them or change their minds. Just listen. You can take a long shower afterward if you feel dirty, but I’m willing to bet that if we can actually talk to each other, we’ll realize that, on the whole, neither person is as bad as we made them out to be. Minds cannot be changed as long as we treat groups of people as complex abstracts and not people. The ideological barriers will only become more entrenched if we cannot extend the same courtesy we are asking of them–to see minorities, women, immigrants as human beings and not scary ideas–and to listen to what we have to say, to what we are asking for.
The Social Justice Prepper
The next thing you can do is be a Social Justice Prepper. Yes, that’s something of a tongue-in-cheek title. What I mean by this is to seek out charitable organizations, groups that work to assist minorities, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ communities and donate time, resources, or money. Get out there and start making this the place you thought it was. Take positive, concrete action. You can believe that what we need most right now is love…while you help others.
The reason I chose to lightly use the Prepper concept is that positive action to protect and nurture communities at risk in the face of overwhelming violence is prepping for a span of years when it may become increasingly sanctioned via laws and social attitudes. Social media is filled with lists and articles of organizations and charitable causes that can all use your help in positive ways. PP, ACLU, CAIR, NAACP, ADL–and many more. You can also go local. Look into making a regular donation of time, since many organizations are leary of one-timer volunteers. Simply put an hour or two towards a charitable cause of your choice every month. I promise you, these groups exist and they do need your support.
Many of you may take issue with something I’ve said. I’m not claiming to be perfect, and it’s early days yet. One thing I do know is that no one who believes in equal rights or social justice can remain silent. Silence is complicity. If you think I’m just saying that and I’m unwilling to speak to my ultra-conservative father who presents many of the challenges of embedded bigotry I discussed, I promise you, I’ve already taken this to the mat. Things are not rosy and sweet between us. But someday, he may stop dismissing my statements as Socialist brainwashing and start listening. I will keep trying. I have to, because the consequences of retreating into a bubble populated with abstract and glisteningly unchallenged ideals is to abandon my country, to watch its people ethically eviscerate themselves with hate and fear.