Oh hey left-wing America. How’s your week been?
Not so great, huh? If you’re like me (and you probably are, tbh), then you’ve been alternating between walking around with a vacant stare, bawling your eyes out, wallowing in your own filth, never feeling like having sex again, going to protests, reading way too many thinkpieces, and arguing on Facebook.
The left has been doing some really beautiful collective processing… and it’s been tearing itself apart.
Surprise! The left tearing itself apart is a veritable tradition. The fact that we’re now arguing about safety pins should surprise no one, and I actually think it’s mostly pretty OK. (This side of the political spectrum correlates with anti-authoritarianism, and honestly would you have it any other way?)
But if we only do that, or spend too much time doing that, then we are lost. So I want to offer a refrain that I’ve been going back to this week, every time I’ve encountered an opinion that is almost *but infuriatingly not quite* in line with my own. Instead of arguing and thereby deepening ultimately false dichotomies (economic anxiety or racism; protest in the streets or radically overhaul the electoral system), I’ve been trying to tap my 17-year-old drama geek self — who was really into improv theater — and offer up a “Yes, and…” instead.
In improv, you always respond to what other participants are doing with “yes, and…” instead of “no, but…”. The goal is to keep things moving, keep things creative, and keep things collaborative.
Turns out, it’s a pretty good way to navigate complexity too, especially complexity in the form of a slow-moving, emotionally-charged national catastrophe with 1,000 inter-related causes and 1,000 partial solutions.
Yes, we need to understand how white economic disenfranchisement played into this…
And we need to be real about the fact that white supremacy played an outsized role too.
Yes, there are large swaths of the United States that have been positively decimated by free trade agreements and other market shifts that have bled these areas of manufacturing and extraction jobs for decades. Yes, these areas turned out overwhelmingly for Trump. Yes, these voters’ economic concerns are profoundly legitimate.
And whiteness was the single biggest correlating factor among Trump voters — not age, not gender, and not income. (Trump pulled the majority of voters earning over $50K a year; Clinton pulled the majority of voters earning less than that.)
I suspect that it’s barely possible to overstate the role that racism played in this election — both the shade of racism that’s exacerbated by economic disenfranchisement, and the shade of racism that straight-up just has a deep, indelible life of its own within the American psyche, regardless of income.
Yes, we need to find better ways of connecting with Trumpian demographics…
And that doesn’t mean we don’t call them on their bullshit. In fact, even as we seek out common ground, we need to start from a position of zero-tolerance for xenophobic bullshit, full stop.
Yes, let’s all talk to our conservative friends and try to understand a bit better where they’re coming from. Yes, white progressives who hail from red states, go home and organize in your communities. Yes, Bernie-wing, let’s build a populist political coalition that includes rural poor people and fights for their interests. I think all of that is good and necessary.
And the left needs to do all that while brooking no quarter with racism, sexism, and homophobia. Letting these things slide, even just a little bit, cannot be part of our empathy campaign. We want to reach new people and we wanna do it by throwing no one under the bus. That means vocally and fiercely defending the vulnerable, without second-guessing or qualifying that defense.
Yes, left-wing “elites” in coastal enclaves could stand to be less smug and dismissive…
Yes, it sucks to be on the receiving end of intellectual snobbery. Yes, that shit alienates people who are already inclined to feel like they’re on the outside looking in. Yes, Trump voters are not dumb, and, no, they’re not a monolith.
All that can be true, and we can hold tight to the notion that there’s such a thing as being correct and incorrect about the causes and remedies for one’s grievances. All that can be true, and we can think Trump voters got it dramatically, catastrophically wrong, to the profound detriment of us all.
Not knowing shit (or knowing the wrong shit) does more harm in this world than being evil, IMO. You don’t just get a pass for it.
Yes, this is a taking-stock moment for social movements…
And we need to recognize the ways in which we’re already winning. Yes, let’s interrogate our strategies for making change, but let’s not abandon the work of years because of this setback, no matter how significant.
This defeat wasn’t a grand failure of left-wing strategy writ large; it was a whole lot of micro-failures plus a few pretty big ones that magnified each other in chaotic ways.
We are doing a lot right, if you take the long view. Let’s not fling the baby out with the bathwater.
Yes, we should be nice to each other on social media…
And the people who are most vulnerable should get the most leeway. We’re all fucking scared right now, but some of us are more scared than others, and for better reason.
As a student doing improv theater, you learn that you’re supposed to “yes, and…” all the time. In practice, this is virtually impossible — as in life.
People who are legitimately afraid for their lives and the lives of their loved ones: You can “no, but…” me if you need to. I’ll try my best to “yes, and…” you back.