Meryl’s speech: How Trump has the left on hook, line, and sinker

When I was little I loved watching the Academy Awards. I loved the excitement of anticipating which movie would win which award, being convinced that so-and-so deserved an Oscar, feeling the disappointment when they didn’t receive it, discussing my outrage with everyone else the next day, etc.

Then I stopped, because I realized that none of these people care about me. It also wasn’t a particularly good way to spend my time: it’s not like I’d be any richer or smarter or more capable the next day for it.

Meryl Streep is a great actress. She’s talented and eloquent. You can’t say much against her. It was pretty small of Donald Trump to retort with the cringe-worthy tweet that he came up with. It’s embarrassing that we have a President who acts like a child on Twitter.

Yet time and time again the left falls for his antics, eagerly lapping up any reason that he doles out to unleash their predictable outrage and indignation. Trump is incredibly good at provoking the left into caricaturing itself.

I am the daughter of two first-generation immigrants. I did not find Meryl’s speech offensive, but I also did not find it to be of much value. Let’s take a look at some of her words.

“There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good, there was nothing good about it, but it was effective and it did its job.”
“It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.”
“This instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public … by someone powerful, it filters down into everyone’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same.”

Let’s establish some facts.

1) Those who outrank you in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back are going to exercise that power to pursue their self-interest, at the expense of yours if necessary.

If they did not, privilege, power, and capacity would be meaningless concepts.

People will use their connections to get their resume picked over yours for a job, even if you are more qualified. Parents will use their legacy status to help their kid get admitted to a good school, even if other kids have stronger accomplishments. Privilege and power are exercised every day at the detriment of others. This is not considered a moral abomination in our modern world. It is business as usual.

2) The human instinct to humiliate does not require permission from Trump. It is alive and well, and already happens every day.

Anyone who has ever experienced a girls’ sleepover, a locker room, a respectable Ivy League fraternity/sorority, or a bar full of first year banking analysts knows that there is a large segment of humanity which has not become any more compassionate — they’ve simply figured out when to keep their mouths shut.

Given the above, one might argue that Streep is still doing some good: just because the world is such a nasty place doesn’t mean it should remain as such. She’s just asking everyone to show more compassion. Isn’t that a good thing?

Well, not really. Any eight year old who has experienced a playground can tell you that simply asking someone to be nicer doesn’t really work. You can ask someone to be less mean. You can ask someone to be less racist. You can do all of those things. They just won’t listen.

And why would they? Imagine that someone comes along, who you don’t particularly like, with absolutely nothing to offer you. They then ask you to do the uncomfortable and difficult work of re-examining your entire worldview and revising your opinions, just for their sake. Would you listen?

And yet that is exactly what teachers are doing when they tell a mean kid to stop bullying others on the playground. It’s a nice gesture. It doesn’t work.

I grew up in a left-leaning neighbourhood in Canada, and was blessed to have particularly compassionate teachers in middle school. I was taught to be sensitive and respectful of others, and to respect every single one of my classmates as a unique and special snowflake. This mental framework worked well for me, since it meant that I was, by definition, a unique and special snowflake as well — very convenient for self-esteem.

This led to several years of comfort and bliss, expressing my wonderful and snowflakey self, where I could do no wrong (as long as I wasn’t mean to other people, of course).

Yet the problem with living in a bubble is that it hurts and stuns you so much more when the truth comes punching through.

With every instance where someone exercised power and privilege at the detriment of myself or my family, I felt not only pain, but a crippling sense of dissonance and confusion, as if gravity had just pulled up. My parents, in a period of unemployment, signed up for a scheme to assemble jewelry at home, which required them to pay for all the materials upfront. It was a scam: they never received payment for a single necklace. I watched my father call job after job, attempting to introduce himself in broken English. He was met with swear words, hang-ups, and rude instructions to never call this number again. When he finally landed a stable job, my father discovered that his boss was stealing his income by committing tax fraud. This kind of human callousness was not supposed to exist in my snowflake world.

To use Meryl’s language — I, too, know what it feels like to have hooks sunk into my heart. Everybody does.

This is the harm of teaching a child that the world is a compassionate, kind, and caring place when it is not so: it leaves you with no defense mechanism when the world bares its true teeth. It only leaves you anger, pain, and indignation.

At college in Pennsylvania, away from home, I finally began to learn different types of lessons:

1) Nobody cares about what you think you deserve.

2) The amount of value that you are able to provide to / take away from someone is your leverage against being screwed over by them.

3) People will be assholes. Move on.

None of these items are particularly inspiring in the way that a heartfelt plea for human kindness is, but they are more in line with reality. And a failure to recognize reality is usually the root cause of unhappiness, anger, and dysfunction.

Unlike Meryl, most of us are not blessed with the luxury of publicly condemning someone when we see a cruel action (though perhaps one day with enough work and dedication we would be able to build up some social capital of the sort that she possesses). Most of us are simply concerned with defending ourselves and our loved ones from such cruelty, and the type of world that Meryl is appealing to is simply too far removed from our reality.

She is preaching the well-intentioned but useless message of the teacher in the school yard. Many of us learned long ago the futility of appealing to human kindness. We grit our teeth, muttered “fuck you, asshole”, ripped the hooks out of our hearts, and moved on.

Our lives, and those of our loved ones, will be defined by our own choices — not something as flimsy as the compassion of others.

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