We have got to get it together
I once worked with a woman whom I drove absolutely crazy in many ways. We see the world fundamentally differently.
She sees the world in terms of absolutes — either you are following a rule or you are not. There is not a single shade of gray in her world; for her, the starkest blacks and whites march neatly in patterns easily interpreted and easily followed. If something doesn’t fall cleanly into this world view, she side-steps it, refuses to think about it, breezily dismisses it by categorizing it as God’s will or perhaps, if she’s feeling multicultural that day, by pawning it off onto karma.
She places the expected outcome from Donald Trump’s election into the karma category. In her mind, not only Trump but all of those people who voted for him out of racism will get theirs. Because that’s the correct outcome — justly, logically, that’s what should happen. She will live her life through the Trump years — enjoying her family, fantasy football, her two dogs and their antics and all the caring and giving of a hard-working and loving life. Then four years from now, she will be able to say “Told you!” to her husband’s more conservative relatives. She doesn’t worry because it’s out of her hands. Hers is a power to compartmentalize that I rather envy and don’t begrudge.
On the other hand, I don’t have any faith that the outcome of Trump’s election will be in any way OK. I live in a world of grays, in which the shadows are always shifting. In my mind, things are rarely either wholly bad or wholly good, rules are rarely to be interpreted just one way. Karma is a bitch, but an unreliable one; everything is related to almost everything else and compartmentalization is difficult. I’ve been worrying since the election, waking up in the mornings with a vague sense of unease, fretting about what kind of world our newly teenage son will walk out into in a few short years. I am carrying on with my life, but through a sort of dismayed and apprehensive fog. I worry — a lot. I feel a tremendous responsibility to say or do something that will help to fix things.
As I read reactions to the election, study strategies to move forward and take in analysis of what happened, it’s clear that both my former colleague’s black and white ways and my tendency to see shades of gray are represented in those reactions, plans and analysis in a hundred small variations.
Put three left leaning people together, and you will undoubtedly have three different opinions, three different sets of priorities and three different world views. This is one of our biggest strengths; we are effortlessly a big tent, or rather a loose campground containing a bunch of tents. It’s also our biggest weakness, leading to confusion and making it hard for us to communicate. If we are going to survive as a viable political movement, we are going to have to adopt pieces and parts of both my thinking and of my friend’s.
We need to be able to see the forest and to understand how the trees relate to each other and to their environment. We also need to be able to draw the forest with enough clarity that people casually glimpsing our portrayal can see what we see. We need to be alert to signals that authoritarianism and fascism are moving from word to action under the new administration. We also need to be pragmatic enough to put forth ideas that go beyond our fear and that acknowledge whatever positive things might arise over these next years.
No matter what else we do, we need to stop endlessly litigating why Trump won. As long as we are fighting each other over that, we are not fighting him. The black and white view that all people who voted for Trump did so out of either overt or sub-conscious racism isn’t helpful.
The Republicans made a conscious political strategy of stomping their collective feet and saying “NO!” for eight long years. That worked for them because they really don’t care about the people they were elected to govern, outside of a very narrow slice of the electorate. As long as they can keep their gerrymandered districts intact, they have little to fear from a similar round of left-wing foot stomping. We simply don’t have the votes or the local control (right now) to make a viable go of the “You’re racist so we just say NO!” strategy.
On the other hand, we cannot keep endlessly beating ourselves up for failing to address the mythic white middle class voter. Sure, class issues and race issues are connected. No, we don’t know yet how to fix those issues, much less how to fix those issues in conjunction with the not inconsiderable number in our own ranks who have a moderate or corporate orientation. Yes, the sky probably is falling. No, we cannot just give up and write think pieces at each other while our basic constitutional rights get put on hiatus.
In the end, it’s the existential nature of the fight that we need to focus on — there are things that are black and white, and highlighting those things can pull us together while we connect the dots through all the shades of public policy gray.
Among my acquaintances number people who were staunch Hillary supporters since long before 2008, dedicated Bernie backers, environmentalists, peaceniks, corporate Democrats, actual “classical liberal” Libertarians and declared Socialists. One thing that these people have in common is a horror of losing freedom of the press, of losing freedom of/from religion and of losing freedom of expression and association. We cannot always agree on whether or not oil companies should ever be allowed to frack again or whether or not it’s OK to ever use drone warfare or how egregious the national security state has become. I do have faith that we can agree that we cannot allow deportation camps for people based on religious heritage, that we cannot roll back the right to marry for our LGBTQ friends, that providing public funding for religious private schools will destroy public education or that voucherizing Medicare is a terrible, horrible no-good idea.
Locally, in my tiny, super-red county, in our Democratic Party, we have had controversy over the local chairmanship, over how to include those of us who initially supported Bernie, over how to get the various Democratic clubs and affinity groups to work together. On my Facebook feed right now, I count four separate local groups forming in an effort to work against Donald Trump. That’s in addition to social justice advocacy groups that existed pre-election, like Standing on the Side of Love/ Black Lives Matter Lubbock or the West Texas Accountability Project.
All of these groups have viable, differing ideas and slightly unique policy or social orientations. In addition, we have an active Green group and a pretty large batch of pretty socially liberal Libertarians. It’s wonderful to see this much interest in liberal causes in a community so conservative, a place where to be outed as in any way left-wing can mean trouble at work, at church or at school. If this is what’s happening in dust-blown Lubbock TX, with our almost monolithically conservative Republican population, I cannot even begin to imagine how many progressive or anti-Trumpist groups and social media pages are proliferating in places like Los Angeles or Washington DC or New York City.
Somehow, we have got to get it together. All of us in our comfortable groups, where we know that our own personalized brand of liberalism is practiced, have got to reach out and get it together.
That’s what the right has done so well; even though differing opinions clearly exist among right-wingers, when the chips were down, they thought they knew what their animating principles were and they stuck (largely) together. That is how we ended up with lots of basically normal people voting for a scary, racist individual with less knowledge of foreign and domestic policy than your average high-school debater.
We must work together to protect ourselves and to protect all those people who foolishly voted for our no-nothing President Elect and by extension, for all the alarming people he is bringing into government in his wake. We have to stand up in fierce protection of all of our basic human rights and freedoms; we can no longer take anything for granted. We must fight the distraction of our internal disagreements and find a way forward so that instead of just saying “NO!” we can say — with one voice — “No, not that, but what about this other way?”
This is going to be very hard to do. But we must not let it be impossible. Because if we cannot get it together, we might lose everything that makes up a just and livable society.