The bullshitter in the china shop

Yes, there was the passing fantasy of liquidating my meager assets and sashaying to Costa Rica to rediscover my bartending career at some beach bar on the Caribbean coast. Capairhanias, coconuts, feral cats to shoo off the bar and stray dogs who beg snacks off the customers. I’d learn Spanish. I’d only wear kaftans. I’d live in a tiny house on the edge of the jungle with the shower outdoors. I’d quit the internet so i could remain blissfully unaware of how America was devouring itself under the Trump administration.

But as nice as that sounds that’s not what I’m going to do. The impossible logistical impediments aside (my liquidated assets would maybe last me a month, two tops), there’s also the fact that this country is my country. I may not be proud to be an American at this particular moment, but I’m an American nonetheless. It is a ridiculous privilege to live in this country that for all its shortcomings, deprivations, and bullshit, still has such glorious things as New York City, Yosemite, and Ru Paul. We may not like who we choose as our leaders, but we do choose them. Through a messy and increasingly suspect process, but still. We get to shout from the rooftops how much we HATE the choices our country makes, and not be arrested or killed (well, for now anyway).

I was never certain Hillary would win. I was certain I wanted her to. She did not embody all the qualities I would have liked in a leader, but they never do. I was attached — emotionally, personally — to the idea of a Madam President. My despair at the election results has as much to do with this impediment to women as it does with the man who, according to the Electoral College, won.

Two days on and I’m trying to craft my despair into something useful and not having much success. I am not the sort who marches in the streets. If I were, maybe I’d feel less helpless. But the helplessness I feel is not only the helplessness one feels when contemplating the worst-case scenarios the impending Trump presidency may engender in our culture, in our politics, in the country, and in the world. It’s not just the helpless worry about the violence and damage emboldened bigots will inflict on Muslims, trans people, gay people, brown, and black people. It’s the helpless feeling that things are only going to get worse from here.

No, those of us on the left should definitely not graciously step aside and let the right have its moment in the sun. We’ve got to fight it out, and sing loudly and proudly our numerous, righteous disagreements with this current state of affairs. But we can no longer close ourselves off, seal ourselves up in a bubble of agreeance. We need to understand that our social media spoon feeds our own opinions back to us, so we never get the benefit of a counterpoint — especially one that we don’t agree with. In order to fight this fight, we need to understand the other side in its own context. We need to know the enemy, not just opinionate on the enemy.

For the last several months I’ve been following various conservative entities on Twitter in a bid to try to understand, to find some shred of evidence that maybe I don’t need to worry quite so much. I still haven’t found such a thing. The Heritage Foundation and Red State and Michelle Malkin are all convinced we (liberals) are out to make the streets run red with the blood of poor, weary truth-seeking conservatives; how we are stupid and subhuman and we think we understand things they don’t, and we want to criminally punish people who happen to disagree with them.

This is familiar, isn’t it? Is this not precisely how we talk about the right? So we’ve got some vocabulary in common. But that’s about it. Our respective media choices do not usually appeal to our better angels. More and more of the rhetoric of our political culture is unmoored from fact — but this doesn’t keep people from thinking it’s real. But when you’re a republican scrolling through Facebook and you see a headline like, “Confirmed: Obama Is a Muslim Infiltrator,” you’re going to click it. The same way when I’m scrolling through Facebook and I see “Allegations Trump Raped 13-yr-old Girl” I’m going to click it. Both the republican and me may know there’s not a lot (or not any) credibility to the article. But we’re reading them anyway. And on both sides there are tens of thousands of people for whom those headlines alone are truth, independent of details, facts, or context.

Both sides think they’re on the side of the just, the true, the correct. There are at least two sides to everything — that cannot be avoided. Our governmental system of checks and balances fosters this dynamic; it cultivates dissent and dissent is the bedrock of democracy — the right, the ability, the duty to stand up call bullshit. The republicans have been calling their version of bullshit for eight years. Now it’s our turn. We have to be ready. We have to practice. And this means exposing ourselves to opinions that make us angry or flabbergasted. It means educating ourselves on the thought processes of the other side. It means getting out of our comfy media bubbles, it means holding healthy skepticism for our sources and not falling for the sensationalism that the media doles out like ice cream.

Let’s be smart. Let’s be savvy. Let’s be an effective adversary.

Let’s not just scream from our side of the void.

Originally published Nov. 10, 2016 on sassbak.com

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