Bob Electorate & Sally Voter’s Excellent Adult Situation Meme
Maybe you’ve seen this meme:
Being neither Bob, nor Sally, nor their neighbor, I don’t know where it comes from, precisely. I’m not exactly sure of its intent. Some people find the command to be like Bob and Sally enraging. Others think it represents a perfectly reasonable stance.
I don’t hew neatly to either line — but Bob and Sally and the editorial command to be like them does make me itch, if wariness can be called an itch. I’ve been itchy for a few days now.
Like I said, I don’t know where the image comes from, (other than my FB feed), but it makes me uncomfortable, with its definition of adulthood. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable too. Maybe not. I can’t tell, I’m not in your head, am I? Maybe it’s supposed to make us uncomfortable? — I think it is. Even so, I don’t think the discomfort intended is the one that’s afflicting me. When I get this wariness rash, I, of course, check my FB feed to see if I am alone in my irritations, or, I start picking up things like James Baldwin essays to diagnose it. He was all kinds of wary. I did that last night, and I think I may have diagnosed my dis-ease with Bob & Sally’s friendship.
The command, “Be like Bob and Sally”, coming, as it does, beneath the self-consciously naïve cartoon and narrative of friendship, seems to be issued in a conciliatory tone. It’s the same tone I’m hearing in the commentary of liberal friends, and liberal-minded op-eds, who are trying to understand how the “Bobs” voted for Trump. It seems like a level-headed attitude to strike. A posture of mutual understanding in the face of civic disagreement. The words that go with the attitude are, for the Sally voters, something like, “they drank the Kool-Aid” of Fox News, of right-wing talk radio, of Breitbart…they are in economic distress…they have been called names, like xenophobe and racist and misogynist…and so, we must stop the name-calling and seek to understand, and pardon, and remain friends”. Maybe Sean Hannity is saying the same thing about Sallys to the Bobs of the world. And while I oversimplify the dialogue and sentiment, for the sake of summary, I recognize the deep yearning for common ground there. I share it too. Nobody wants to feel a deep distrust for their neighbors, or their nation, and certainly not their friends.
Nevertheless, “Be Like Bob & Sally” is still a command. It is not qualified. It’s presented as a requirement to maintain and preserve something. But what is that something? Adulthood and Civility? Friendship?
In that command, and in Bob’s vote for Trump, I hear the call to preserve, not maturity, but rather, a certain species of innocence.
I think it necessary to note at this point, that Bob & Sally, though fictional cartoons, seem to have a skin condition: they are cartoon white. There is no itchiness between them. I should also note I am black and not a cartoon. My itchiness, may, in part, be attributable to that skin condition, because it is highly susceptible to outbreaks of what I now recognize as innocence rash.
I’m basing my diagnosis on this passage of James Baldwin’s in the final essay of Notes of a Native Son, “Stranger in the Village” :
“…(I)f the American Negro has arrived at his identity by virtue of the absoluteness of his estrangement from his past, American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence, of returning to a state in which black men do not exist. This is one of the greatest errors Americans can make. The identity they fought so hard to protect has, by virtue of that battle, undergone a change: Americans are as unlike any other white people in the world as it is possible to be. I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world-which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces in human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white-owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation which could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us-very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will — that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” (My italics).
Baldwin wrote this essay after holing-up in Leukerbad, Switzerland, for three months and being among people who really were “innocents”, racially speaking, as he was the first black person that those villagers had ever seen in the flesh.
Who’d’ve guessed an essay written in the 1950s could be so useful for diagnosing political skin conditions in the 21st century?
The innocence, along with the indignation, anger and alienation, in which Bob cast his vote, seems to indicate that he really might have enjoyed an American version of Leukerbad, circa 1950 - except it’s not 1950 anymore. It also shows that, whatever else Bob may have lost, or been denied, he still has a firm grip on his good intentions, by being fearless enough to cast his vote to drain the swamp and/or lock her up. The thing is, that while Bob Friend intended to “Make America Great Again”, circa 1950? (Bob did hear and listen to the slogan, didn’t he?), his candidate cannot fulfill Bob’s time travel fantasy. And his vote still isn’t supposed to make us itchy. It clearly isn’t bothering Bob.
Now, assuming I had a friend, or family member, like Bob, and I want to continue being an adult, like Bob is with Sally, does my and Sally Voter’s adulthood depend on unconditionally accepting Bob’s answers to the vital questions of difference between us? Questions like:
Does Bob worry about the effect of bigoted appeals in a nation with a history of racial strife?
Is Bob concerned about women being mistreated by powerful men in the public sphere?
Did Bob really believe Trump when he said he spoke for him?
Did Bob consider any of the reporting about Trump’s actual level of success as a businessman or how he runs his foundation?
Did Bob think there was really no other choice, even during the primaries?
Was Bob, really, deeply, sincerely, worried about freeloaders and illegal aliens “cutting the line” to get ahead, when he voted to promote a shyster TV celebrity to the most powerful position in the world?
Because, if the answers to those questions are: “No; No; Yes; No, Yes, and Well…this is different”, then I don’t think anyone should condition adulthood on tolerating such responses in a friend. I’m not saying shun Bob. But really, I’m supposed to count on him when things are bad?
That’s what friendship is, right? Counting on someone? And community, and even nationhood are about counting on people. Am I missing something?
If those were Bob Friend’s answers to those questions, then, to me, counting him a friend is an innocence I cannot afford. This kind of innocence has the same slant as ignorance, and a willfull ignorance at that. Friendships, families, and communities, worthy of their name cannot accommodate fantasies of time travel, nor the delusion that there is no serious consequence to giving your vote, for President of the United States, to a swaggering man-child, whose dissipate adulthood has been garishly squandered on conducting his communal, commercial and civic life like it’s a zero-sum sandbox contest. If that kind of thing doesn’t put a serious itch in your friendships, then what will?
Now, here is my Bob & Sally Adult Situation meme (I don’t have a cartoon for it, because simplifying really complex issues into a demanding visual form should be left to serious editorial cartoonists, who, as a cohort, seem to harbor fewer illusions than I do regarding anybody’s innocence, and exercise a faculty for skepticism which Bob & Sally’s creator(s) seem to have had in short supply when captioning them; And I can’t draw):
In this meme I am not reclining at my desk,
In my comfortable house, in Lausanne, Switzerland.
I am back home in America and
Bob voted for Trump and Sally voted for Clinton, and:
I am black;
I am with my wife, who is white;
We are in public;
It is night;
There is a Group, out for some fun;
They do not like the sight of us;
They shout it.
To the door of a stranger.
Now, whose face do you think I’d want to see at the door? Bob’s? Or Sally’s.