Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Rage against the obscene


For more than a week now I’ve been hearing, vis-à-vis the election, that I shouldn’t rail against the outcome in fear and frustration. I should seek national unity, listen to the other side, try to understand their reasons for voting Trump in spite of his obvious deficits (dignity being just one of the things he lacks), and wait and see what actions he’ll take as president.

Well, we already know from things Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have said that the loathsome Republican agenda is going to go racing through congress come January (wouldn’t surprise me, a la the Patriot Act, if they’ve had the bills waiting in a special lockbox since Ronald Reagan’s exit), and by this time next year the country will be quite a different place. Everything from taxes to public education will have been remolded — Ryan wants to privatize Medicare, you know — and a lot of things near and dear to the progressive heart will have been lost for a long time. The federal minimum wage will not go up for at least four years, probably much longer. The EPA will be shamelessly gutted. Stop-and-frisk will become go-to law enforcement. Heck, for all we know, the feds might crack down on state marijuana legalization, just as Californians passed it. We’re gonna need our buzz, man!

But what drives me nuts about the “just listen” and “can’t we all just get along” types is that they don’t seem to acknowledge that we have been listening. For eighteen months we’ve been listening, and recoiling. We’ve been hearing a lot of anti-immigrant talk, a lot of anti-Muslim chatter, a lot of misogyny, a lot of ignorant garbage about welfare recipients and inner city dwellers who deserve the grim lives they’re leading.

A West Virginia mayor recently voiced approval of a Facebook post that referred to Michelle Obama as “a [sic] Ape in heels.”

That’s the kind of crap we’ve been having to listen to.

Read this piece about racial attitudes in northern Illinois. If this was a populist economic rebellion, it piggybacked on not-so-covert racism and hate, and I ask those who want me to listen to that: How can I respect attitudes that I abhor? I don’t need to have racial animus patiently explained to me. I don’t need to hear a rationale for xenophobic hostility. Who cares why they can’t abide the idea of two men or two women loving each other? It doesn’t interest me that they think there should be prayer in public schools because — remember? — the country is built on separation of church and state.

Just to be clear, here are a few more things the new administration is likely to do (thanks to the people I’m supposed to listen to and try to understand): tear up the non-nuclear deal with Iran, ban Muslims from entering the country, tax the money immigrants send home to their families in order to compel Mexico to pay for “the wall,” bring back waterboarding (and worse, says Trump), nominate Rudy Giuliani for Secretary of State, dismantle the Affordable Care Act, loosen federal gun control laws, try again on banning gay marriage, let Jeff Sessions run the Justice Department (and continue to investigate Hillary Clinton). I could go on and on, of course.

So, no. I don’t think I’ll listen to the people who helped make all that happen.

If there ever were a way to unite, it would have been as workers. I did some research a few years ago about the I.W.W.W — the Wobblies. They had some things figured out about how the sexes and the races can co-exist, and it had to do with having a common goal, a common foe. If you work beside someone who’s different from you but you’re both fighting for fairness and better working conditions and a stake in the profits, then it becomes apparent that your differences don’t matter. The union is your uniter — hence the name. But we watched as the establishment systematically took apart the labor unions and found insidious ways to divide us. Race, religion, even the music we favor. Joe Hill would have said, “I don’t care if you’re a Swedish miner or a black maid. Join us and we’ll fight to win!” Now it’s us vs. them.

What’s clear is that the people who put Trump over the top have a deep grievance, but it’s a grievance — the loathing of economic injustice — that a lot of us have. What’s been done this week in the name of fighting that injustice isn’t going to defeat it, though. It’s only going to emphasize the divisions, fortify the prejudice, and postpone solutions to our true national problem, which is fear and hatred of the Other.

The next time someone tells me I need to listen to and understand the Trump voter, I’m going to say, I have listened. And I’m judging. And rejecting.

(By way of a profound example, see this incident in the town I lived in till last year: Confederate flags shock viewers at Petaluma Veterans Day parade.”)

20 comments on “Rage against the obscene

  1. kingmidget
    November 18, 2016

    Don’t know if you read the Sacramento Bee up there in the cool place you live, but there’s an article today about the demographics of California countries that went for Trump versus those that didn’t. Those that did 75% white, those that didn’t 39% white. Those that did, 18% of adults have bachelors degrees. Those that didn’t, 31% have bachelors degrees. The counties that went for Trump have higher violent crime rates, higher suicide rates, higher gun sales, and higher rates of drug overdose deaths. And most telling of all … 30% of the population in the Trump counties receive their income from government aid, while only 15% of the population in the non-Trump counties.

    All of this may be indicative if the level of frustration in those counties. But the idea that they voted for a man who may very well destroy the safety net along with the Republican majority is just kind of amazing.

    I try to be patient with the idea that not all people who voted for Trump are racist or sexist or disgusting, but every time I try, I think “but they voted for a man who played the racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-immigrant card every day, day in and day out.” They own it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 18, 2016

      Thanks for the link! Fascinating article, and I can vouch for the findings. It’s definitely “State of Jefferson” land up here, which leads me to believe the frustration isn’t so much about socioeconomic trends. It’s more of a Don’t Tread On Me thing.

      But you’re right about one thing in particular, that the safety net a lot of these people rely on is going bye-bye. As is any hope for a stronger labor union culture that could really help them.

    • Audrey Driscoll
      November 18, 2016

      To quote the man himself: “I love the poorly educated.” And it’s likely there will be more of them to vote for him.

  2. francisguenette
    November 18, 2016

    You’ve articulated what many people are trying to come to grips with, Kevin, and my heart goes out to you. In Canada, we’ve been listening, too. And judging. My go-to media of choice – CBC – is keeping up the pressure. I recently read an excellent book by Eric Larsen – In the Garden of Beasts – about an American diplomat in pre WW2 Germany – 1933-34. What was particularly instructive was the fact that people let the injustice happen. They decided it was more important to protect their own self-interest than safe guard the life and liberty of anyone else. So – never give up raging against the obscene. I want to be the person who has the nerve to stand up to the bully/racist on the bus who is dishing out hate to a poor woman wearing a head scarf. I hope we all find the courage we need in the difficult times ahead. Thanks for this post.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 18, 2016

      Thanks, Fran! I worry a lot these days that the mindset of Trump voters will get “normalized” by a failure to confront them. In this age of allowing false equivalences to stand, it won’t be long before some pretty terrible ideas go mainstream.

      I might be overreacting a little right now, but I just want to keep my dander up so I can speak out when it’s important to resist.

  3. ericjbaker
    November 18, 2016

    There are many layers of a complexity to this topic, far too many for me to discuss at length in a blog comment. All I will say is that we should focus on stopping the agenda of the people who were elected and convince people who set out this election to vote next time. Only 18% of the US population voted for Trump. Yet look what happened.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 18, 2016

      Yeah, there’s a lot going on in this predicament, and we could get into some deep trends that have come home to roost.

      Good point about the 18%, and it was even less than that who got him nominated and in a position to win.

  4. pinklightsabre
    November 18, 2016

    Rudy Giuliani is the claymation figurine of Jack Frost from that Rudolph film.

  5. C. J. Hartwell
    November 18, 2016

    I’ve never been interested in politics – always voted and tried to do so wisely – but I’ve never been one to get too invested with the outcome. This time though… I agree with you – there are things we can not and should not tolerate.
    Thank you for the links, the Salon article was particularly interesting. We used to live in a small town in Colorado that displayed much of the ‘soft racism’ he speaks of. I worked with one woman who told me (completely serious), “I’m not racist – I have no problem with blacks – but I don’t like those Mexicans.” (Obviously her definition of racism was different than ours, and I doubt she knew a single black person.)
    Your post brought to mind another article I read: http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/11/11/we-have-to-create-a-culture-that-wont-vote-for-trump/
    I like the part where she says we “cannot agree to disagree.”

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 18, 2016

      Thanks for that link, C.J. I like this line too: “We get there by never letting anything slide, never letting anything go.”

  6. Woebegone but Hopeful
    November 20, 2016

    Chiming in from the UK.
    I understand just how you feel, right from the gut, we had Brexit.(We also had Margaret Thatcher & UKIP).
    The ideas of the ‘extremely fired up’ is that all we need to do is be harsh to ‘some’ people and all will be well is very popular these days. In fact in the UK it is so popular our main opposition party and thus supposed ‘hope’ is engaged in one of its best civil wars for many a decade.
    The problem is, speaking with my ex-public servant’s hat on (40+ years, at the front desk) is that Soft Power has the edge over Confrontation. I’ve had to talk down suicide threat, physical violence threat, men in tears of fear & frustration, motivate staff whose moral is below rock bottom; not always successful, just had to be keeping on.
    Folk do not realise what they are letting themselves in for with ‘The Simple Solution’. And they are quite likely to seek solace in the other argument being confrontationally put to them.
    Right now the only options are the quiet and measured, steady, slow, calming approach, I know it sticks in the craw. But when the other guy is holding a big club and is incoherent, it’s only dignity and its attendant authority which has a chance.
    In a perfect storm nothing is easy.
    Good luck USA.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 20, 2016

      You’re so right, Roger. There’s definitely a flight to simple answers, like “deport 11 million illegal immigrants.” Never mind that American businesses are the ones who employ these 11 million people. Never mind that the cost of goods and services will skyrocket when the cheap labor goes away. And never mind the impossibility of deporting so many in the context of the legal system. This is just one example.

      You get the feeling it’s the venting that mattered this time. Not so much the practical policies that could come out of it.

      • Woebegone but Hopeful
        November 21, 2016

        I’m sort of sitting here with arms folded rotating USA-wards, then to my own country (Brexit-ville) and saying the same thing:
        “OK, you got it. Whatcha going to do with it? I’m sitting here SO fascinated!!”
        As it has been said before:
        “You talk The Talk. But can you walk The Walk?”
        I’m waiting….

      • Kevin Brennan
        November 21, 2016

        Yes, we all get to watch as the Titanic smashes into the iceberg in slo-mo. Unfortunately, we’re all aboard the Titanic.

        I have my own theories about how the next four years will go. Not inclined to say it out loud, but I have a sneaking suspicion we’ve all seen this movie before …

      • Woebegone but Hopeful
        November 22, 2016

        Time to consider making a small fortune marketing & selling T-Shirts with this simple slogan:

  7. 1WriteWay
    November 25, 2016

    I’ve been avoiding discussions about Trump et al. because I just find it all too depressing. But I don’t like feeling hopeless either. I read this story in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/us/politics/heres-why-you-should-call-not-email-your-legislators.html?module=WatchingPortal&region=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=thumb_square&state=standard&contentPlacement=1&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2016%2F11%2F22%2Fus%2Fpolitics%2Fheres-why-you-should-call-not-email-your-legislators.html&eventName=Watching-article-click) and have been sharing it with friends. My husband who did some direct lobbying years ago on behalf of the Peace Corps and Veterans for Peace saw that phones were fully staffed. It makes sense that legislators might respond more readily to phone calls than to emails, tweets and other social media which can be easily ignored. Also, there’s something more empowering about making a phone call. A few years ago, while on my way to work, I heard on the local news that my (ugh) Governor decided to stopped the budget of a state-run program that supported the medically needy (you know, children and adults who have serious medical needs and would otherwise have to be institutionalized except for this program that enables them to live their own home). It was March. The end of the state fiscal year was June 30, and yet he (a former hospital executive who should have been indicted for Medicaid fraud) thought that because the budget was in the red, he should just freeze the program. As soon as I got to work, I took my cellphone and left the building. I called the Governor’s office. I was in a rage and while I managed to refrain from swearing, I still feel a little sorry for the nice lady who calmly and patiently took my call. What I did say in clear terms was that no true Christian would cut a program for the most vulnerable among us, and I never wanted to hear Gov Scott refer to himself as a Christian again because no true Christian would do what he had just done. Now, you know, I’m not a Christian. That’s not the point. It was the hypocrisy that set me over the edge. He did eventually unfreeze the budget and the program was able to resume. I’m not saying that my phone call alone made a difference, but there was a real push-back to that particular action of his and my phone call no doubt counted. Sigh. I’m getting too old for this …

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 25, 2016

      I read a Twitter storm recently by a legislative staffer who said the same thing — call your rep., don’t email. But she said to call the local office, not Washington. Not sure why, but your call is more likely to be “counted” that way.

      Now that I live in a red district, I think I’d better put my congressman’s local number on speed dial. I’m going to have to object to every one of his votes!

      It is sad. You and I have seen a lot of progress over the years, but it always seems like two steps forward, three steps back.

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