Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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.”)