Monday, November 21, 2016

It's Not That I Don't Understand You

Since the election, there has been a plea from those on the Right for understanding. For people to just listen to their side and understand why they're not racists and misogynists and assholes just because they voted for Trump. Now that Trump has won, we (on the Left) somehow owe them empathy so that we will quit making them feel bad for calling them out for their bad behavior. If only we would try to understand what drove them to it...

If you've been around here for a while, you already know most of this (after all, I did a whole series on racism last year before I knew what kind of issue it was going to be in the Presidential election), but let me just reiterate:

  • I grew up in the South. I grew up amongst "good, hard working folk," almost all of whom voted for Trump.
  • I grew up in the Church. And not one of those liberal Methodist-type churches (they dance!), either. I grew up in a good ole Bible thumpin' evangelical Southern Baptists church. I even spent years working in the Church.
  • I grew up surrounded by and immersed in racism. (I fought against it in my church.)
  • I have been told, "That's just your education talking," which, honestly, as a teenager, I didn't understand. Of course, it was my education talking, at least in that I was getting educated so that I would be... well, educated!
  • I have been told in all sincerity that higher education is a waste of time because you don't need to know anything that's not in the Bible. All you need to do is read the Good Book.
So, see, it's not that I don't understand you; it's that I do understand you, and I understand you all too well.

So you don't like being called a racist despite the fact that when you voted for Trump you were joining Team Racism. Fine...
So you don't like being called sexist despite the fact that when you voted for Trump you cast a vote for misogyny, both personal and institutionalized. Fine...
Let's just settle on "asshole," then. What? You don't like that, either? Let me call your attention back to a book I reviewed last year: Assholes. Specifically, let's look at the definition Aaron James provides us for what an asshole is. At the time I wrote the review, no one protested the provided definition:
  1. The asshole allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically.
  2. The asshole does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement.
  3. The asshole is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.
And I'm going to add a fourth:
  • The asshole complains if anyone tries to take the special advantages away. A frequent refrain is, "That's not fair!" Perhaps, the asshole even tries to forcibly regain the special advantages, not seeing (or caring), because of his entitlement, that those advantages come at the expense of other people. [Most frequently in this country, those advantages come at the expense of women, but we can't get to the point of adequately dealing with rampant sexism because we can't get to it through all of the racism.]
I think these points pretty thoroughly describe Trump voters, virtually all of whom were white and/or male. [Yes, a large percentage of white women voted for Trump because they align with "white" rather than "women." Almost no women of color (any color (other than white)) voted for Trump.]

I'm not going to try to walk you all through it (you know what you did), but I will nutshell it for you:
When you're candidate says, "I will give you these things you want, but I am also going to do bad things to these other people," and you vote for him because you want the things even at the expense of the other people (Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, women, people of sexual orientation you don't agree with or understand), that puts you right in the ASSHOLE definition (see point 3 (which marches back up to 2 and, then, 1)). And all of that came about because you spent so much time whining about how you were losing your "special place" at the front of the line.

Let me put it another way:
When you believe that you, white person, deserve special treatment at the expense of non-white people and/or non-traditionally white people, it does, indeed, make you racist. It is the definition of racism. And I grew up with you; I know how all of this works; I know the tricks you play on yourself so that you can tell yourself that you're not one of the racist ones and that you are a good person, the primary one being, "I have black friends! I can't be racist!" Racism isn't about how you treat people you know; it's about how you treat people you don't know and how you think about those same people.

All of that to say this:
Quit asking us to "understand you." We do understand you. All of us. We know what you voted for and why. Sure, you may not have been voting against those other people, but you were voting for yourselves. And you were voting for yourselves at the expense of others, and you were fully aware of that at the time. That you are willing to sacrifice the very safety of others just so you can feel special again is, actually, racism. You need to come to grips with that and either embrace it or reject it. You can't play both sides.

The problem here is not that we don't understand you. The problem is that you refuse to look at yourselves and understand that your actions don't fit your words. And, sorry (not sorry), actions still do speak louder.


  1. This was a strange country to wake up to on November 9th. It's shocking to me that so many people could listen to such an endless, hateful stream of utter crap and prefer it to obvious, if somewhat uninspiring, competence. I'm still trying to reassure myself that misogyny and bigotry are not as pervasive as the election results would have one believe but it's a tough sell.

    The sad truth is, I think Trump won because both Reps and Dems failed to provide an appealing alternative. I think Hillary would have been an extraordinary President but I have to admit that I understand why people find her unappealing, her gender aside. Here on the Left, we need candidates who do a better job of selling the narrative.

    Bernie was that guy (still is) but the deck was clearly stacked against him. As much as I love him, he's getting a bit long in the tooth. We need a better sales rep in 2020 or four years of Trump could too easily become eight.

    1. What we need is more Democratic focus on state legislatures, and on the House of Representatives & Senate. They draw the voting districts, pass most laws that directly affect our lives, and confirm federal judges, who sit for life. The Presidency is important, but not as important as those three.

    2. I certainly agree with you there. People don't pay nearly enough attention to local politics - until they're angry. I've held local office. You see apathy or anger, never anything in between.

      The Dems used to dominate local politics but in the Reagan years, they let the Right take control of the narrative and liberal became a bad word. Social services became a tough sell politically, even to the people who would benefit from them.

      I agree with many of your points below, too. The message matters. I believe in the liberal view and I think the Dems have done a poor job of selling it for years. I'd like to see that change, at all levels of government.

    3. TAS: Being from the South, I am fully aware of how bad a word "liberal" is. I can't even think of a good comparison... wait, yes, I can; it carries the same kind of weight as "nigger" or "nigger-lover."

  2. Again, very well said. The constant question is what level of problems can you accept in a leader? I found myself wondering whether I would still vote for Bernie if he'd said what Trump said, or if I would vote for Trump if I thought he would nationalize health care and allow student loan debt to be discharged in bankruptcy?

    These are tough questions. I think there is a line you can cross where you have to say "no amount of plusses can offset that negative," but where that line is is tough to draw. Like Potter Stewart said, we know it when we see it, but that's not really a standard you can have.

    This morning I got after a Jezebel writer for passing off a gross Tweet from an actor she likes as 'bad Twitter judgment." The tweet in question said that black men like to prey on drunk white women on St. Patrick's day. Most of the article and the comments were "well he's a good guy and it was just one time in 2012" but you can't see them saying that if, say, we found that Tweet in Giuliani's timeline.

    I think the thing is you have to stand for principles, not people. And you have to try to judge why people did the thing they did. Is it truly a character flaw that affects the way we judge them, or is it a lapse, an accident, or something similar.

    Guys like Trump and Anthony Weiner, for example, it seems pretty clear that it's something inherent in them.

    As for people voting for Trump, my own theory too is that the GOP -- and the Dems -- have made elections about so many social or irrelevant issues that people vote on those, not economic realities. Lots of lower- to middle-class people -- mostly white, because everything is mostly white -- are out of work or underemployed or in fear of losing their jobs. It's a fear they have because those jobs ARE disappearing, in some instances to foreign trade and in some to a changing workforce (robotics, and less labor-intensive designs, eg).

    It wouldn't worry you much, losing your job, if you knew that you wouldn't starve to death or could find a new job. But Americans have no such guarantee, anymore. We make education expensive and impractical. We make it difficult to move, and we tie people down to debt for life as a result of medical or educational needs.

    So if you're a blue collar guy in Alabama and you know the jobs are disappearing, what's the hope? And who do you blame? The federal government, and immigrants, because that's who you're told to blame, and it's easier than understanding the complex knot of economics that allows the federal government to profit off of student loans while simultaneously inflating the cost of public education, thereby making it harder to better yourself through education and diverting money from social programs to lenders. That's a tough issue to explain, and who do you blame?

    Much easier to point the finger at Muslim Mexican transgender immigrants takin' our jobs -- despite the fact that most immigrants work in jobs Americans won't do, at wages that either are illegal to pay in the first place or are too low for Americans to accept.

    1. Briane: I think the line for me is somewhere around when you start talking registering people and/or camps for them. [And that talk happened before the whole "grab them by the pussy" thing came out, which is a whole other line.] Sure, maybe I read too many X-Men comics as a kid, but I think it was more about the intensive study into WWII and the concentration camps (including in the US). You start talking that way, you're not fit to be President.

    2. I agree with that. My point really was not that Trump should get a pass (or that the actor/Twitter guy should) but that there has to be a line, a line which you draw in the sand and will not support people who cross it. I think if Bernie, or Warren, talked about interning people, or other crazy ideas, I'd not vote for them.

      But, then, I voted for Hillary, and she's awfully close to my line, too. If not over it. It's hard to be a moral absolutist.

    3. Briane: It can be. As adults, we have to deal in the lesser of evils all too frequently, but, as adults, we HAVE to do that. I'm all for idealism -- you should have known me when I was younger -- but I have learned that being idealistic gets you nowhere other than self-righteousness (and, ultimately, that's why I couldn't support Sanders; he has DONE nothing in his career other than be idealistic and self-righteous). At some point, you have to start being pragmatic so that you can push things in the direction you want them to go, even if it's slowly.

  3. I absolutely love this, Andrew. Thank you. You have voiced many of my thoughts. I had a similar upbringing, and I too grew up in the South in a bible thumping church, saw racism with my own eyes, and knew something wasn't quite right. I saw a KKK cross burn as a child in a vacant lot nearby. I was shocked when my mother explained what it was and why. Isn't the KKK and the white supremacist movement backing Trump? It amazes me that so many see him as being good for the country. Actions speak louder than claims of the supporters and so far, the actions are condemning. And for those disliking the protests, the USA is a country of free speech for ALL and the right to protest.

    1. D.G.: The problem there, I think, is that so many people do not know what free speech is or what it means. Unfortunately, for many on the Right, they think it means that they have the right to say whatever they want to say, but it's only them that have that right, just like they are the only ones who get to have religious freedom. They also think that they right to speak means that you MUST listen.

  4. "At the expense of others". That's the problem right there. It's so very disheartening.

    1. Nancy: It is the problem, but too many people don't care about the expense or who's paying it as long as they get what they want.
      Like Mexico paying for that wall.

  5. It boggles my mind that any woman could vote for him, yet white women were right behind white men in terms of percentage (at least, white women over 40). He says horrible things, he promises to do horrible (often illegal) things, but it's to non-whites so it's okay? Or he's giving you what you want so it's okay? Go right to hell, racist asshole. I understand you all too well.

    1. Jeanne: I agree with you about women but, evidently, most white women identify much more strongly as white than they do as women. And my wife says it's because they still believe in the myth of the white man who will come can rescue them and take them away to a castle in the sky. Or some such.

  6. Hey - just stopping by to see what's up. The election, apparently. I have to say that I was as shocked by this election result as I have been anything else in my adult life. Going into the election I hadn't considered a Trump victory as even remotely possible.

    The fact that almost every poll showed Hillary as winning before hand taught me something - there was a large segment of society that knew how awful the things Trump espoused were, and were embarrassed enough to not admit who they were voting for when asked.

    And I have to believe that the racist/misogynistic rhetoric Trump spewed during his campaign was interpreted by most voters as hyperbolic. That they were so blinded by the fear of starving and homeless, with their own families looking to them and asking what happened, that they were willing to vote for anyone they believed could 'fix' things. Be they racist or not.

    The alternative, that tens of millions of folks just don't give a shit about anyone but other white people... I can't fit that inside my head. We have to be better than that.

    On a related note, I've been more concerned by the fact that despite the nation growing more liberal over the past few decades, and voting that way, that the Right continues to consolidate and grow in power in this country.

    It truly boggles my mind that we, as a nation, vote tend to vote democratic overall, whether it be for congress or presidents or city councils, whatever - but gerrymandering of districts to minimize the impact of our collective voting tendencies is the norm. It's frustrating to see an increasingly smaller bloc of voters grow in influence and power.

    Oh well, at least there is a new Star Wars movie coming.

    1. Rusty: Yeah... the election. I was so hoping it would be over after the voting happened, but it looks like that was just the beginning.

      After a couple of conversations I've had with people in the last week, I'm pretty convinced that it's "tens of millions of folks jut don't give a shit about anyone other than white people." For instance, on the topic of raising the minimum wage, which would help tens of millions of people, mostly minorities and women, the response was, "That won't help ME. I already make three times the minimum wage, so it won't benefit me, and I want a raise that won't come with a minimum wage increase." Basically, it was a "fuck everyone else" kind of response. The inherent racism (and sexism) in these attitudes makes me sick.

      But, yes, a new Star Wars movie is coming, one that HAS to do well because it has a female lead, so, if it doesn't, it will be a major setback for women in leading roles in any kinds of movies other than romances.

  7. This was the first time I cried over the results of a presidential election, and only the second time I cried over the results of any election (the other time being when George Pataki defeated Mario Cuomo as governor of NY in 1994). Being both Jewish and a woman, I'm terrified for the future, and just about all of my friends are terrified too. Had any Democrat done anything The Orange One (I refuse to use his name) had done, those would've been huge dealbreakers, and I would've washed my hands of that person immediately. There are also too many chilling parallels between The Orange One and the rise of Hitler. I'm still hoping the Electoral College does the right thing next month and chooses either HRC or a sane Republican, since The Orange One is the least-qualified candidate ever in the history of the U.S.

    1. Carrie-Anne: The parallels between Trump and Hitler, especially in relation to these same kinds of things in Europe, is frightening. That people are blinding themselves to it is even more frightening.

  8. I am not for Trump at all and consider him scary, a bully and a puppet since he doesn't own any of his buildings, the banks do, they just pay him an allowance each month and pay tonhave his name on the buildings/business venture. Now, to generalize that all people who voted for Trump are assholes is a generality which one n eds to be careful about. I did not grow up in the South so I did not experience what you have and personally, that is scary. I have witnessed Communism and my mom escaped from that after WW2. My dad would be considered a racist because he was such an old school lumberman( born in 1913) and said many things that was embarrassing but he literally gave up his chair for an African American as well as an Asian person and, when their car broke down, he had a family in our home and gave them coffee and cake while they waited for the tow truck. He was always conservative in his thinking but not sure if he would have thought Trump was good...I doubt it. I just say that, lthough it is sad thT Trump will be Preaident, I don't want every person who voted for him called an asshole. I could be. allied leftist for my views and I am anything but.

    1. Birgit: I can understand your reluctance, especially since it sounds as if it's merely name calling. That is, however, why I went back to the book, the author of which holds a PhD and studied the behavior to come up with his definition. His definition which predates all of this election stuff. That said, it seems to very aptly apply. As they say, "If the shoe fits..."