Thursday, November 10, 2016
As I write this at 3 am, November 10th, 2016, I wonder if the Internet really needs another #hottake about President-Elect Trump. But, like many things on this blog, I write for myself, I write for my mental health, my intellectual exercise, my desperate need to put into words the feelings I have about the world as I see it. 8 years ago, I wrote of Obama's win of the election: the promise of 4 years of change, the inspiration of the nation's first black President, the optimism of leaving behind the legacy of Bush. 8 years later, America reacted against this tide by electing a vile grotesque mockery of a statesman.
Thinking about blame: maybe we can lay some blame at the feet of liberals who needed to express the election in terms of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other famous works of fantasy. Memes were shared comparing Trump to Sauron, Voldemort, Jabba the Hutt, and Emperor Palpatine, memes that dangerously reduced the complex mire of politics to the level of escapist fantasy. Maybe if political discourse had been expressed in real terms with context, social/historical/etc, and not fantasy, the import of this election would have been internalized by the populace. In other words, liberals infantilized by the culture industry who hold dear their nostalgia might have been coaxed into considering the repercussions of their actions, either their participation in the democratic system or their complicity in the media's softballing of Trump during this entire election. Adorno's culture industry has never been more relevant than this election: a reality tv figure, cushioned by preposterous amounts of privilege, elected to a powerful position, on the narrative of "outsider" and "anti-elitism" by dint of noisy distractions. SNL and Jimmy Fallon should be taking hard looks in the mirror for the next while. I exhort them to consider their part in the creation of this Frankenstein's Monster.
Perhaps even more blame can be imparted to liberals: in recent years, the Left has made itself inhospitable—to anybody. I've been repeating, as a mantra, as a salve for my mental health, the idea that "perfect is the enemy of good." We in the Left have been so busy eating each other alive, leaving not even the bones behind, of our allies, our friends, our leaders. Instead of learning together, we have been holding each other to these impossible standards where no perfect media figure exists and any misstep results in radical denunciation and ostracism. Recently, figures such as Lena Dunham, Matt McGorry, Amy Schumer, etc, have been excoriated for mistakes, either rightfully or wrongly. Schumer's transphobia is awful, yes, but is it irrevocable? McGorry's childlike optimism and enthusiasm has been met with eyerolling and scorn. Why? Why would we push away a straight white male with a platform when he can do some good? We vilify these media personalities for not reaching a bar that's all but impossible to meet though, I stress, they should be educated. We should be working together.
I've become alienated from the Left in recent years. The Left at the political level has been moving towards the centre for decades while, on the ground, the Left has been myopically enamoured of identity politics to the point of forgetting that even straight white men can oppressed on the axis of class. I've seen many politically moderate white men completely ignored or abused by the Left ("you can't have an opinion, your opinion doesn't matter, your presence here is unwelcome"); already feeling unmoored from any group, these are probably the young white men who ended up voting for Trump: "well, if the Left won't have me, it sounds like Trump will at least."
While I believe strenuously identity politics are vitally important, often life-saving (eg. Black Lives Matter, trans rights), I also believe we in the Left haven't been appreciative of how class oppresses us all. Disenfranchised straight white men need to be folded into the movement and made a part, not completely avoided or rejected. I cannot believe I'm writing in defence of straight white men; I practically choke on the idea; but this is more important than infighting amongst the Left. Feminism, we're instructed, is for everybody. We need to organize together. I'm not arguing for centring the movement on the desires and needs of white people; instead, I hope we can enfold white people's liberation into the goals of the Left.
I can predict a reaction to this piece: "another white dude, proclaiming the importance of white dudes" yet it is this very attitude that pushed moderates into the arms of Trump. It is this dismissive attitude, in part, that led to widespread feelings of alienation.
Though, not all blame can be levelled at liberals or the mainstream media. I would be needlessly repeating the good analysis and astute observation of countless pundits, so I'll skip that. In place of that, I might try expressing how scary this Trump win is. It's not so much the individual who won the mantle of President but rather the assemblage of a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a robust infrastructure of thinkers and policy-makers with access to unfettered Executive powers. Trump is an easily bored blowhard but he will surround himself with like-minded politicians, lobbyists, associates, and others who understand the subtleties of bureaucracy and lawmaking. It's all of them combined that make this frightening, not the figurehead on his own. On top of all this, even if Trump is impeached, Mike Pence, an even more terrifying proposition, would ascend to the throne. In other words, this is scarier than we thought. It took over two hundred years to attain the meagre freedoms enjoyed today by marginalized people; it will take the Trump administration but a scant four years to dismantle all that hard work: Roe v Wade, LGBT rights, Obamacare, etc etc etc.
I'm frightened. And I'm resistant to the narrative that this is a "nightmare" or a "dream" or "Earth-2" or "the darkest timeline." I'm resistant to this narrative because if you were shocked that America could make such a disastrous move, then you weren't paying attention. This is the world that marginalized people live in every day and now we all see it. I'm additionally resistant to this "darkest timeline" nonsense for the same reasons why I vehemently reject comparisons to fantasy such as Harry Potter: if your understanding of politics hinges on reductive analogies to escapist fantasies, then I fear for your skills of analysis and observation and critical thinking. If your solutions to the problems posed by this political process make reference to superheroes such as Superman and Batman, then you are part of the problem. Solutions won't come from simplistic crypto-fascist fables of "might makes right." Instead, results can only come from hard work, political participation, education, and organization. This isn't a dream; this is the hand we are dealt. Now we must work together.