Month: November 2016

You Wasted Your Pro-Life Vote on Trump

Did you vote for Trump because he said he was pro-life?

Are you pro-life because you think that sex shouldn’t be divorced from reproduction? Do you think a man who has cheated on or has attempted to cheat on all of his wives thinks so?

Are you pro-life because you think men should take responsibility for the children they help create? Do you think a man who abdicated his responsibilities to his daughter when he grew tired of being married really cares about fatherhood?

Are you pro-life because you think that adults have a responsibility to care for children, even when doing so may be a tremendous financial, physical, or emotional burden on them? Do you think a man who cut off medical support for his nephew’s ill child, a child with cerebral palsy, in a fit of spite for his brother, thinks so?

Are you pro-life because you think sex is a useful and beautiful way of holding together human relationships that are often fragile and that children are a good motivation for adults to accept responsibility for each other? Do you think a draft dodger  who boasted about fucking his way through the 1980s  thinks so?

Are you pro-life because you think that children’s lives matter? Because you think abortion is murder and you’re not okay with killing children? Do you think a man who promotes the indiscriminate bombing of civilians cares about children’s lives?

Are you pro-life because you think that women should be supported during pregnancy, not exploited? Do you really think that Donald Trump hasn’t paid for at least a few abortions in his lifetime so far?

Did you notice that he never brought up the issue of abortion and only spoke about it when he couldn’t avoid the topic?

Did you notice that he said he’d like to appoint his pro-choice sister to the Supreme Court?

Did you notice that his website has never articulated a pro-life platform on his website?

Do you think that a late-in-the-game four-point plan aimed only at making abortion more difficult, not supporting women or families, is good enough?

Are you so willing to be exploited, pro-life voter?

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Above, National Right to Life’s “We Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker. Did you vote “pro-life” if you selected the candidate whose policies are most likely to increase the number of abortions performed each year?

To be clear, I only care about Donald Trump’s personal sexual history to the extent that he’s a hypocritical scumbag who thinks women should be punished for acts he gleefully commits. And I care because pro-life, pro-family voters voted for him by wide margins, and I’m pro-family and pro-life (though in ways that certainly would disappoint many pro-lifers), and I refuse to give over those words to Donald Trump.

Everything about a Donald Trump presidency points to a rise in abortion. The best way to curtail abortion is to work to prevent unwanted–which generally means unplanned–pregnancies. We know what works. It’s not punishing women. Look–jail is actually better than being responsible for a child you can’t afford because it doesn’t last for the rest of your life.

We know what doesn’t lower the incidence of abortion or build a culture that welcomes and supports pregnancy and children. It’s men who don’t understand rape or consent. It’s men who brag about sexual assault. It’s those who don’t support a range of accessible birth control for women. It’s people who undermine women’s wages. Why do women have abortions? It’s not because it’s legal. By and large, it’s because they do not want to be pregnant in the first place.

The pro-life movement has remained over decades, but it’s hope is not in another hypocritical white man who wants to punish women for making a choice that will probably, if pro-lifers were being honest about it, make their lives easier. By electing someone who has broadly offended women, young people, and people of color, pro-life voters have done far more damage to their cause than they may realize. The end of abortion isn’t in making abortion illegal or even more difficult; it’s not in Trump’s promise to make the Hyde Amendment permanent law or any of the other anti-choice measures he’s proposed. It’s in a genuinely pro-life, pro-woman, pro-child effort that recognizes the legality of the procedure (because even four new Supreme Court Justices aren’t likely to change that) and the right of women to live the lives they choose, then makes those choices possible.

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How Do We Learn Who is Bad?

Content Warning: Images of bodies injured and killed in state-sponsored violence.

The images and stories out of Standing Rock in the last 48 hours are horrifying. Peaceful protesters trapped by water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, rubber bullets shot at close range. The risk to human life is great. And police and security forces are eager to take it.

 

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Police officers spray water on those peacefully protesting the pipeline at Standing Rock, using water as a weapon in freezing weather. Any of these officers could choose to participating in this violence. 

My assumption has been that most of us, when we learn about the Trail of Tears, we know that the US Army was the bad guy.

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Robert Lindeaux’s The Trail of Tears (1942) illustrated my grade school history book. 

When we learn about the slave market, we know that the buyers and sellers were the bad guys.

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Taylor’s 1852 An American Slave Market

When we learn about the battle of Little Bighorn, we know that Custer was the bad guy.

 

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Comanche, Captain Myles Keogh’s horse, survived the  Battle of Little Bighorn, though the rest of the detachment, led by Custer, was killed. He was given his name after performing bravely in the US Army’s fight to eradicate the Comanche Indians in Kansas. His body is preserved at the University of Kansas’ Natural History Museum. 

And Colorado Fuel and Iron, aided by the Colorado National Guard, which killed more than two dozen striking workers and their wives and children in Ludlow, Colorado.

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And Pinkerton’s detectives at the Homestead Massacre in Pennsylvania.

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Barges burn at the scene of the Homestead strike, near Pittsburgh. The massacre resulted in a decimated union. 

And in Little Rock Central High School.

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A member of the Little Rock Nine faces white opposition as she enters the formerly-segregated high school. Photo by Will Counts.

And the white patrons at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth sit-ins.

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Peaceful demonstrators seeking integration of a lunch counter are met with violence by white patrons. 

And Bull Connor and his thugs.

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Birmingham police use high-powered water on black protestors in a photograph that educated the world about the violence that African Americans faced in the United States. 

 

And the National Guard at Kent State.

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Mary Ann Vecchio, just 14, kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller, killed by the Ohio National Guard as he protested the Viet Nam War. Photographer John Film was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the image. 

And American soldiers at My Lai and Abu Grahaib.

 

Shattering images of American soldiers’ violence in war–the first photos of the My Lai massacre, published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and images of Army Pfc Lynndie England torturing a prison in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. 

We saw those pictures and we know that the bad guys are human, because we see their human faces, and in many cases, we know their names. To the extent that they represent us–white people, Americans–we are ashamed. And, at least for me as a kid, I assumed that they were ashamed, too. And maybe some of them changed. 

But we also know that, as human as they are, they are doing something inhumane, and you need nothing more than the pictures to see it. Whatever the politics are, the violence is asymmetrical. It is violence being committed because it can be committed.

But other children, I guess, looked at those pictures and thought I want to be like that. To wield a weapon against unarmed people. To crush those fighting for their rights. To kill in defense of capitalism and white supremacy. To grow up and defend “law and order,” which is just a code word for racial supremacy.

And they have found their jobs, at Standing Rockc.

 

White Evangelical Trump Voters are Not Hypocrites.

They’ve always been on the side of controlling other people.

For months, observers of American religion have been trying to make sense of the support Donald Trump was given by white evangelical Christians. We made excuses for them as they went for Trump over their conservative Christian brethren, Cruz and Carson, in the primary, saying that “real” evangelicals—well-formed in their faith and pious in its expression and, of course, Republicans—voted for the Texas Senator or the neurosurgeon and that was NASCAR Christians (those who can’t be bothered with church if there is a race on) who gave the nomination to the most un-Christian candidate of primary options (including Sanders, a secular Jew, who has no faith obligation to behave like a Christian ought.).

We blamed Democrats for failing to give morally-grounded white evangelicals an option they could vote for, picking Clinton, who, unfairly or not, was going to be remembered by them not as a candidate who supported “safe, legal, and rare” abortion but as a someone who defended “partial-birth” abortion. Their comfort in patriarchy and their overt misogyny and unconscious sexism made the struggle harder, but there was so much baggage that Clinton herself brought that it would have taken a miracle, not easily procured in her mainstream Methodism, to sell her to white evangelicals. Additionally, her run may have picked on the scab of Bill Clinton’s defeats of George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole, both dignified elders of the Republican establishment and World War II heroes who lost to a slick, manipulative, media-savvy horndog. It’s easy to see voting for Trump as a kind of revenge against Hillary Clinton for her husband’s successes.

These debates also exposed real fractures in what we’ve long known isn’t a monolithic white evangelical bloc. Albert Mohler and Russell Moore, men I’m not accustomed to praising, in particular, shared consistent, principled opposition to Trump and Trumpism and warned of the undermining of the conservative Christian witness in domains far beyond politics if evangelicals lent their strength to Trump’s victory. The Christian Post, certainly not a beacon of progressive evangelicalism, repeatedly argued that evangelical Christianity would be disgraced for its support of Trump—and it seems to have had some power to shape readers’ opinions. In contrast, Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and other opportunistic charlatans embraced Trump, sometimes (but only sometimes) decrying his abuses of power and people, inserting him into the Biblical narrative as the unexpected hero of persecuted Christians.

Southern Baptist theologians, left to right, Albert Mohler, Richard Land, and Russell Moore have long called Trump-supporting evangelical voters out for their support for their damage to evangelical Christianity. It is, says Moore, inspired by a “doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural ‘Christian America.’”

In the end, white evangelicals provided the most impressive support in Trump’s election: 81% of white voters self-identifying as evangelicals voted for him, higher than the numbers who voted for Romney, McCain, or George W. Bush in 2004. These are not all, of course, enthusiastic Trump supporters, but all of them decided to vote for him rather than to vote their consciences for a conservative or libertarian who couldn’t win (McMillan or Johnson), and all of them were willing to allow violence to be inflicted upon women, immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color rather than to use their vote to elect someone they personally disliked. Their behavior has embarrassed the white evangelicals who didn’t select Trump and angered and frightened progressive Christians, plus the rest of the world, minus Putin and ISIS.

What changed, researchers are asking, about Christian voters? Since emerging as a reliable Republican bloc in the election of Ronald Reagan, they have spent nearly 40 years screaming about personal morality, sexual ethics, abortion, and LGBT rights. A 2011 PRRI poll indicated that they had the highest level of support for the claim that a candidate’s private morality mattered; in a survey held shortly before they 2016 election, they reversed course, with 72% of them—again, the highest among all groups surveyed—saying that character didn’t necessarily matter. Of course, the Republican candidate in front of them was sexually violent, thrice-married, serially unfaithful porn-booster who publicly wished that his second wife had terminated the pregnancy that resulted in the birth of his daughter Tiffany and humiliated his current wife for political gain. But they were already going to vote for him, and so to make sense of that choice, they had to throw decades of feigned insistence upon personal morality out the window.

That has led to some speculation that Trump has done something to white evangelical voters—not only changing their thinking about politics but doing it so well that he’s garnered more of their support that George W. Bush, a man who actually had a born-again experience, turned away from a life of addiction, respected his marriage, and dedicated himself to the work of raising his daughters to be people of integrity.

But this misunderstands white evangelical voters.

It was never about having a moral candidate. It was never about what that person could do to promote a moral agenda.

It was always about getting power.

Always.

Jimmy Carter was more moral, on every count that white evangelicals say that matters, than Reagan. Carter was a Baptist Sunday school teacher; in fact, he still is. Reagan was, eventually, a nominal mainline Presbyterian. Carter was a salt-of-the-earth peanut farmer, Reagan a Hollywood actor whose experiences there made him hesitate to vocally condemn gay people even as he abdicated his responsibility to lead on HIV/AIDS. Reagan came to office our only divorced president—marrying Nancy, a woman who practiced astrology in the White House, only after she was pregnant.

But it didn’t matter, because Reagan promised white evangelical voters a return to power, power they felt entitled to because of their historic dominance. And, to be clear, they were still the powerful in the U.S. when Reagan was speaking to them. But they were already afraid of the change that was coming: increasing religious, racial, and ethnic diversity; diminishing support for a vision of America as special in the eyes of God; and an increasing expectation that minorities should be treated with respect and dignity (ironically termed “political correctness” by its opponents, though it is clear that the winning politics appeal to political cruelty).

Speaking to an audience of Christian broadcasters, Reagan famously wooed them by saying, “I know that you cannot endorse me, but… I endorse you.” He affirmed the white evangelical vision of America as a “city upon a hill.” And in these symbolic ways—by declaring 1983 “The Year of the Bible,” for example—he soothed white evangelicals. They still mattered. And they did—in terms of winning elections. But by most other measures—in terms of delivering on his promises of returning religion to public schools, reversing Roe v. Wade, or appointing conservative Supreme Court Justices—he failed his white evangelical supporters.

On the right, Ronald Reagan. On the left, Jimmy Carter, in his 90s, on a Habitat for Humanity job site. The election of Reagan over Carter was the first major Religious Right “win”–and also when you knew that white evangelicals did not care about private morality or even the politics of morality. 

Unless, of course, what they really wanted was a drug war that decimated inner cities, welfare policies that killed the poor and undermined black families, and a tax plan that benefited the rich while putting the most vulnerable at greater and greater risk. [Answer: Yes. This is actually what they really wanted. But that is a post for another day.]

But white evangelicals kept coming back, for George H. W. Bush, for Dole, for George W. Bush, McCain, and Romney. These were decent men, in terms of their personal morality—one-wife husbands who didn’t run bikini contests, build casinos, or grab women by their vaginas just because they could get away with it. (Yes, they were indecent in their attacks on Middle Eastern Muslims, their efforts to bomb Viet Nam, and their disgusting concern for the 1% over everyone else. And, FWIW, I’m not a huge Jimmy Carter booster, either; there is ample blood from the bodies of brown-skinned people on his hands.) Collectively, they did relatively little to advance an explicitly white evangelical religious agenda. GWB’s major contribution was the creation of the fairly innocuous Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (which, while problematic for some of us, hasn’t provoked enough outrage to prompt the Obama administration to dismantle it).

But still white evangelicals continue their support for the Republican Party.

That is only surprising if you think that white evangelicals vote for a candidate they think will actually do something about their religious concerns—things like prayer in public school, the public display of Christian symbols, abortion rights, LGBT rights, no-fault divorce, and other “pro-family” policies.

If you believe that, then you will see their support of Trump as hypocrisy.

But do not believe it.

White evangelicals have never cared—not really—about a candidate’s faith, as Reagan’s win over Carter proved and Trump’s over Cruz and Carson proved again.

And they do not even care about what a candidate will do in support of their faith. They do not actually care about a president installing a white evangelical agenda on the rest of the nation. We must give them credit: they are not stupid enough to believe that Trump will act on their behalf.

For the most part, they care about moral issues to the extent that they care about controlling other people, particularly those they see as potential threats to their power. For same-sex couples not to get married. For women not to have access to contraceptives. For kids to be forced to bow their heads at school in Christian—that is, Protestant Christian—prayer. For those who marry to have to stay married even if they don’t want to do so. For Muslims to have to register.

If you say see that power, not morality, is what they’ve always wanted, you will see that white evangelicals who voted for Trump are not hypocrites at all. They’ve always voted in their own best interest, which is in the interest of more state control over the bodies and experiences of people who threaten their dominance.

 

*I am bracketing abortion here because I think that there are evangelical reasons to oppose abortion—but not contraception—that are not necessarily linked to a desire to control other people’s bodies. But that does not mean that anti-abortion white evangelicals are not motivated by a desire to control women’s bodies to some degree—and some of them are wholly motivated by that desire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GodSmacks: Delivering God’s Hate in Love

I’m lucky to be in San Antonio for the American Academy of Religion this week. I’ll be presenting “GodSmacks: Delivering God’s Hate in Love” on Saturday at 4. The presentation focuses on Westboro Baptist Church’s interpretation of personal and national suffering as a sign of God’s anger–“GodSmacks” [warning, this link takes you to a website maintained by WBC]–and their self-understanding as people engaged in loving rebukes of their neighbor.

We’ll also consider the larger question of how religion can confound our ideas about love and hate and examine some other cases of fundamentalist groups that see the hand of God in tragedy

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AA weather chart showing the advancement of Hurricane Katrina? Or a sign of God’s anger at abortion? Various anti-abortion groups saw the fetus-like image (the orange circle in the upper center)  as evidence that God was using the hurricane to collectively punish us for abortion.

If you are at AAR, I’d love to see you!

Help Me Out on My Birthday

It’s my birthday! And while I usually actually kind of dread it (which I suspect might be kind of typical for academics, with our delayed entry into regular and significant social security contributions), this year I’m focusing my energy on something better: supporting the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Why? Because Trump-inspired hate crimes are surging even as the Trump organization attempts to deny its role in promoting violence.

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A baseball dugout in Wellsville, NY, vandalized with the words “Make America White Again” and a swastika. 

 

If you’ve ever read this blog or my Facebook posts and felt affirmed, questioned a previously held opinion, changed your mind, retold a story you read, shared a fact you learned, clicked on a helpful link, discovered a new book, or laughed, do me a favor–donate a dollar or two (more if you want, of course!) If I’ve ever done you a favor, guest lectured in your class, helped you out of a sticky situation, or sent you a note of encouragement, please donate.

You don’t need to donate much (though, of course, you can), but if you would be willing to send me a card this year, don’t give the money to Hallmark; instead donate. Donate with your name or anonymously, but let me know (via FB or rbarrettfox@astate.edu)  if you did so I can say thanks for the birthday present.

To make it more fun, I’ll do a random draw from anyone who makes a donation of any amount in the next week and send you a special prize.

 

“Hate Crimes on the Rise, Says Southern Poverty Law Center”

 

Your Empathy for Trump Voters Isn’t Just Misplaced—It’s Immoral.

CW: Anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, and anti-Latin@ hate crimes

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, we got so many news articles about why Trump was winning with poor, rural, white folks, people who had been abandoned by Washington, by liberals, and by the general march of progress, that parodies of the genre even popped up. These pieces kept shifting the blame back to liberals and progressives, “coastal elites” who just don’t understand life in rural America. Then, when Trump won the electoral college by winning in states where rural white votes are weighted unfairly, to the disadvantage of people of color, we got a new round of liberal hand-wringing and self-flagellation. Oh, why didn’t we bother with the poor rural folks? Why didn’t we take their concerns seriously? We lament our “echo chambers” and our “bubbles.” We decide to visit a Southern Baptist church or get Little House on the Prairie off the bookshelf to read to our children and try to become more empathetic about voters who chose a man who would sexually assault us if he got a chance. We get all romantic about country life. We turn to Charles Murray, whose intellectual work in works like the discredited, racist The Bell Curve feeds is beloved by the alt-right, to tell us that if we’re out-of-touch with ordinary people if we don’t watch NASCAR.

I’m going to weigh in here with a seemingly ungracious proposition.

Stop it.

Look, I get the liberal inclination to explore other people’s feelings. To radically accept them for who they are. To take stock of relationships and see how you can do better on your end. To be more open to diverse, even challenging perspectives. To be more inclusive. To be vulnerable and to let other people be vulnerable, too, which is how our richest, deepest connections flourish.

Do not let that inclination be further abused.

Most of you probably know that, professionally, I work with maybe the most despised people in America. No, not college students, though they often get unfairly bashed. I mean Westboro Baptists—the folks who picket about God’s hatred for gay people at the funerals of soldiers. Yeah, so everyone hates these folks, right? (Well, not quite. But you’ll have to read the book to learn about that.) But I love them. I really do. Genuinely. Heck, I even like most of them. Most of them are really good, decent, generous, kind, smart people—exactly the kind of neighbor, employee, student, friend, or fellow citizen you would want. Except, for, you know, the picketing and the beliefs that go with it. But, other than that, there’s probably not someone I’d rather be stuck on a desert island with than Shirley Phelps-Roper (and I say that with no sarcasm at all—she’s smart, hard-working, and a great conversationalist).

But that is how hate works. We’re rarely all—or even mostly—hateful. Most hateful people are mostly good, and probably all of us have a little bit of hate somewhere that we need to work on, some implicit bias we are just bringing to consciousness or some role we have in institutional or structural racism or sexism that we haven’t quite figured out how to exit. We’re all implicated, almost all of us living on land procured through genocide, bound in a capitalist system founded on and expanded by slavery. It’s not just that “We’re All Just a Little Bit Racist”—we’re neck deep into a system of oppression, so deep that we can’t see it any more than a fish sees water. And that system works by hiding itself, tucking the slave labor into sweatshops and fields far removed from your grocery store, hiding it behind bars or in shady off-shore investments.

So it doesn’t really matter if Trump voters are racist or not. They’re like the rest of us anyway—embedded in a system of oppression.

They just aren’t bothered by it.

So you can stop worrying about them. They’ll be A-OK. In fact, this system was set up to make sure that they are going to be alright.

But you also need to get the story right:

Trump won because of support by college-educated whites, both men and women, not poor working class whites. Trump supporters, on average, have higher incomes than Clinton supporters.

No, poor people did not break for Trump, though among those who do not have college degrees, people who are anxious about their children not doing as well as they have been able to did. These people are actually economically okay right now, just worried about a future. (As well they should be, whether under Trump’s trickle-down scam or Clinton’s neoliberalism.) In other words, they are used to an America of rising expectations—which may explain their nostalgia for the 1950s—and resent that their on children’s futures might not be an improvement on theirs.

These folks are disproportionately white men in blue-collar jobs with no advanced formal education. They’re probably nice people. They are surely embedded in racist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist systems that have benefitted themselves. They feel that their future is as threatened by Chinese steel as it is by “political correctness”—which is just another way of saying that they don’t want to have to treat other people as their equals. (And college educated whites probably feel the same way.) The future has always been theirs, and now it’s not.  That’s dislocating, and it’s easy to turn to that economic anxiety into racism.  Which is exactly what Trump did.

This is, to say it kindly, worry about their age of entitlement ending.

We will have years (sigh!) of data to come out of this election, and it will yield us new and important insights into the needs and hurts and worries of Trump voters. In the sense that they, too, are Americans, I care. I care because I think neoliberal capitalism is what ailing them (and me and probably you) and that is where progressives and Trump voters can unite (eventually). I care because I think the oppressive system they are inflicting on all hurts them too.

But mostly I care—and this is, really, what we all need to be caring about right now—that they chose racism, sexism, misogyny, sexual violence, ableism, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism over basic human dignity for others. They chose to calm their own fears about the future over the present harm Trump is doing right now to others.

One more time: They voted for violence against their fellow Americans so they could feel better.

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Anti-immigrant, anti-Latin@ vandals attacked a sign at Episcopal Church of Our Savior advertising the church’s Spanish-language mass in Silver Spring, MD. Similar church attacks happened in Indiana. They wrote the words “Trump Nation Whites Only” on the sign as well as on a wall in the church garden. 

To be sure, their choice was not logical as a Trump presidency offers no promise of a making their financial futures better. And it’s really a losing proposition for lower income people, including working class whites.

So, really, they choose their soothed feelings at the cost of real violence to others.

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On November 11, a man in the city where I live found his car spray-painted with anti-gay slurs. Trump has downplayed the connection between his campaign’s hateful rhetoric and the hateful acts of his supporters. We knew this–both these attacks and Trump’s abdication of responsibility–were coming from his campaign, which frequently invoked violence against minorities. 

Use your empathy to build up people who Trump is hurting, not those who welcomed the chance to get conned by him. Right now, you can’t do both, because every moment you are reflectively listening to a Trump voter, you are losing a moment to comfort a victim. (I will give you a few hours off at Thanksgiving, if you are heading home to dinner with a Trump supporter. But, other than that, go take care of the people who are hurting, not the people who are injuring.)

You get to decide now whose pain weighs more heavily on the situation—the disconnected Trump voter (who can’t be so disconnected, after all, as his candidate won) whose actions have emboldened hateful extremists or the woman being sexually assaulted right now because that voter told men they can do whatever they want to women if they have power. Trump voters already have power—to give them your empathy would add to their abuse of others.

 

Question for future research: I am not a social psychologist, but I have been thinking a lot about empathy. In a FB conversation, I asked folks if they thought we had an “empathy gap” in politics. My sweet, kind, generous liberal friends immediately said yes–we need to understand Trump supporters better, to listen to them and take their concerns seriously. 

But my question was actually something else: I think there might be a gap between voters in terms of their empathy skills–that is, that some of us can easily imagine how it would feel (as close as we can) to be in another’s shoes. We care about justice for others. We feel their hurt and think of ourselves as fellow citizens, sharing an America to everyone’s betterment. I think there may be an entire group of voters–roughly 60 million of them–who either can’t do this or choose not to do it. Or, among the 7% who voted for Trump because they saw him as racist, they can imagine what it feels like to be in another’s shoes, and they voted for a candidate because they expected it would hurt those they hate–exactly as it is. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Hate Wins (with Musical Interludes)

CW, just for my dear mother: Your grandson swears in this one.

We’d stayed up late to watch the election results with some friends, though not late enough to see the final tally of electoral votes. I’d checked on the results throughout the night, awake with worry about the progress of the vote, then awake with horror at the results. It’s not that I overestimate American voters, but I had trusted the Clinton campaign to play the game better.

In any case, I had to break the bad news to my children in the morning—not just that Donald Trump had won, not just that that win made was in spite of the majority of voters, but that so many people had supported a racist, misogynistic, violent criminal clearly unfit for office. The bad news is that bullies sometimes—maybe even often—win.

My twelve-year-old immediately put his head back under the covers. “Can I say the worst word I know?” he asked from beneath his blankets.

“Sure,” I agreed.

He popped his head out. “Donald Trump is a motherfucker.”

Externally, I was calm. Internally, I was angry. Trump had already ruined pussy for me; he didn’t get to take motherfucker, too.

The Datsuns’ “Motherfucker from Hell” is in my Top 10 songs of the 2000s. I hope Elizabeth Warren adopts it as her 2020 campaign song.

Assuming that, you know, the word didn’t actually mean one who has sex with his or her mother, I asked the tween, “Is motherfucker the worst thing a person can be?”

He thought for a minute, then concluded. “No, it’s being hateful.”

“Is being hateful the worst thing you can be?”

He thought for another minute, then got it. “No. It’s teaching other people to be hateful. That’s worse, because it makes your hate go farther.”

We’ve been thinking a lot about servant leadership in our family, a la Robert Greenleaf, though with the kids, we’re not using those terms exactly. We’re talking about responsibility for people in our lives, about investing in others, and about building capacity—about how to build people up, whether they are siblings or classmates or neighbors. The hope is that we build them up to build others up. We know if we are successful when we see those we have invested in investing in others. The implication, of course, is that we’re building them up to bring forth justice—which moves us to radical forms of servant leadership.

But that’s not how capacity-building has to work. We can build people’s capacity to hate and to degrade.

We can normalize bigotry instead of kindness and set expectations for injurious, rather than generous, behavior. That’s exactly what 60+ million voters for Trump said—that we’re okay with his anti-Semitism, his racism, his misogyny, his mocking of people with disabilities, his anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant garbage. No, you say, you didn’t vote for him because of that. No, you say, wringing your hands, you voted for him despite this flirting with hate, because you love America. Because all lives matter, not just the ones in actual jeopardy. Because racism and sexism are over, so people of color and women don’t need any “special” treatment—in fact, protections for minorities deincentivize them, hurting them in the long run! You don’t personally like Trump’s rhetoric, but you admire the way that he “tells it like it us”—except, at the same time, you don’t believe he actually feels that way. He’s just being dramatic, just to get our attention.

Which, by the way, was the thinking of Hitler’s enablers.

nyt

A snippet from a 1922 New York Times article about Hitler. This clip says “several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.”

Trump is not just revealing something that was already there. He’s actually building the capacity for people to hate.

So if you have sent around that Instagram post about how you shouldn’t unfriend someone just because they voted for Trump because, really, they are the same person they always were—listen up: Either your Trump-supporting friends were always okay with bigotry (whether this was their reason for voting for him or not), or else Trump built their tolerance and capacity for it.

Or maybe you thought that Trump was the lesser of two evils.* In which case, your math is off. Like, way, way, way off. Even if you count every single fetus who might be aborted under a Clinton presidency that wouldn’t be aborted under a Trump one, your math is off. Or maybe you don’t understand nuclear power or trickle down economics. But it’s probably just that you don’t love or care for anyone who will be hurt by bigotry. Or those people in your life know better than to trust you with stories of their own sexual assaults or racist attacks.

Or maybe you just don’t believe people when they say that Trump’s rise to power, which has been built at least on part (though not on whole) his professed bigotry, is hurting them.

Maybe you think the racist flyers and Islamophobic graffiti and black church burnings are the work of anti-Trump forces, hoping to stir up trouble. Maybe you think the women telling stories of being “grabbed by the pussy” are making them up. Maybe you think the Southern Poverty Law Center’s analysis that k-12 schools are the main place where these behaviors are being reported is wrong. Maybe you think that all of these stories of pain and suffering are exaggerated, made up by whiny Millennials who can’t hack it in the adult world, and spread by mainstream media that, for reasons entirely unclear, would oppose a Trump presidency. (Really, why would mainstream media oppose a Trump presidency? Viewers tune in for Trump and his outrageous scandals and they tune out for Clinton droning on about policy.)

So, who would you believe?

Do you believe the Klan, when it says it will celebrate the Trump victory with a Klavalkade in North Carolina—a state where voter suppression efforts resulted in the closing of a number of voter registration sites that predominately served black North Carolinians?

Do you believe the “racial realists” (just the polite term that the intellectual branch of white supremacists give to themselves) say that they hope that this means that the nation will eventually be 90% white again—which would mean a purge of some sort of nearly 25% of those living in the country. They hope that this will begin with undocumented immigrants “self-selecting” their way out of the country, but they anticipate more… um… forceful actions.

Do you believe the thousands of members of The Deplorables, a Facebook group that ardently supports Trump and proudly invites anyone called an “-ist” or an “-ic” (that is, racist, Islamaphobic, sexist, etc.) to contribute? The group has nearly 500,000 members, and the posts are openly, gleefully violent and bigoted. Posters threaten death to those who disagree with them and dox private citizens who make anti-Trump comments, brag about their plans to sexually assault women, and deploy racist and ableist tropes to mock critics—including Trump supporters who identify as Democrats or liberals, those calling for more dignified treatment of political opponents, or Trump boosters who object to the threats of violence against women.

Or take a look at the League of the South’s website. Or the YouTube videos of Morris Gulett, one of the leader online preachers of Christian Identity, the theology that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing. Or “racial realist” Thomas Jackson’s July contribution to the racist magazine American Renaissance outlining how Trump could drum up enough white votes to win even if every person of color voted against him. (Actually, I didn’t hyperlink any of those sources, because they aren’t good to look at. I spend much of my day transcribing the words on them, and there is no reason to risk moral injury by exposing yourself to it. If you want to review the evidence with a friend, let me know, and I’ll guide you into the material, which is deeply upsetting to the values of equality and kindness.)

Or look to the ample writing of Steve Bannon, a chief Trump strategist—and proud leader in white supremacy, set to serve in a prominent position in the new White House.

The people who proudly call themselves bigoted are bragging about how their bigoted candidate won. They are excited about what they hope is a coming increase of violence against racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, and political minorities.

If you don’t believe the people who say they are being attacked, do you believe the people who are committing the violence? Do you believe Steve Bannon, who is strategizing it? His Breitbart News happily deploys sexually degrading language to describe conservatives who reject the racism Bannon peddles. Get that, white Christian voters? He thinks that if you are a white conservative who objects to racism, he equates you with a man whose wife cheats on him. (No, it doesn’t take much effort to unpack the garbage about masculinity in there, either, or about male ownership of women.)

Here is the thing about bigotry: it is lives if we want it to. Nurture it with nativist sentiments about whose country this should be. Foster it with resentments of all kind: rural against urban, conservative against progressive, perceived white loss against perceived gains by people of color. Coddle a sense of entitlement, a politics of resentment, a paranoid mindset, and continued class warfare—not that this drives poor voters to the GOP but it cements the wealthier there.  Build whole identities around that resentment. “It’s the same as with men as with horses and dogs,” Tom Waits tells us, “nothing wants to die.” This includes our five hundred year old (but not intrinsic, not “human nature,” not inborn) divisions about who counts and why in this country.

Tom Waits briefly explains the backstory of “The Fall of Troy,” then provides a live performance.

Yesterday, Trump said “sorrynotsorry” to those calling for him to reject the violence of his supporters. He told them to “stop”—but also said that he really doubts that the problem is that bad or that it’s because of his hateful rhetoric. He also said it while giving Bannon a White House appointment, legitimizing white supremacy as a political tool. So, no, that half-hearted call to end hate without taking any responsibility for it doesn’t count.

If you have been calling on your Trump friends to “hold his feet to the fire” or your Christian Trump-supporting friends to finally do something about the bigotry coming out of Trump headquarters, get this straight: Trump told us all along exactly who he was, and he had no qualms about being that person. We do not need to “give him a chance” to prove himself as a leader. Did you vote for him, hoping he was lying all along? He proved himself already to be opportunistic, pivoting to whatever position he saw would advantage himself to the voters he needed to turn out. He did not care about being a president to all Americans when he bragged about how he could sexually assault more than half the population or said he could shoot a man dead on 5th Avenue and still not lose votes. He rose to power in part on the claim that he was beholden to no one–and that includes the American people. He has not recognized the illegitimacy of his power, which is not a popular mandate; he isolates himself from a critical press; he does not share any of his ideas (assuming he has them); and you will not be able to hold his feet to the fire. Because he does not care about you, Trump voter, and he told you that over and over again, too.

Likewise, your friends, when they voted for Trump, told you who they were, too: People willfully ignorant of his bigotry, willing to sacrifice the safety of the nation’s most vulnerable people in exchange for their own set of concerns, so full of entitlement and resentment that they do not care of the pain they are causing others, or outright, proud racists.

Do you believe them yet?**

Anthrax performs “Evil Twin” from their 2016 For All Kings album. Thanks to my friend Wes for introducing me to this song. 

 

*Do not talk to me about Hillary Clinton. Yes, she’s a global imperialist out of touch with people in poverty. Her experience as Secretary of State killed untold numbers of brown-skinned people worldwide. She’s undermined the rights of Black Americans and supported social policies that put people of color at risk. But those aren’t the reasons Trump voters didn’t support her. And she is still less racist and less hate-enabling than Donald Trump.

**Instead of telling me that I’m being unkind to Trump voters, why don’t you go tell Trump that he’s being unfair to women, immigrants, Latino/as, LGBT people, Muslims, people with disabilities, and veterans?