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.
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?
Wow! Building capacity! “We can build people’s capacity to hate and to degrade.” Or “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.”
I’ve been doing some reading in servant leadership, which comes out of corporate American but could, I think, smash some oppression if we took it seriously. We’re trying it at our house!