The election is over and I am sitting here in stunned silence, mulling over the same questions so many others are asking: Why? How? What do we do now? I have no concrete answers. Instead, I have decided to share the following responses and observations in the hopes that it will encourage communication and positive discussion.
Respect is Important
Long before the election started, I made the conscious decision to stop posting political memes and liberal-rants on Facebook. Instead, I started posting the memes to my Human Rights and Political Pinterest boards. Liberal commentary is placed here on my blog and in answers to questions posted to Quora.
Why? In a word: Respect.
Like most middle age adults with a Facebook account, my friends list contains a wide and varied array of personalities. I have known entirely to many people, and survived far to many life-experiences, to restrict my community to a single political mindset. People come into your life and stay for a while. Life changes occur and some people fade away while others remain in contact through phone, mail or social media platforms like Facebook. In my case, many of the neighborhood kids from my childhood have grown up to become right wing, conservative, Trump-supporting adults.
I started to realize that my liberal leaning memes and occasional rants were showing up on other people’s timelines in a manner that was analogous to forcing my own strong and entirely unasked for opinions into the face of every person on my list. It felt invasive and disrespectful. That feeling that someone really and truly does not respect you or your opinions is a powerful and negative force and it was turning a useful tool for communicating with other people into a relationship breaking wedge. This was entirely counter to my reasons for using Facebook, so I decided to make a change.
Dangerous Dodge Ball
Facebook also illustrated the fact that memes and internet posting do nothing to change opinions or modify behaviors. Instead, the standard response seemed to be heightened emotion and stubborn digging-in-the-heels demands that one side admit that the other side was wrong.
It felt like a high stakes and highly competitive game of virtual dodge ball. Conservatives vs liberals! The levels of emotion (desperation, fear) and verbal viciousness escalated with every throw. This was not a positive contribution to the discussion or a productive movement toward any political effort or objective.
When I stopped posting memes and rants, I made the personal decision to remove myself from Facebook debates while continuing to participate in discussions on other forums (e.g.: WordPress and Quora). This required making the conscious effort to restrict my own participation to those moments when I really felt commentary was warranted and/or necessary, which proved to be relatively rare – an interesting fact worth examining in more depth at another time.
When we sat down a week later to sweet teas at a local Starbucks, I asked Madonna what she loved about Limbaugh. “His criticism of ‘femi-nazis,’ you know, feminists, women who want to be equal to men.” I absorbed that for a moment. Then she asked what I thought, and after I answered, she remarked, “But you’re nice . . .” From there, we went through Limbaugh’s epithets (“commie libs,” “environmental wackos”). Finally, we came to Madonna’s basic feeling that Limbaugh was defending her against insults she felt liberals were lobbing at her: “Oh, liberals think that Bible-believing Southerners are ignorant, backward, rednecks, losers. They think we’re racist, sexist, homophobic, and maybe fat.” Her grandfather had struggled as a desperately poor Arkansas sharecropper. She was a gifted singer, beloved by a large congregation, a graduate of a two-year Bible college, and a caring mother of two. In this moment, I began to recognize the power of blue-state catcalls taunting red state residents. Limbaugh was a firewall against liberal insults thrown at her and her ancestors, she felt. Was the right-wing media making them up to stoke hatred, I wondered, or were there enough blue-state insults to go around? The next time I saw Madonna, she was interested to know if it had been hard for me to hear what she’d said. I told her it wasn’t. “I do that too sometimes,” she said, “try to get myself out of the way to see what another person feels.”
Vindication and ‘Stupid Jokes’
After the election, right-wing Facebook posts appeared which specifically expressed anger over the left-wing portrayal of conservatives as uneducated or lacking intelligence. The fact that Trump won has been held up as proof that conservatives are actually very intelligent.
This is not the only highly emotional and very personal anger being expressed, but it’s an excellent example of the negative affects of politically divided communities throwing insults at one another for an extended period of time.
Among middle and lower class whites education level and perceived intelligence are long-standing targets. Put bluntly, the left tends to portray the right as being inherently and hopelessly stupid and ignorant. It’s a sore spot with many conservatives on an individual and personal level. When liberals talk about the lack of education among conservatives what people on the other side of the political wall hear is “you (personally) are laughably dumb.”
Regardless of your political affiliation, please take the time to fully understand this:
There is a difference between intelligent and educated.
The existence, or lack thereof, of an education is neither proof nor measurement of an individual’s intellectual potential or capabilities.
A degree is proof that an individual has established, and achieved, a goal. Nothing more, nothing less.
People Being People
For every vote cast during this election there is a long list of unique and personal reasons why that vote was cast. It is not reasonable to suggest that Trump won because (and only because) a large number of people were feeling vindictive about enduring many years of ‘stupid jokes’ thrown by members of the political left.
HOWEVER, it has become clear to me that there are a good number of people who are feeling vindicated. In their opinion, electing Trump has effectively thrown those very insults back into the face of every person who ever uttered them. That’s powerful emotion – and there is no doubt in my mind that it played a crucial role in the decision making process.
While it is perfectly valid to argue that an individual’s hurt feelings over childish insults is not a logical or valid reason for selecting a president, it is equally valid to note that, in some cases, the insults were unnecessary and inappropriate. Human beings are always emotional and (sadly) frequently irrational creatures. Emotional reactions lead to actions.
It is an important reality to consider.
History is Today – As Seem From Tomorrow
The 2016 election was the moment in recent history (there have been many moments prior to this) when the political divide and mud slinging intersected with our country’s history of slavery, brutality, racism, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, religious supremacy and other similarly nasty things. No matter how much anyone wanted to believe these things had been eliminated, they never actually went away. All of it was still there, lying just below the surface of our everyday lives.
The ugly beast used the election as an opportunity to raise it’s awful head and show us all just how BIG and POWERFUL it really was. Terrifying and eye opening, it left many people wondering whether or not elections have do-overs or political morning-after pills (actually, as it turns out, they do).
On “Woke” White People Advertising their Shock that Racism just won a Presidency by Courtney Parker West makes many excellent points on the topic of long-standing racism existing (thriving?), yet remaining unacknowledged by most white people in the United States. She does this far better than I ever could. Please read her article. Here’s a quote:
More white people than I can count, people who are quick to profess themselves as oh-so-woke, have expressed some real shock and dismay not only at the election results, but at the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry that paved the way to those results. And this is not just me surmising what has them all up in their feelings. This is me reading their words…
Respect and Fear – Actions and Emotions
Right now there are a lot of people who are afraid – myself included.
Trump’s campaign was entirely devoid of respect. When people say he ‘tells it like it is,’ they are referring to many months of one bigger-than-life white-male looking every non-straight, non-white, non-Christian community in the eye, lifting his middle finger and saying ‘fuck you!’
Trump’s campaign clearly and blatantly used racist slurs and sexist commentary. Trump bragged about participating in rape, made overt calls for violence against anyone who opposed him and gleefully utilized a litany of similar tactics that should have stood as a warning sign to everyone. Every. One.
Now that the election is over, it doesn’t matter who he chooses for his cabinet or what proposals he makes to congress, he has shown complete and absolute lack of respect for massive numbers of people. The trust of a significant portion of the US population was irrevocably lost before the election started. That kind of breach effectively eliminated the possibility of gaining trust at some point in the future.
Right now, the FEAR is everywhere. It’s tangible. It’s also exacerbated by an increase in hate crimes and threatening behavior on the part of individuals who heard Trump’s call for violence and liked it…LOVED IT….took it literally….and jumped on the opportunity to get out there and take action:
Ada Gonzalez was about to drop off her son, one of the few Hispanic students at his school, on Wednesday in Ventura, California, when she says she noticed a group of fifth graders chanting “Build a wall!” In Rochester, New York, pride flags were burned outside homes. Elsewhere, a teacher reported that a 10-year-old girl had to be picked up from school after a boy grabbed her vagina, saying if a president can do it, he can, too.
“We have seen Klan literature drops, we have seen that suicide hotlines are ringing off the hook, and we are hearing of very extensive bullying in and around schools,” a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
‘Rash of Hate Crimes’ Reported Day After Trump’s Election, NBC Chicago
The incidents, some that bring up memories of the Jim Crow era, continued into Friday. In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania issued a statement saying it was working to find the source of racist messages sent to black freshmen, and in Syracuse, N.Y., a group of pickup trucks – one draped with the Confederate flag – drove through an anti-Trump rally. In Columbus, Ohio, a man banged on the car window while a Muslim woman was driving, her children and elderly parents with her, and told her, “C–t, you don’t belong in this country,” according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington.
All those were added to the list of incidents that included black children being told to get to the back of a bus and Latino children being taunted about the wall that Trump promised to build between Mexico and the United States.
Significant numbers of non-white, non-straight, non-Christian and most non-male citizens (and many more communities along with them) are preparing for the worst – as in they-are-coming-for-you-and-your-children WORST-CASE SCENARIO.
While some members of the conservative right may feel vindicated by this election, many more members of the liberal left feel threatened. Both sides are feeling disrespected.
If there is one thing that I have learned from this election, it is this: never underestimate the power and importance of respect.