The center cannot hold
This is addressed to my friend L as a response to a comment by which said in part:
these “white” people who voted for trump didn’t really do it out of any kind of across-the-board, generalized racism. they did it because the group-minded identity politics of the left denied them their position as INDIVIDUALS.
Yes, L, there are a small number of people “on the left” who have stupid beliefs like one you mentioned in your comment, “black people can’t be racists”. But I challenge you to identify even one person who has real political power who has such radical beliefs.
On the other hand, very many people “on the right” have dangerous or abhorrent beliefs, extreme beliefs that are provably false to the fact, beliefs such as:
- Muslims (atheists, black people) are intrinsically bad humans
- Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim born in Kenya or Indonesia
- Christians are a persecuted minority in America who deserve special treatment by the government
- Climate change is a hoax by scientists to get rich on the public dime
- Air and water pollution are mostly a hoax
and these people are actually running the country.
I’m curious. How much time have you spent sitting down and chatting with Trumpists? I’ve spent a lot — hundreds of hours. Probably far too much. I really thought I could talk people out of it — that if I sat down and really talked through the issues with them, we could work out a mutually acceptable truth.
But I am down to exactly two friends who have these beliefs, and only because they are really decent humans, and also because they make some effort to not flaunt beliefs that would horrify me (as do I in my turn for them).
For example, the last person I had to unfriend was because she was telling me that the Sandy Hook massacre was a complete hoax run by Obama in order to get gun control; that none of the children killed ever existed. When I asked her for proof I was told to “do my research”; when I told her that someone I had known for 20 years personally knew two of the kids who died, she would not believe it.
What can you say to someone like that? Would you, L, really look me in the eye and say, “This belief of hers is no more unreasonable than your belief, Tom, that America would be better off with public health care?”
Now, as one person of privilege to another, let me explain what people mean emotionally by “Black people can’t be racists”.
It isn’t literally true — what it means is, “Black people in America have been so thoroughly fucked for centuries, and the little progress that was made is so rapidly being eroded by the incarceration state and lawless police who murder blacks with impunity, that all the racism blacks could possibly express towards whites would not only have no significant effect on anyone at all past themselves, but would never possibly equal the true and real wrongs that white America has wrought and continues to wreak on black America.”
The worst part about both-sides-ism is that as it creeps over the affluent, it robs America’s permanent underclass of all hope — of any real ally in the overclass.
L, we both know that a fascist and racist US government or climate change are not a real issue for you or me. We know we will always be accorded greater respect by officials and law enforcement, we’ll always have money in the bank, and, heck, when things get really bad we can just fuck off back to Europe where “genteel poverty” is a not-so-bad actual thing! Neither of us have children and so climate change is regrettable but won’t really touch us personally.
But the precariat — Americans trapped in America, Americans who are people of color, who are Muslims, middle-class Americans who have children, people in “menial” jobs or dying professions like journalism, people who aren’t completely poor — they’re absolutely desperate. They quite correctly perceive themselves to be in mortal danger. They quite rightfully fear that their children will never have a chance at a “good job” — a thing that was routine for our generation, L! If they are black or Muslim they quite rightfully fear that the government or law enforcement will imprison or kill them, for minuscule offenses or for none at all. Many of them quite rightfully fear that ecocide and climate change will ravage their children’s environment, rob them of their jobs, their homes and even their sustenance.
All of this and so much more was going badly for the precariat even during the supposedly-progressive Obama administration. But now, people who speak as if they are literally crazy, people who are blatant racists with a blatant disregard for objective truth, these raving, hostile madmen have taken over the government and are pushing an agenda worse than the precariat had ever dreamed of before.
And then to hear that we should sit down and listen sympathetically to the people who deliberately caused this because we might learn something from their crazy and hostile beliefs!
Because let’s get real here — people did it to themselves.
Yes, Trumpites have also suffered from the shift in society — almost everyone has suffered from the extremely rapid transfer of tens of trillions of dollars of wealth from the bottom 90% of society to the top 0.1% — but they have suffered because for the last forty years they have voted for a series of hateful, incompetent, criminal and delusional extremists with names like Reagan, Bush and Trump — and these extremists have allowed a few hundred billionaires to extract an astonishingly large portion of all the just plain money in the entire economy. (I don’t use words like “criminal” lightly — consider that over 70 senior Reaganites alone were convicted of crimes relating to the performance of their duties!)
Sitting down and listening to madness has no value at all. Indeed, it has less than no value: it is time we could be spending on fixing the actual problem.
The actual solution is to deal with the actual problem — that for an unknown reason, very roughly 5 to 10% of the US population have become sociopaths or were always sociopaths but were forced to hide it until fairly recently. I call them the Filthies, for want of a better name.
Analogies are by nature imprecise, but yes, the Filthies have spread in an infectious manner, like a disease. We’ve seen similar diseases before in countries like Cambodia or Germany so we know the prognosis can be dire.
Very much like in other outbreaks of this disease, the Filthies have used the simplicity, the drama and the seductive evil of their Filthy worldview to convince about 20% of the population who are easily swayed to come along with them, and so they have a good chance of winning any election — helped by a disgusted and apathetic 40% who passively or actively hate both sides, mainly because the Filthies have deliberately and systematically corrupted American political discourse to the point that many reasonable people refuse to have anything to do with it out of a profound and visceral disgust.
Our strategy should not be to try to compromise — the history of the mainstream left in America has been a dead run to the right as fast as possible in the name of compromise — but more, because compromise doesn’t have the strength and glamor to counteract this Filthy disease, which is something very like an infectious mental illness that has captured people’s minds.
Forty years of compromise have failed. We need to try something else.
We should instead be trying to separate the gullible 20% from the evil 10%. And we should be trying to wake up the apathetic, sleeping 40% and give them something to care about.
We need to clearly “other” the psychopathic 10% and expose their foul beliefs for what they are — hateful lies.
Which means we need to be going further. The American left can’t just be “psychopath lite” any longer — it has to actually provide a compelling vision, a bright story to counteract the dark story promulgated by the small Filthy minority.
The left in America should be asking for things of real value — healthcare, a guaranteed minimum income, a huge investment in education and in the crumbling infrastructure(*) — all funded by dramatically higher taxes on rich individuals and a massive cutback in military expenditures, particularly for foreign wars of choice.
The left should show people real videos of doctor’s offices and hospitals and patients in Europe, show them the actual stories and statistics of how much longer and healthier people live in other first world countries, how much nicer their schools are(**), and say, “A tiny number of rich psychopaths have stolen this, your birthright, from you and your children.”
And yes, L, note I didn’t mention identity politics at all, which I also consider to be mostly a diversion. Indeed, if there’s one area where the left has made steady, systematic victories over the decades while everything else has fallen by the wayside, it is identity politics.
I believe that the very reason both political parties encourage the debate around identity politics and have allowed progress there is precisely because this issue are so emotional and the consequences to their actual goals negligible, and that identity politics, like so many other things, keep Americans from discussing the actual problem, the actual reason “why we can’t have nice things” — which is that a small number of bellicose psychopaths have spread a system of delusional and hateful beliefs in order to distract from the ongoing and shameless looting of America’s economy and the US Treasury.
Thanks for reading, L, in the hope of a better tomorrow.
(* — if you want a taste of the next twenty years in civil engineering news in America, do a little research into the lifespan of reinforced concrete and then look at when America stopped investing in infrastructure…)
(** — in fact, such a film exists — it is called “Where To Invade Next” by Michael Moore and should be required watching by anyone who really cares about America and the plight of Americans.)