Were we wrong about Trump?

A few thoughts expanded from my Twitter yesterday, on the number of leftwingers or liberals who I see saying things like “Oh, Donald Trump has calmed down since winning, he’s toned down the extremism, maybe he won’t be a total monster as President.”

The thing is, Trump’s behaviour may have calmed down. But the hatred and violence he deliberately fostered during the election hasn’t.

There were many, many factors involved in the US election result, and a lot of the narratives presume there was a massive surge in Republican support, to which I just keep referring to this graph:

But just because Trump didn’t get a huge stack of new voters doesn’t mean his aggressive, violent messages had no impact. Of course they affected the way people talk, and the way people are behaving now he’s won, and their sense that openly racist, xenophobic, sexist attitudes are acceptable now.

Those people are now doing the work for him, of terrorising people who might resist, of shutting down honest debate about democracy, and of marginalizing even further the people already on the margins. They are harassing, attacking, abusing, vandalising, threatening, and inevitably they will be killing other people because of Trump’s message.

It’s entirely convenient and cynically, strategically smart for Trump to chill out and start acting like a grown-up for the cameras now. Because the violence will carry on regardless – they got the message – and our “oh it’s not so bad, he’s stopped screaming racist abuse” reaction means it will go unchallenged.

If we say “oh but violence is terrible, I deplore violence” yet do not actively resist the root cause of that violence we might as well say nothing at all.

Trump’s newfound “mature” demeanour gives people – especially privileged liberals with access and resources – an excuse to step back and stop being angry. Stop elevating the voices of others who don’t have our privilege. Stop caring about violence and abuse targeted at people who don’t look like us.

After an election in which so many marginalized people already felt like (and have plenty of data to support the notion) middle-class liberal white people sold them out, we simply cannot double down on ignoring their needs.

We cannot take comfort in the fact that Donald Trump has taken off the red baseball cap of the disruptive threat to the status quo and put on the trappings of a normal, safe white male politician. Because then all we’re doing is saying fascism is okay as long as it’s not too shouty.

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Untroll the internet: Pantsuit Nation

Normally this would be an Untroll Thursday but I think we all need something to sooth our hearts before US election result anxiety explodes all over us.

Vox reports on Pantsuit Nation, a secret Facebook group of 1.3 million Clinton fans:

Now that its membership has ballooned, the community has evolved from a place to coordinate Election Day attire into a place where members (of all genders and political parties, according to founder Libby Chamberlain) not only rave about their chosen candidate, but also provide moral support each to other in the face of what many feel is a hugely stressful run-up to voting day.

“We share stories about our grandparents, our children, and our families,” Chamberlain said. “We support each other during this highly contentious election season and have created a refuge from the vitriol that is sweeping the nation.” Administrators encourage members to adhere to the “go high” mantra made famous by first lady Michelle Obama, and so far, she says, “the response has been astounding.”

Beyond the election, things like this really do give me hope. Internet forums don’t have to be hives of shitposting and misogyny. Moderators can build positive discussion and lay down the law about the kinds of environments they want to oversee, and it doesn’t have to end just because a bunch of agitating douchebags scream about free speech. They have the rest of the internet, you know?

I see so many people – predominantly women – who have just stopped posting about the US election on social media, because even on their own pages they’re not safe from other people – predominantly men – being negative, disingenuous and outright abusive. Who feel they have to let those comments stand, or go unchallenged, because it’s not worth the grief and whinging and social stigma of rebutting even the most obvious bullshit.

We can have online spaces where people just squee about the things they love. We can set the limits for what behaviour is acceptable in those spaces, exactly the same way we set limits for what’s acceptable in our homes and communities. We don’t have to subscribe to the idea that sharing our platforms with people whose sole purpose is literally to antagonise and derail discussion is somehow noble or desirable.

Let’s make a better internet.

Why would progressives vote for Trump?

[A note in hindsight: this post was published in April 2016, a good amount of time before it became crystal clear that Trump is a goddamned Nazi-enabling rule-of-law-trashing fascist. And yet some people who claim to be of the left still think his election was a good idea. This is when the world went topsy-turvy.]

This is a tangent off yesterday’s post, specifically about the common justification for calling on Sanders to withdraw: that to continue campaigning against Clinton will damage her chances against the Trump.

(An interesting framing issue there: why do we take it for granted that Clinton and Sanders must run negative campaigns against each other? The simple answer is “that’s politics”, but if the Sanders campaign has shown anything through its grassroots fundraising and popularizing of “radical” “socialist” policies, it’s that the rules can be changed.)

There are concerns that Sanders supporters, feeling stymied or bitter or just generally sexist, would not only not support a Clinton ticket but actually vote for Trump. That this would mean “robbing” the United States of four more years of Democratic presidency.

As I said yesterday, the point of democracy is we don’t disenfranchise people whose opinions we don’t like. But there’s another problem. The reasons people vote one way or another are complex. And although it sounds utterly inconceivable to people who have already weighed the pros and cons and decided for Hillary, there are plenty of reasons progressives might think a Trump presidency is the “better” option – or at least the lesser of two evils.

A Trump victory could mean the end of the Republican party. Maybe you want to get fancy and accelerationist about it, or maybe you just like seeing people get a taste of their own medicine, and the Republican machine are freaking out as the inevitable outcome of their years of gerrymandering and panic-mongering are coming back to bite them in the ass. Maybe you think four years of Trump, assuming he even lasts that long, would be worth it to see the GOP establishment thoroughly ripped away from their Tea Party base. It could pave the way to twelve or sixteen or twenty-four years of Democratic leadership which has the space to make truly progressive policy.

It’s pie-in-the-sky but there are far sillier reasons to vote for someone. Besides, even if you think that’s too much of a long game, Trump is a walking disaster zone. Maybe you think he’s so erratic, unpredictable and completely unprepared/unable to negotiate the checks and balances of the US government system that he’ll never achieve anything. He could be impeached within a year. We could use that year to set up the machine for the glorious Warren Democratic ticket.

Trump’s misogyny is contemptible, but not significant. The real battle over reproductive rights, especially abortion access, isn’t being fought at a federal level. Who cares who’s in the White House when it’s your governor and state senate who are mandating waiting periods and shutting down clinics? Ditto North Carolina’s transphobic bathroom laws.

Trump’s racism is contemptible, but impractical. He’s not going to build a wall and Mexico isn’t going to pay for it. His plan to “shut down” all Muslims living in America are either big talk with no real commitment to action behind it, or laughably offensive – so offensive to basic decency that any attempt to implement it would lead to impeachment or revolution.

I don’t particularly agree with any of these arguments. I’m simply saying it’s not impossible for someone to be a progressive and reject the idea that supporting Clinton is the only feasible option.

You don’t have to agree. But in this, as in many other political situations, if you insist on throwing your hands up lamenting “NOBODY with any SENSE would vote for this, there’s no point asking why, the reasons can only be STUPID!” you learn nothing. And they’ll do it anyway, and probably feel even more righteous doing it because you’ve been a condescending prat to them. And if that makes the difference between winning and losing, you’ll keep losing.

Nobody is entitled to votes

I caught the tail-end of a conversation on Twitter yesterday about the presidential primaries in the US, and the mathematical impossibility of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination.

The case was being made (by New Zealanders, though I’m sure the same conversation was happening bigger and louder in the States) that given Bernie “cannot” win at this point, he should withdraw and instruct his supporters to back Clinton.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the people saying this were Clinton supporters. And I doubt they’d be saying the same of her if the situation were reversed. And it’s possible this wouldn’t bug me as much if I weren’t a fan of Sanders myself.

But it does bug me. Not because I dislike Clinton and not (only) because I support Sanders: because it speaks to a ridiculous, undemocratic sense of entitlement from some people of the left which I’ve seen far too often.

I get where it comes from. We all fervently believe we’re on the side of good, we all have a firm conviction that if we ran the world things would be rainbows and sunshine every day. And god it’s frustrating to see things go bad because the other team are in power instead. It feels like if there were any justice in the world, our team would always win every election in a landslide.

But to be a real democrat, to believe that democracy is the best way to choose who leads our government, requires a degree of humility. Knowing that you have to put the work in. You have to convince others of the merits of your case. You don’t make the decision: they do. Sometimes it’s not the one you want.

It’s not just about the principle. When politicians start thinking they deserve votes – from women, or union members, or people of colour, or young people – when they take that support for granted, everyone suffers. When a progressive party starts to assume, e.g. “we’ve always been good for women”, and stops actually being good for women, women aren’t obliged to keep voting for a party that’s harming them. And they may find it insulting to be told, “don’t you understand we’re your only option, because back in the day we did good things for you?”

To be a real progressive is to understand progress requires momentum. We can’t rest on our laurels and expect people to ignore present-day oppression and focus on historic victories, unless we are actively building on those victories.

We are not entitled to anyone’s vote. And if we aren’t giving people a reason to vote for us, it’s not their fault. It’s ours. This applies as much to Hillary having to go into a contested convention as it does to the UK Labour Party’s routing in Scotland or the continued “missing million” thorn in the side of the New Zealand left or any number of other examples.

If you believe in democracy, you do not fear a fairly contested election. So if you’re a (d)emocrat and you’re advocating that Bernie should just give up now, I have one question: what are you afraid of?

The response is often “it’ll hurt her campaign against Trump because something something BernieBros.” This is the hard bit about holding democratic principles: if people vote Trump because they’re bitter about losing the nomination, or just sexist douchebags, that’s awful. But we don’t disenfranchise people for being bitter, sexist douchebags.

Besides, Donald Trump is a repugnant human being who trades on fear and bigotry, so that’s another question: why would it not be easy for Clinton, if she’s such a good candidate, the demographics favour her, and her record is so strong, to defeat him?

Sanders has won huge support, even if it’s not enough, despite being a terrifying radical (at least in the US context). And I see a lot of overlap between the Clinton fans who want an uncontested convention and the “centrists” who so frequently say we need to meet people where they are or find out voters want in order to appeal to them. So I have another question: why doesn’t that apply when “where the people are” is a step to your left?

~

A note on “fairly contested elections”: no system is perfect, but let’s be really honest here, there is very little fairness in US elections or primaries. Let’s talk about voter registration, voter ID laws, or the fact that the superdelegate system which guarantees a Clinton victory was created specifically to stymie the will of the ordinary Democratic Party member, loooooooooong before we complain that Bernie Sanders has the gall to keep campaigning.

Inspiration for the day: Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders

A great late-night YouTube find: Killer Mike of Run The Jewels talks to Bernie Sanders about politics, social justice, inequality.

The six-parter starts here:

My favourite quote, from part 2:

“I didn’t get in to politics because I wanted to figure out how to become President or a Senator. I got into politics because I gave a damn.”

Bernie Sanders may not get the Democratic nomination, much less the US presidency – we can dream – but it’s incredibly heartening having someone making these kind of statements from a large platform.

The usual smear against Sanders is he’s “extreme” or “hard left”. But if you listen to what he’s saying, there’s nothing radical about it at all. There’s a problem, especially in the US, with big business buying elections. There’s a problem with people feeling disenfranchised from their own democracy. It’s ridiculous that workers are producing more and being paid less. And these things are all connected. Education, healthcare, support for people in vulnerable situations – these are all good things that build a happier community and a stronger society.

None of this is really debatable (unless your response is “there’s nothing wrong with kids going to school hungry, it’s an incentive to work!”). But damn is it threatening to the powers that be.

And here’s my favourite track from Run The Jewels 2. Content note: language NSFW, police violence.