Politics is a dirty sport. The old saying “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight” rings true in the political realm—and today’s politics are, indeed, a gunfight. Civility is essential but when it’s lost, it cannot be recovered by living up to Michelle Obama’s admirable motto: “When they go low, we go high.” Too many Americans are in dire straits, and they are looking for someone they believe will fight for them, instead of taking the high road.
Many people balk when some say Donald Trump won the Electoral College because of the white working class’ economic anxiety. After reading Mehdi Hasan’s piece titled “Time to Kill the Zombie Argument: Another Study Shows Trump Won Because of Racial Anxieties — Not Economic Distress,” it was clear to me that even those in the liberal “intelligentsia” do not get it. He wrote:
The thesis is as follows: Working-class voters, especially in key “Rust Belt” swing states, rose up in opposition to the party in the White House to punish them for the outsourcing of their jobs and stagnation of their wages. These “left behind” voters threw their weight behind a populist “blue-collar billionaire” who railed against free trade and globalization.
Everyone from Fox News host Jesse Waters to socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders has pushed this whole “economic anxiety” schtick. But it’s a complete and utter myth. As I pointed out in April 2017, referencing both pre-election surveys and exit poll data, the election of Trump had much less to do with economic anxiety or distress and much more to do with cultural anxiety and racial resentment. Anyone who bothers to examine the empirical evidence, or for that matter listens to Trump slamming black athletes as “sons of bitches” or Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” in front of cheering crowds, is well-aware of the source of his appeal.”
Hasan goes on to cite several studies to make the case that in fact, cultural issues were more crucial for the Trump voter than economic angst. There is no need to dispute the studies’ results, but how said results are interpreted is extremely important to our country’s future. Many of these issues are not mutually exclusive.
The constant harping about how Trump voters are so racist relative to the population at large should give many pause especially progressive people of color.
When I tell many people I love the South, they ask why. I always tell them it is because I always know where I stand. They would then reply that it is racist down here. The bus riots in Boston are conveniently forgotten. My answer to them is always the same. How different is it really up North? I have a series called the “The Trump Effect” which does not seem to differentiate between regions.
A few weeks ago I wrote the following in a piece titled “If this former homophobe could change so can a racist Trumpist.”
Progressives should not cast too many stones at Trumpists. As a Black Latino Caribbean man who attends many Progressive conferences, one should note that the behaviors of Progressives, while more high-minded many times, leave a lot to be desired. Many people of color are disregarded in these spaces as well. While I am not a fan of safe spaces at all, the fact that even at Netroots people talk about safe spaces for people of color should add some humility to our stances or false indignation. I wrote about one of these experiences in a piece titled “Reaction by some Liberals at Netroots Nation to Black Lives Matter disappointing” that details how Progressives can forget what the fight for race & criminal justice looks like. And of course, this does not include the American Latino/Foreign Born Latino/American Black/Foreign Born Black/ other dynamics that ads yet another dimension.
Contrary to popular belief, a large percentage of Trumpists and Right Wingers are reachable. It is all about engaging them, getting down to their level. Some are unwilling to do that work, and that is fine. However, discouraging and disparaging this type of engagement because of misinterpreted research loses us a huge opportunity especially in these time.
Progressives are not unlike the population at large. All of us have our prejudices and biases that reflect the country as a whole. What makes most of us different is the ability to see this as a problem and to work assertively to solve it. Our intent must always be to work on self and on others to modify our recessive demons. Attempting to sweep these under the rug to give us a certain superiority with a license to disparage Trumpsters is a scab hiding a deadly infection. Our movement is suffering because many are seeing the deception and just either leaving or living the life of political apathy.
For too long our narrative has been too measured. We tried to straddle the fence between the Plutocracy and ALL of the working class — always biased towards the Plutocracy. That is one of the reasons we could not even get a Public Option in the Affordable Care Act. We’ve always allowed the Right to set the narrative. Instead of leading the charge we are always defending the attacks.
America did not become racist in 2016. Trump just became a megaphone. I find it ironic that President Obama, the black man, was elected twice in this racist society while Hillary Clinton a white woman while winning the popular vote could not garner the electoral college as her predecessor did. I must remind Hasan of the following incident reported by Salon.
Sean Quinn, of the polling site FiveThirtyEight, respected for its obsessiveness and eerie prescience, recently posted a hair-raising story about a pair of Barack Obama supporters. Quinn seems ready to verify its source, but only after the election. At any rate, it goes like this: A man canvassing for Obama in western Pennsylvania asks a housewife which candidate she intends to vote for. She yells to her husband to find out. From the interior of the house, he calls back, “We’re voting for the nigger!” At which point the housewife turns to the canvasser and calmly repeats her husband’s declaration.
Resigning ourselves to the belief that there is a large racist component within the Trump vote and as such makes them unreachable denies a reality President Obama disproved twice. Even racists will vote their interest if the narrative is right. It is my humble belief that our impatience, our timid narrative, our proclivity to stay high minded in all circumstances, and our inability to frame and tailor a narrative at the level of those we need to reach have been the cause of our demise.
Our young and upcoming politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Andrew Gillum, as well as activists like Indivisible Houston’s Daniel Cohen and Nisha Randle, are promoting unabashedly Progressive narratives. Much of it will fly in the faces of those who are pinning their hopes on the mythical center. Only when we redefine the narrative devoid of our past indoctrination, will we get the voter that is looking for real change. It is not enough to complain that the Trump voters are racists. After all, we have our own racists among us. We are not looking for friends and lovers. We should be attempting to coalesce on common values that will get our people elected. After all. aren’t our people above and beyond economic issues supportive of racial, criminal, and social justice?