It’s been a year since I realized that the world was a darker place than I had believed it was. I hadn’t realized how scared, apathetic, angry, and ultimately nihilistic, people had become. So much that they were willing to place their marginalized friends at risk. So much that they could no longer distinguish the mediocre from the bad. So much that they would elect the worst of us seemingly to prove that nobody deserved authority more than anyone else, and thereby vindicate their own failures.
I’ll never forget walking to work the next morning, listening to Solange, feeling personally rejected by the world, when a middle-aged white guy yelled out from the centre of the foodcourt “lock her up!” My heart sank. I had taught a mini-enrichment course to high schoolers a few months prior, and one of the major themes of the course was that progress is not permanent and it cannot be taken for granted. We studied the examples in history when groups lost the vote after having gained it briefly, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the civil rights of Jewish people in Europe prior to WWII. But, in my heart, I trusted that society was on a forward trajectory, and after election night I no longer trusted anything or anyone.
In the year since, with a degenerate at the helm, people have felt entitled to let their worst instincts reign. The bigots are less closeted and being given a mantle of legitimacy, xenophobia is treated as a legitimate domestic policy, and there is less room than ever for nuance. Essentially, everyone has an “us v them” mentality, and “they” warrant no consideration or even basic dignity.
If someone punches a nazi, I’m not gonna cry about it. There are way too many things to give a shit about to allocate any shits to the pain of nazis. However, I worry about how the world seems to be drifting into different factions of extremists. Everything from facts to food becomes partisan, the test for ideological purity becomes increasingly exhaustive, and the price of transgressing or challenging any aspect of the ideology becomes increasingly severe. Even the thumbs-up increasingly feels obscene as it I come to associate more strongly with Trump’s gross grinning mug.
I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater; I think it’s valuable that the “deplorables” are coming out of the woodwork, so that we can stop dealing in dogwhistles and start doing the hard work that progress demands, which has been neglected for too long. My fear is merely that, just as extremist conservatism will cause some people to be lost causes who might otherwise have been persuadable, extremist liberalism can lead us astray if people are too afraid to speak up.
Being polite does not need to mean being disingenuous, and it does not need to mean neutering your values. Rather, I ask that we maintain our dignity. As Michele Obama has said: that when they go low, we go high. Particularly in light of the very inspiring wins in last night’s off-year elections, I ask that liberals stop acting like we are losing the war.
Posted in: Progress