This guest writer sent me an essay so powerful, no words need be said. Please just read.
It has been the head-shaking, finger-wagging, shame-laden motto of the left and the right since November 10, 2016: “Democrats are out of touch”. Major news op-eds, politicians, and scholars, have said it–Hell, I said it, head-in-hand, dappled with expletives.
The idea behind such a statement is that due to our bourgie, coastal, formally educated, socially progressive refusal to familiarize, sympathize, or recognize the lives and experiences of working class individuals, typically located in the Midwest and South, we have only ourselves to blame for losing the election. If only Hillary had spoken to “the people”. If only idealistic millennials knew life outside of Tumblr. If only university professors were not so entrenched in their own “liberal agenda,” we might have avoided such a fate. The very fact that it’s framed in such a light is telling. Maybe some conservatives didn’t even want this, but now this is the just punishment for liberal pretentiousness.
This view was expressed most recently in a Breitbart piece titled, “Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Said the Democrats Lost to President-elect Donald Trump Because They Are Out of Touch With America” by selectively quoting Sanders to drive home the point that Democrats single-handedly designed their own downfall because we fail to “mix it up with ordinary people”.
There is an element of truth to this notion. The media with a younger, progressive audience often mocks “rednecks”. Middle/upper class liberals usually are hard-pressed to imagine a future for their children that doesn’t involve higher education. A good chunk of our own country is colloquially referred to as, “flyover states,” and there is a widespread tendency to devalue trades and labor or service positions, despite the very obvious fact that America’s attachment to conveniences would crumble without them.
But is this really a one-party issue? It’s obvious that those who identify themselves, at least in part, according to party lines, don’t do their best to reach across that party line no matter which side they take. Our entire nation not only stereotypically defines those who occupy the opposing party, but we also tend to stereotypically define ourselves.
Generally, Democrats tend to live on the coasts, favoring densely populated areas. They tend to see the world as they think it could be, not necessarily as it is. They often see human rights as an issue which comes before most others, and yes, they often believe that “human rights issues,” and “social issues,” have a significant amount of overlap, if they aren’t one and the same. They are often inclined (or pushed) to seek higher education, and to pursue the arts and humanities, though, no matter what their major, there is a sweeping inclination to keep ourselves at least colloquially attuned to pop culture science and technological advancements. They often put more faith in the scientific method than in any “capital-F” Faith itself, and if we do keep a Faith, it tends to be a softer, more contemporary, more reformed version or embraces polytheistic, pagan, or “new age” beliefs. They tend to scoff at puritanical values, old fashioned community expectations, or gender norms. When they take offense to things, they don’t often mince words. They don’t tend to see the mind and body in anatomical terms—all part of the same system—and as such, tend to emphasize or at least recognize that mental health is physical health and essential to human functioning. A logical progression from this, they tend to believe that self-care, enjoyment, individuality, and self-expression are key to a fulfilling and happy life. Stereotypically speaking, Democrats dream, feel, think, and live in an idealized future.
Republicans stereotypically populate the Midwest, South, or “rural” areas of “red” states. They tend to see the world in a functional, “do what you need to survive” way. They sometimes feel that higher education is akin to indoctrination, and if they don’t, they’re more inclined to pursue money-making majors, or technically-inclined trades or value labor. They embrace a long tradition of monotheistic Faith, and that Faith is overwhelmingly based in Christianity. They value hard work, discipline, pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, and a certain degree of community-based conformity. As a logical and historical progression of Faith, they adhere strictly to gender roles, social structure, and “family values”. Despite emphasis on familial interdependence, they lean towards an overall ideal of extreme self-reliance and scoff at the notion that we are not, even for a moment, responsible to most anything and everything that is done or happens to a person in their lives. They tend to separate mind, body, and soul, and have a mind over matter attitude, or, really, a matter over mind (internal issues are meant to stay internal and many physical troubles can be overcome by fighting through the pain). They are often suspicious of too much technology and critical of media. Stereotypically speaking, Republicans act, speak, strategize, push through, and live in the essential now or an idealized past.
Of course, both of these descriptions are reductive and simplistic and don’t leave much room for the kind of humanization that would allow either side to “stay in touch” with the other. But of course, despite the cries of Bernie Sanders and Breitbart, politics isn’t about the people staying in touch. There is no harder way to polarize and competitively manipulate a population for the sake of a political race, than to encourage the notion of staying in touch. If we were to put common ground before all else, the impetus for a race which pivots around two diametrically opposed points would be much smaller. But like no election I’ve witnessed before, this election was about divisiveness.
In fact, despite the acknowledgment that liberals could certainly do more to understand the concerns of the “ordinary people,” it was the volcanic divisiveness which spewed from the mouth of Donald J. Trump on a nearly hourly basis that created the grounds upon which the half-fallacy that Democrats are out of touch, rests. The “ordinary people” claimed that with each and every defamatory, disgusting word that came from Donald J. Trump (often on Twitter) the more validated they felt. They claimed that they loved his anti-PC attitude, that he said “what was on his mind.” Many of them loved what was on his mind, no matter how offensive to America’s purported legacy of progress, freedom, individuality, and even reason. And it is on these grounds I both agree and wholly disagree with the half-fallacy that it is Democrats who are out of touch, and that our inclination to stay out of touch is what led to Donald J. Trumps victory.
In this sense, I agree. No matter what their reason, those who voted for Donald J. Trump, knowingly and either passively, actively, or enthusiastically voted for a future in which our leader is publicly, politically, and legally sanctioned and perhaps praised for the fact that he:
- claimed that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists;
- takes delight in dehumanizing and commodifying females, wives and daughter included;
- speaks hatefully of and seeks to ban an entire religion and those who, whether in his mind or in reality, represent it;
- overlooked assault towards minorities and women at his rallies;
- encouraged and perhaps engaged in assault against women and those opposed to his message;
- passive aggressively perpetuated age-old, dangerous, and Nazi Germany-esque stereotypes regarding Jews and their business practices;
- openly mocked and delighted in mocking a disabled individual;
- trivialized the mentally ill and struggling veterans in one fell swoop;
- and who, to this very second, could not tear his ego away from his Twitter account if his life—or more to the point, OUR lives—depended on it.
In this sense, yes, Breitbart, 4chan, Reddit/MRA, Men’s Health forums, Donald J. Trump and Co.— those with liberal values are out of touch. We fail to relate or understand. We refuse to relate or understand to how anyone who considers themselves even halfway decent or intelligent could knowingly vote for such a man. We were out of touch with the fact that much of this country had an ambivalence, suspicion, resentment, or burning hatred towards anyone who is “other”. We were out of touch with the fact that many men in this country, despite being grown in and pushed out of it, lack scientific understanding of the cis-female reproductive system. We were out of touch with the reasoning behind so many in this country scolding a grown black man for not standing to sing the words, “land of the free,” but simultaneously believe that Jews, pagans, Muslims, minorities, sex and gender non-conformists, and/or women should either be subservient, enslaved, or eradicated.
We were out of touch in not recognizing that too many still have the logically and scientifically starved thought process that a woman should have less control over her own body than a man should have over gun ownership (or for that matter, a woman’s body). We were out of touch with how quickly, aggressively, and defensively many in this country are willing to dismiss and explain away the violent and preventable deaths of black men caused by those charged with the duty of protecting the lives of American citizens. We were out of touch with the contradiction that despite the ever-growing list of Republican sex scandals, and the data which shows that all kinds of porn is consumed most voraciously in red states, that liberal views on sexuality, gender, and bodily autonomy, are “sinful,” “unnatural,” and “disgusting”. We were out of touch with the knowledge that all of the beautiful, hard-fought, harder-won, “evolved” social and scientific progress we’d made in this country is a farce, because half of the country would rather cling to a false sense of superiority than see their neighbor live happily and peacefully.
We were so, so, tragically, nauseatingly out of touch with how many people sleep soundly, perhaps with a smile on their face and a lovely dream in their heads, at the knowledge that their vote meant the rights and safety and lives of those whom they may feel are “other,” will be signed away by a very insecure, posturing, entitled, ethically bankrupt man who probably feels the same way about the lives of his “ordinary people” supporters as his more despicable supporters feel about the “liberal elite.” He doesn’t care whether you live or die—whether any of us live or die. Though, I suspect some of his supporters are REALLY excited at the prospect of minorities, Muslims, Jews and women dying.
So yes, we were out of touch. But we’re starting to get the idea. And you’re starting to see the resistance and calling it an instigation.
This is not to say having a liberal association means you get a pass on sexism, racism, bigotry, antisemitism, xenophobia and so on. Any of these things can and is perpetrated by an individual regardless of political affiliation, and sometimes it can be quiet and insidious. In fact, I would wager a lot of POCs and non-gender conforming individuals are rolling their eyes at this, thinking:
“Really? You had no idea that our country was this hateful? One election woke you up? How nice for you”.
And in earnest, I think a lot of us did know but had enough day-to-day comforts to feel surprised. We were out of touch in the most shameful sense. But the point is that in this election, those who voted against Donald J. Trump voted against all of the aforementioned ideas and actions that we know to be unintelligent, unfeeling, and, supposedly, un-American. And that is not to say that America even remotely lives up to its reputation for freedom for all humankind. Anyone who has bothered to research basic American history or basic sociology knows we’ve got plenty of blood on our hands and systematic issues in our homes and our communities. Maybe the only reason it’s so easy for me to speak so boldly about this topic is because despite my best intentions, I am a white liberal, and I likely benefit from the racist and xenophobic ideas I condemn,. But I am also female, and I am also a Jew, and I am also not heterosexual and do not fulfill my prescribed gender role.
And I know that there are people in this country who would happy kill me if they could—and the majority of those people voted for Donald J. Trump because they saw themselves in him.
Whether my views are well-intentioned but misguided and oversimplified or not, most people who opposed Donald J. Trump, those of us who found each tweet, each sound bite, each dismissive screaming match he delivered more grotesque and unacceptable than we ever thought publicly permissible from a contemporary presidential candidate, typically try to give a shit. Even if, at the bottom of their soul, some of us don’t care about certain things that were said and done, we at least gave enough of a shit to adhere to the social contract which implies that in America sharing racist, sexist, xenophobic, bigoted, anti-Semitic sentiments is not only wrong, but dangerous. We know that words do become actions quite easily, as post-election harassment displays so nicely. Donald J.Trump is not even in office yet and already, his more heinous supporters feel comfortable saying words and performing actions that only two months ago they might not have been bold enough to say or do.
And this is where I disagree. Democrats are not out of touch—we won the POPULAR vote. We are the “ordinary people” just as much as anyone else. On the contrary, it seems that Republicans with hyper-conservative values are hatefully, willfully, actively, illogically, proudly, unwaveringly, and oppressively out of touch. Because despite what you believe in, despite what you call values, despite the facts you violently oppose, the following things are reality:
- Those who practice a different Faith are your equals. They exist and you cannot demonize them.
- Women, cis, trans, fluid, are your equals. They exist and you cannot silence them.
- LGBTQ are your equals. They exist and you cannot erase them.
- Minorities are your equals. They exist and you cannot forcefully assimilate them.
- Immigrants, legal or illegal, and refugees are humans with the right to survive and pursue happiness. Deal with it.
- Every human can fall in love and/or have sex how we want, when we want, how we want, as long as the other person(s) is of legal age and has given express consent. You cannot stop us. Deal with it.
- Feminism is not secret plot to take over the world or a call to hate men, and you cannot stop any individual, man, woman, or fluid, from embracing or feeling empowered by it. Deal with it.
- Abortions are a surgical procedure. We have practiced them since the rise of human civilization and we will practice them until the end. Only abortions that save the mother’s life take place when the fetus can think or feel. If you eat meat or hunt or have accidentally run over an animal, you have taken part in the mortality of something with a more independent, experienced, conscious existence than any embryo or fetus that is aborted for reasons not involving the mortality of the mother. That is not opinion, that is biological fact. Deal with it.
- Birth control is medication. Humans have sought birth control since the rise of human civilization and they will do so until the end. Deal with it.
- Some women don’t want or can’t have kids. To force us to conceive or carry to term is a form of enslavement. You cannot make us. Deal with it.
- The scientific method is valid and effective, and has helped us make great strides. Don’t believe in it? Don’t practice science. Deal with it.
- Climate change is real and observable. You don’t have to accept it, but your children or grandchildren will have to face the consequences as will the children and grandchildren of every politician ignoring environmental disasters and canning solutions. Deal with it.
- Mental illness is real; the brain is a physical organ which indirectly and directly interacts with the rest of our physical existence. Some people cannot just “get over it”. Mental illness is physical illness and to deny mental treatment is to deny reality and humane treatment. Deal with it.
- Poverty is difficult if not impossible to get out of. Most people cannot simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. People need government assistance. It is not a crime or a shame. It is a fact. Add a government that does not take care of its own people cannot claim its aim is to “govern” at all. Some people have it way harder than you. Deal with it.
- People can tell you that you offended them. You don’t have to like it. But you do have to deal with it.
- People can tell you not to touch them. You don’t have to like it. But you do have to deal with it.
- Not everyone sees the same value in a flag that you do. Not everyone will rise to pledge or sing the national anthem. To force them is to enact fascism. You don’t have to like it. But you do have to deal with it.
I could go on, but these are the most common and social issues that conservatives and Republicans stereotypically feel the need to become angry and aggressive over; issues which have been an accepted part of or culture and legal system for, at the very least, forty years now. For all the mockery of liberal safe spaces and special treatment, it would seem that individuals who support Donald J. Trump based on any or all of these issues, the “ordinary people,” are the political group who truly feel that the world should bend to values which don’t greatly impact them negatively or positively, but would damage the lives of those with whom they disagree should they have their way. Hyper-conservative, white nationalist values seek to create a space, a domain in which only laws, institutions, social contracts, and practices which align with their notably antiquated ideas are accepted and practiced.
Again, it is in this sense that a significant amount of members of the Republican party in its current form are, in reality, the ones who are out of touch and they like it that way.
Over the next four to eight years, they will try to subvert us, harass us, scare us, intimidate us, take us back to the 60s, 50s, nineteenth century, or maybe the seventeenth century. They might even threaten to kill us, and we know they will try. But to those of you who fit that bill, who feel those desires, who practice those “values,” who seek to destroy the “other,” who voted for a man who embodies that destruction, just remember that when we look back in history, the research and accounts are rarely kind to the SS men and the lynch mobs and witch hunters and the inquisitors—you know, the ones who sought to subdue, dehumanize, or exterminate one or several “groups” of people on the basis of personal belief. Just know that even if you get your way, for it seems you already are, your children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren and on and on and on until the end of the written word will learn that their ancestors were villains.
Maybe that explains the abject hatred and suspicion of “liberal” media and education. Most of that media and education teaches that we were all created to be equal. It teaches how reproduction and sexuality work from a scientific standpoint. It teaches how humans interact with their environments and vice versa. It explores and critically questions the history of America’s own failings and injustices and human rights violations and condemns the witch hunts, the inquisitions, the crusades, systematic slavery, social Darwinism and ethnic cleansings.
It confirms what those of us you call “others” have always suspected: that we, too, are the ordinary citizens.
American media and education as a whole teaches these things because society as a whole can learn from our former misconceptions and seek to prevent future injustices. But Donald J. Trump clearly didn’t learn a thing. Many who have the nerve to spew their hatred and ignorance and call it a Republican value haven’t learned a thing. They dismiss it with a “liberal media” war cry without ever having to question their own deadly beliefs.
I am an ordinary person and I did not vote for Donald J. Trump. My vote won the POPULAR vote. Hyper-conservative ideals which deny people their humanity and seek to violate individual rights are dying slow and hard, but they are dying. This campaign, this win, this presidency, and every piece of unfounded, unscientific, piece of vitriol against those who are not white, Christian, and male are nothing more than the suppressive, desperate death rattle of a group of people who know the world is changing, leaving them behind, and the only way to stop it is to silence, subvert, and kill.
But history remembers you; the American people remember you; I remember you.
You look and sound and behave so similarly to so many of the men and movements history condemns it’s as if you have a script. The next four to eight years will likely be a stage for you to enact whatever noxious, sadistic desires you feel the right to perform— but the curtain’s got to come down some time. And when it does, all of the humanitarians, and the scientists, artists, historians, philosophers, and the harassed, humiliated, and oppressed will be there, no matter what corners you may have driven us into by then. And we will be waiting with our recordings and our works, and our writings, and our memories, and our experiences.
And if the next four to eight years play out anything like too many of his supporters desire, with the help of those who were there and survived it and documented it, Donald J. Trump’s win will be immortalized as the loss we, The American People, know it to be.
It’s safe to say you’ll never have to ask Ross to tell you how she really feels. She, like many of us, will be telling you a lot more over the next four years.
Speak your minds, my friends.
Self portrait provided by Cat Ross.