Liberal Democracy in Question

You Broke It Now You Buy It

Trump Voters Lose Ability to Separate Themselves from President-Elect

In the aftermath of the election I’m hearing from some Trump supporters. They do not want to be grouped with the racists, the sexists, the xenophobes, the hatemongers. They personally have no sympathy for the KKK they claim. They voted for change, for the breakup of an entrenched Washington elite, for the rural voice to be heard.

At this point, though, I’m not willing to extract those reasons from everything else we know about Trump. If someone voted for him, they knew exactly what they’re getting. They’ve known it for over a year. They’re getting pussy-grabbing. They’re getting disability-mocking. They’re getting race-baiting. They’re getting hate and fear. They are getting superficial answers to complex problems. There is no separating these things. Like it or not Trump voters now own all of these.

I can only think of one way that someone could actually make the case for not having the whole package tied to them. It’s not by making some impassioned statement that they’re not really racist, or sexist, that it was all about noble things. Words like that don’t count for much. Actions, on the other hand, do count. And this is what I want to see: real anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobe movements arising among Trump voters. Real action. Real organizing. Trump voters are not irredeemably racist or sexist, but the onus is now on them. They bought this package, and it’s up to them to distance themselves from these parts of it. And “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” isn’t good enough. It would make me very happy to see the right develop their own anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-hate strategies. Would I agree with them on everything? Of course not, but it’s better than the dog whistles of the “southern strategy” of the past, and it’s better than the overt racism and sexism we have seen recently. It would be step in the right direction.

To be clear, by real action, I don’t mean things like “conversion therapy” for gays, or converting Muslims to Christianity, or the assimilation for other cultures. That’s the opposite of a change for the better, that’s an ongoing oppressive effort. I mean a movement that actually respects who people really are, right now, and trusts that they know themselves and their own path best. I’m not holding my breath.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it — people want to have their cake and eat it too. Why were the polls so far off? Because a lot of people knew very well that voting for Trump was problematic in so many ways, and they were unwilling to tell a pollster about it, but in the voting booth they were safe to vote for him, and all the bigotry and hate attached to him. That means that people know about the unsavory, vile nature of Trump and those who surround him, but it weighed less than other things. Or it was, for some, primary, even if denied.

I’m unwilling to separate these things out. Without actual effort, not words but effort, I have no choice but to see Trump voters as having bought the whole package. That doesn’t mean I won’t or can’t work with them or interact with them in public, but it does mean that every interaction will start from this point: I’m dealing with a racist. I’m dealing with a sexist. I’m dealing with someone who is fine with wishing harm on a vast number of people. I’m dealing with someone who privileges easy scapegoats over hard thinking. And unless I see real evidence to the contrary, that’s where I have to start. I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but that’s where I’ll begin.

This is not me thinking I’m better than someone else — exactly the opposite. This is a reaction to a large group of people who were willing to throw their neighbors under the bus for their own benefit (or what they perceived as their benefit). This is a sword that cuts both ways. After all, what if Hillary Clinton had prevailed? Would I have anything to answer for? Of course I would. My background is Mennonite, pacifist, and Clinton has supported brutal and aggressive foreign policy actions. The same logic would apply to me — I would need to do something tangible to distance myself from those aspects of her would-be presidency. (And, in all honesty, I still do need to do that, even though she didn’t win. Part of that, for me, means writing and educating for peace.) But the logic of equivalence doesn’t go all the way. She wasn’t campaigning on militarism, whereas Trump was making clear at every possible opportunity that he was campaigning on the most vile impulses of the American character. He will “bomb the shit out of them.”

The next years are going to be terrible for so many, but I believe that there are no strategies or solutions in the upcoming government that will work. Economically, this will be a disaster. Kansas under Brownback demonstrates exactly that — far right economic policy is a complete and utter disaster for everyone. It is both theoretically and empirically bankrupt. Socially, this administration will be a disaster for many of those outside the mainstream, and it will be a disaster even for those who voted for him, not just the designated scapegoats of this election. International relations will suffer greatly. And the acceleration of environmental destruction will only continue, and its effects will be irreversible.

And I hang all this around the necks of those who got us here. I don’t want the story to change later, like it did with Obama. Lots of people on the right blame the economic crash on him, even though he wasn’t even in office when it happened. But at this point, every major agency of the federal government, and all three branches, and most governorships, will be in the hands of a hard-right world-view. And the story of what happens henceforth has to be recorded and remembered. I’m willing to bet it won’t be pretty.

So, for my part, I’m going to use a hashtag to do it: #Brokeityouboughtit. Just as Trump voters can’t wriggle out from under his racism and his sexism, Trump’s own ideology can’t be allowed to wriggle out from taking responsibility for the upcoming disasters. We know what’s going to happen, we have precedent. We know who’s going to be left out, and humiliated, and forced into hiding. They know it too, and right now they are terrified. One of Trump’s weaknesses (acknowledged even by many on the right) is his unwillingness to take responsibility or criticism for anything. The connection has to be made between his decisions, the climate established, and the resulting effects and events. It is not a science, of course. Things have complex causes. But we cannot afford to let Trump or anyone who brought him into power off the hook.

And, we need our writers and artists and all creative people to tell a better story. It amazes me that the left has the most creative people, and yet when it comes to crafting a compelling narrative, Trump won. He controlled the narrative. How can that happen? We write, we kvetch, we analyze — heck, I’m doing that right now. I’m no better than anyone else on this. But we have to do better. We need a better story. #abetterstory: that’s my other hashtag. I think it’s currently being used by a Christian group, but that’s fine. We need a better story than the hate that has won this day.

Maybe it’s appropriate that I write this on Remembrance Day. That’s what it’s called in Canada, not Veteran’s Day, and I like that better. There’s less heroic war-fetishizing with Remembrance Day and more sorrow, less glamour and more commitment to working for a society and a world where that wars will never have to happen again. That’s what I want. #Brokeityouboughtit and #Abetterstory are about a better Remembrance.

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Bruce Janz

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