The Chronicles of the Demagogue: Get Over It

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November 13, 2016 by Michael

The night of the election, and the days that followed, were filled with expressions of shocked disbelief and some eloquent, thoughtful, and angry long-form wall posts from many of my friends. (Few Trump fans remain in my FB world because I have muted or unfriended so many of them during the election because of their hateful and ignorant posts).

But the few Trump voters who remain in my feed, along with those who have commented on the posts of my friends, have a similar message to those of us enraged and frightened by the election of Trump to the American presidency:

You lost. Get over it.

As if we are sore losers, childishly whining that our candidate lost. As if this election is a cold to be shaken off, a closely lost Superbowl to forget about, a dinner-party slight from a boorish guest to ignore.

(I will add here that calling our reactions “sour grapes,” as some have done, is a misunderstanding of Aesop’s fable. A “sour grapes” reaction would have entailed posts saying, “Pffffft. We didn’t want to win the Presidency anyway.” That’s obviously not the case.)

There are several layers to unpack about this misrepresentation of our outrage, disappointment, and sadness.  I’ll try and peel some of those back to explain why saying “Get over it” is a misguided attempt at reconciliation—when it’s not an attempt to silence dissent—and to show what it gets wrong about the emotions and ideas of my friends and me.

The first layer to peel off is that of white privilege. Others have explained the concept of white privilege much better than I can, but I find it’s easiest to understand as the invisible everyday benefits accorded those of us who are white. It’s sometimes experienced as an absence of the many prejudices and microaggressions suffered each day by people of color We don’t see them (or our privilege) because we don’t experience them. It’s nothing to feel guilty about—skin color is not a matter of choice, after all—but it is something to be aware of and respect, since it impacts others in so many harmful ways that are invisible to us.

White privilege means not being systematically ignored at a restaurant or surreptitiously trailed at a department store. It means seeing people who look like you in positions of power, whether at a bank, a school, or in a television show. It means never being asked, “Where are you from? No, I mean what country are you REALLY from?”

White privilege means not fearing for our lives when being stopped by the police—or, more likely, not getting stopped in the first place. It means knowing that when we’re hired or promoted, it’s because we deserve it and not because, just maybe, someone, somewhere thought the office needed a dash of ethnic color.

And, in 2016, white privilege means being able to shrug off the election of a demagogue who has been elected with ample support from white nationalists (who are represented by alt-right panderer and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, Trump’s” campaign CEO” and now Trump’s chief strategist), a demagogue whose election has apparently given free rein to racists and sexual predators across the country.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is the dubious distinction afforded by white privilege that allows me—and other whites—to say, “Well, my white family and I are safe from the worst of a Trump administration.”

And it’s a form of white privilege to tell other white folks that it’s no big deal, to get over it, to quit whining. White privilege says it’s just a lost election—not the loss of protection, the loss of values of inclusiveness and safety that many Americans of all colors have long held dear.

No matter the intention, the effect of “Get over it” is the same: It suggests that if you’re not white, you’re not worth raising a fuss about.

That’s undoubtedly the worst layer of this “Get over it” attitude, but there are others.

One very thick layer is another false equivalence, that of the election of Obama with the election of Trump. I know many people who were dismayed and disturbed at the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and again in 2012, and they have offered their experience in those elections as an analogy for ours in 2016.

It’s not an accurate analogy, and thinking it is shows you don’t understand what we’re feeling.

Yes, our candidate lost, and in this very limited sense, the analogy works. Our candidate, Hillary Clinton, was so misrepresented and misunderstood by the American electorate that she was denied the presidency. Republicans felt similarly in 2008 and 2012, when they lamented that a majority of Americans did not share their admiration for John McCain or Mitt Romney.

But in 2016, this is compounded by several factors that create the false equivalency, that make our feelings worse than those of someone who lost.

First is that Clinton, the eminently qualified woman who has come closer than any other to the Oval Office, was defeated by an unqualified foul-mouthed misogynistic sexual predator. Losing to him is a slap in the face, a repudiation of feminism with its moral opposite, a caricature of manliness whose values hark from a time when women were supposed to be quiet, subservient—and unable to vote.

McCain and Romney lost to Obama, but he was hardly their polar opposite, personally or politically. Few of Obama’s detractors would argue that he is not a talented politician, just like his two Republican opponents were. The 2008 and 2012 elections were largely civil affairs, with few personal attacks (at least compared to 2016). Politically, all three men embrace many similar beliefs (Like Hillary, Obama is often described as more of a moderate Republican than an extreme Democrat).

Second, the fears about Obama and Trump are based on different kinds of information: explicit versus implicit. Republicans’ fear and anger about Obama were driven by both ideological differences and wild conspiracy theories about his “real” intentions. They worried about how Obama would fix healthcare—as he had promised—or that he was secretly a Muslim—as others had absurdly claimed he was. These latter kind of fears were, at best, implied.

In 2016, our fears about Trump are explicit. They come not from some wrongheaded misreading of his words or some far-flung conspiracy theory about what his “real” agenda is. They are based on his simple, plain words as well as his actions, obvious to anyone who watches the footage.

This leads to the further and final ignominy of Trump’s election, and the thing that makes all of us fearful and disgusted: he brings to the Oval Office fear and loathing along with the policies with which we utterly disagree.

America elected a man who inspires hatred and xenophobia, who seems bent on deliberately creating a culture of fear in anyone who are not like him and his followers, and whose belated repudiation of the many hateful incidents committed in his name included the claim that there weren’t that many of them. Our fears are not imaginary; they are real, and every day brings more evidence to support those fears.

For those of us who fear what Trump represents, it is our duty to protect those who are victims of these acts, who feel vulnerable and fearful each time they step outside (or venture online) in Trump’s America. We must speak out against the racism, the homophobia, the misogyny, the ignorance. We must stand up for our values and for the America we believe in.

It will be four—or, God help us, eight—years of battling against the evil that Trump has unleashed with his words and his actions. And for years after, we will continue to repair his damage to American culture and values.

And that’s not something we will get over anytime soon.

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