Some Thoughts from a Proud Liberal Who has often been Skeptical of the Activist Left
I thought I was smart, I thought I was right
I thought it better not to fight
I thought there was a virtue in always being cool
So when it came time to fight,
I thought I’ll just step aside and that the time would prove you wrong
And that you would be the fool
I think that verse from the Flaming Lips’ 2003 “Fight Test” captures a lot of what people like me think when they see things happen in the public sphere: we educate ourselves about them, we have strong opinions about them, but we are hesitant to join the fight. We are uncomfortable (rightly) the notion of a fight. Fighting is the kind of thing people who are not as smart as us do.
For a variety of reasons, I think people like us need to fight this time. I’ll say more about why and how I think this should be done. I’ll also try to speak to some objections because I know people like me like objections, and though they deserve consideration, in this instance, I think they’ve stalled a lot of us in a very dangerous way.
For me, the breaking point was this video (I think I originally saw it in Shaun King’s feed – this link it to an Inside Edition segment, which obviously is a little embarrassing in its sensationalism, but I think makes the point well enough). It says he wasn’t arrested, and that did change a couple of days later.
But that video was a sea-change for me. Because someone shouting things is bothersome, for sure, and rubs me the wrong way maybe, but someone punching someone that they don’t know, and doing so quite obviously because they are black – that scares me in a way that everything else Trump has said does not. I recognize that black people are victim to violence like this all the time, but here is an instance of it being directly encouraged by a speaker in a large assembled group of like-minded people, and hundreds if not thousands of bystanders doing nothing about it, including several law enforcement officers.
Beyond that, there was this segment from Rachel Maddow the other night. It very rightly draws a direct connection between anti-black police violence and Trump rally rhetoric. It also succinctly captures the rhetorical escalations at those rallies. It’s longer (12+ minutes). If you’re like me, you’re skeptical about MSNBC, think all cable news is manipulative and crass – and I agree with you 95% of the time. But this segment is a very important act of video journalism that draws uniquely on video as a medium to make its argument.
We need to ask ourselves very honestly – what will it look like if fascism comes to the United States, if it doesn’t look like this?
“But This Will Only Embolden Trump’s Supporters”
The time to think that if we ignore this it will go away has passed. The status quo is emboldening Trump’s supporters. His rallies are emboldening Trump’s supporters. His having won more than 10 primaries is emboldening his supporters. That ship has sailed. The issue now is stopping them by building a movement that resists his advocacy, not one that placates his supporters as they go back home. They are going to turn out and vote; what we need instead of a group of other people who will turn out in greater numbers and vote for others. Obviously the republican primary is not the venue for that, but we need to start building NOW. And that means people like you and me – the ones who usually read the New York Times or the Atlantic or whatever and have well-informed “takes” about this stuff – that means we need to be out there, and be a little bit less circumspect that we’re used to being. We’re going to need to lend our voices to a massive struggle which will make us uncomfortable.
It’s not about persuading Trump supporters, or keeping from from voting. It’s about making sure we mobilize the opposition.
“But Trump is Not Really Worse than Hillary or the Rest of Them – They’re Just Genteel Racists”
I do not disagree with this sentiment. Hilary Clinton (and for that matter Bernie Sanders, and almost every other elected official in the United States) has engaged in anti-black and anti-Latino/a and anti-Muslim racism on a regular basis. But here, there is an issue about proximate causes vs. more distant conceptual connections. Donald Trump is actively encouraging abuse and violence against others, out loud, and in public, on a daily basis, and gaining support because of it. That is worse – it is much more dangerous. It is much more destabilizing. A “slow motion genocide” – through the war on drugs, through mass incarceration, through the death penalty, through the murder of citizens by police officers – is something we can keep working to stop, incrementally. A person capturing the single most significant locus of political and economic power in the world and being able to use that position to achieve some of these racist ends in much quicker ways – that is much worse and much more dangerous. I am not saying we should not fight both of these fights. I’m just saying this one is more urgent because it is here now. And we can use the unity we achieve fighting this one to help with that one.
I’m not saying, go out and get arrested at the first protest you can find. I AM saying, go to a protest. I was amazed at the overwhelming positive emotions present at the anti-Trump protest outside the UIC Pavillion Friday evening. I know some things happened that none of us are proud of, but I’m sure it has always been like this. There weren’t cell phone cameras in Selma, in Birmingham, even at the March on Washington. I’m sure those were messy too. But if they had never happened, our world would be a worse place than it is today. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it would be worse if we always stayed at home.
One of the most memorable chants from the other night was “This is what America looks like!” Go be part of that.