Current affairs

On Making Bad Times Worse

Look, things are bad here in the land of the bacon double cheeseburger. There are really two ways we can go from here – we can try to make things better or we can definitely make things worse. And we can certainly end up doing both at the same time.

Look, again, I’m not telling anyone else what to do. This is for me. I’m talking to the man in the mirror; being the change I want to see in the world; beginning my long journey but with a single step; and definitely reading too many memes on the Internet.

But I want to talk about three things: fear, entitlement, and being useful. Something like this…

Fear

So, Trump is now president, there are white supremacists in the White House, and it’s easy to think that maybe we’re all heading down Fury Road sooner rather than later. Where America is right now means that there’s enough to fear in the coming four years, but I want my emotions – and my actions – to be influenced by facts and not a rush to judgment – or outright lies. So, rule #1: first, do no harm.

Memes are potentially a valid way to get a point across. God, who knew I would write that sentence without irony? But I’ve thought about this: they help to show support to causes and beliefs, and rally supporters. But they are not the beginning and end of how we should be communicating our ideas. We should not be a society or a movement based around one-off PowerPoint slides – especially when so many of them are lies or pointlessly inflammatory. Don’t get trapped in the Facebook Bubble.

I won’t allow myself to be lied to by people who insist I should be afraid of things that haven’t happened yet. For example, we are only now learning the details of Trump’s Cabinet. We don’t know if Ben Carson, Sarah Palin, Albi the Racist Dragon, or any of the other names being thrown around will be in it. I will only work with what we know to be true. Also, Albi is now much less racist, so there’s hope for everyone.

I refuse to call this country “Trump’s America” just yet – he is a symptom and not a cause of the wider malaise in this country. What he’s using for power isn’t new. He hasn’t caused America’s racist and misogynist divisions; he has, though, focused them into a sharp point for his own ends. And the next four years will see how far down that path he goes. I agree it’s not looking good so far.

And sure, the many creative ways the Left have come up with describing him, using the words “orange” and “hair” and “racist” might feel better, but maybe we need more useful ways of looking at our new leader. Because making him a joke hasn’t worked so far. Although, shit, is it tempting.

I will believe in debate rather than silencing those I disagree with. Silencing is something I see a lot of in debates in this country. You can’t speak because what you’re saying is unAmerican, you haven’t checked your privilege, you’re just being PC, you haven’t walked in my shoes. Identity politics, like all politics, only succeeds by recognizing the individual and their right to be part of the group. But we stand and fall as a group, with all voices heard. If you want to be a part of the group, rather than setting fire to the whole planet and hoping your DNA survives the inferno, then I will listen to you.

I want my media to be honest about what America – and the rest of the world – really looks like.

I watch the news and read the Internet and I know that minorities, women, and non-white people face terrors on a daily basis. Is Trump’s election creating more racists, is it (as it were) making closet racists comfortable enough to roll up their sleeves and proudly show their confederate flag tattoos, or are the huge problems that already exist in this country being re-focused to make us more afraid than ever?

Because, journalists, you’re not doing your job if you’ve been so bad at your job in the past that no one believes you anymore (yes, you can have that on a t-shirt once my fictitious online store exists). I want an honest media giving me honest facts and not trying to scare everyone into fearing each other; I don’t want an echo chamber telling me what it thinks I want to hear – or what will frighten me the most. So, goodbye Fox News, au revoir CNBC, I will be over here with the cool kids of the BBC and PBS. Because no one’s ever called them left-wing, right?

PS, RIP Gwen Ifill.

Entitlement

I would be the best kind of dictator. I fully subscribe to the idea that “If everyone thought like me and cared about my issues, and did things my way, the world would be a better place.”

But I will not demonize a whole slice of this country based on my own prejudices or “beliefs” as I like to think of them. Or, I will at least try. I don’t support the labeling of everyone who voted for Trump as being racist or not caring about the plight of others. Many people are suffering in this country – from fear of entire industries closing to fear of terrorist threats that have been magnified by a media and a political class that feed off society-wide anxiety. If they saw in Trump a solution to those issues, then we have to ask why our own side failed with their arguments to those people.

And that “Not my president” shit reminds me too much of racists holding up the exact same sign when Obama was voted in. He is my president. That’s how the system works. Now all I have to do is campaign against his policies, protect the parts of the country he’s going to attack, persuade enough people who voted for him to vote against him, and persuade the half of the country that didn’t engage to do so (giving good reasons to vote for my candidate). Or we can just keep holding our “Not my president” signs. That too is engaging in the process. A little.

Trump and his campaign were racist, xenophobic, and sexist. Minorities, immigrants, and women voted for him. And gay people too. There are no easy answers; I don’t know that I can even come up with any really coherent questions.

And how do I get to decide at what level people choose to operate? People vote for what benefits themselves, their friends, and family; maybe they look to vote for someone who will do good for their entire community; maybe they vote for a person who they feel will be the best hope for their country, their global region, their planet. Is there one ideology that has all that covered? Aside from the Community of the Xbox?

I’m going to make a crazy statement here and say that race is important, as is the economy, healthcare, global warming – and 75% of that would be uncontroversial in large parts of this country. But the solutions are much more diverse. There are Green Party voters who are very pissed off with Hillary Clinton supporters right now, I imagine. And they feel that they’re just as right as you do.

And who do atheists vote for? If one was of a mind that believing in an invisible sky god is kinda cooky, none of the candidates offers much hope. So, atheists compromise, just like LGBT+-liberals did when they voted for a candidate who didn’t believe in marriage equality in 2008.

I do not believe I have exclusive access to the truth. That’s Oprah you’re thinking of.

I want to follow the example of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and not only in terms of her fashion sense. RBG regularly had dinner with Judge Antonin Scalia and then opposed him strongly on the Supreme Court. We can sit down and eat with those who disagree with us.

Obviously, I broadly disagree with their policies, but I would go for a beer and a burger with Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger…if PJ O’Rourke is kind enough to slum it on public radio, then I think he deserves our qualified support…Condoleeza Rice has always seemed intelligent and approachable, even if she may have hung around with an unfortunate crowd in the early part of this century…  Ainsley Hayes is feisty and intelligent and makes Sam Seaborn uncomfortable…and if Colin Powell announced he was running for president, I would be interested in what he had to say.

And yes, all of them have said things or done things that we may have been offended by. Ainsley, for example, demonstrates her intellectualism by being a Gilbert and Sullivan fan. But the idea of ideological purity in all things is what leads to the kind of divisions we’re seeing in this country.

It’s not the only thing, obviously. But being ideologically pure means you only end up talking to yourself. And – and this sounds crazy, even to me – we need to start talking to other people, people we may not agree with, people we may not even know. Because those of us who can find common ground with others who are also looking for dialogue – we are the ones who can really get things done.

Be Useful

“Keyboard activism” has become a term of abuse, and I can see why. It’s easy to sit at a keyboard and tap out a diatribe or two. And I should know – watch me. But I think there’s a place for that in our community, in our movement, whatever that might be.

One thing the Internet has done well is to bring together like-minded people – and yes, that does indeed mean the scaries of the alt-right, Russian hackers, and bronies. But keyboard activism is still activism; it helps to create a community. For some people, it might be the beginning and end of their political life, but I want to do more. Options could be giving money to relevant groups who support my ideals, marching to show my support, volunteering with those groups, putting my free time where my mouth is. Sitting at a keyboard, writing on a blog, could inspire others and start them on a path to activism…once more than two people are reading this. But I think change will take more than sitting at a keyboard, for those who can.

But, what do I know? I’m someone who takes pictures of his dog pooping to send to his friends.

I’m a white middle-class male with an honors degree (in media and cultural studies…now you’re intimidated). I know I have benefited from how society currently operates (although Elon Musk is still not my best friend) and I would like to leverage that position to help others who haven’t had my advantages. Watch this space – because if past experience is anything to go by, very little is about to happen, and what does the Internet like better than to point and laugh at someone else’s hubris?

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