With Bernie Sanders pushing a new “Medicare for All” bill and Hillary Clinton attending a spate of events to promote her memoir of what-the-heck-was-that-we-all-just-went-through, feelings about the 2016 election have resurfaced…as if they ever went away in the first place.
The contentious election was a reminder of something we all instinctually know already: the same name doesn’t guarantee the same values. Whether it be atheists, Democrats, Christians, black people, or Americans, there is no containing the multiplicity of political attitudes present in a given group of people – even among people that all call themselves the same thing.
Specifically among Democrats, it’s said that Democrats shouldn’t be relitigating 2016, and instead should be focused on the future.
But shouldn’t they?
Relitigating in politics is called research anywhere else
Politics is peculiar in that it is a discipline directly affected by history, but not directly beholden to it.
Every four years, candidates get up in front of the country and say things that are demonstrably false about an esoteric policy provision or piece of political history, safe in the notion that you won’t remember.
How do expect to claim victory in the future without a thorough understanding of what led to your defeat? And how are we supposed to learn if our base instinct is that we don’t need to look at the past?
If things that happened 50 years ago affect the way we live today (and they do), then surely things that happened 9 months ago make some sort of impact.
Asking questions like:
What are some of the causes for this particular event?
Have similar things happened at different times?
Can we use this information to further our understanding?
Do any discernible patterns exist in the data?
Do they have explanatory or predictive power?
These are all good questions, and forestalling them because we seek some sense of hollow “unity” is not going to help us.
Archaeologists don’t say to themselves, “Welp, I guess we know everything we need to know about Pompeii. We need to focus on the next volcano.” They don’t do that because they understand how valuable the information you can get from that one event can be.
“Pompeii as an archaeological site is the longest continually excavated site in the world,” says Steven Ellis, a classics professor at the University of Cincinnati and the co-director of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia.
Maybe it’s time to politic like a scientist.
Politic like a scientist
Not exactly that though she does need to stop assigning blame. Plus the party can’t move forward if she keeps relitigating 2016
In order to “look toward the future,” we have to know what happened. There’s a dead body in the room, we all know that. But is the first guy to come in and shout, “It was Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a candlestick!” usually right? Not exactly.
That guy isn’t Shawn Spencer, psychic and detective extraordinaire.
Things are usually a bit more complicated than that.
It’s not wrong to acknowledge that there are a confluence of factors that lead to a given situation or that impact the outcome of one event.
Further, it’s widely said that Democrats are at a point at the moment where they are deciding the values of their party, what stays and what goes, doing “soul-searching” – or at least it’s suggested that they should.
And that won’t happen without looking into the past.
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“When exactly was America great?” John Green has said it, President Obama has said it (to whatever degree he is allowed to say things) and even I have said it. This attacks the fundamental notion of Trump’s campaign: the idea that there exists in America, a kernel of the past unblemished by inequality or racism or sexism, and seeks to say that his nostalgia constitutes a clear and present danger for the many problems we face today that will be swept under the rug, yearning for a past that never actually existed.
This time around, though, he’s not the only one with a problem.
Right now, minorities are stuck in a chasm between two idealisms.
On the one hand, they’ve already become accustomed to the dog-whistling and even blatant alienation of the right, which has appeared to do everything it can to get less and less people to think, “I want to sign up for that.” The right has also done an excellent job of ascribing to an intensely specific version of the past that does not reflect the totality of it, and actively desires to transport us all back there, which they might not try to do if they fully understood that it’s not a place to which many minorities would like to return.
On the other hand are the liberals.
For liberals, the problem with conservatives, they say, is that they refuse to accept things as they are, blinded by the allure of the past. Their refusal to live in the present represents a stubbornness that liberals can’t wrap their minds around. What goes unnoticed is that liberals’ insistence on living in the future also poses a danger to minority communities.
Right now, minorities are stuck in a chasm between two idealisms.
Liberals often lambaste conservatives for this kind of hyper-nostalgia that comes from thinking that the 1950s were a time of greatness to which we need to return, but are often guilty of the same thing when mistaking the future that they idolize for the realities that are.
The conservatives are stuck in the past. The liberals are stuck in the future. The minorities are stuck in the present.
Michelangelo Signorile recently made an appearance on the Daily show that highlights the dangers of liberalism. The danger is that, being liberal and progressive people can cause you to think that change has occurred even when it has not, simply because you wish it very much to be the case. Many liberals are unaware of how many laws are on the books regarding hiring and firing processes for LGBT people, or they are unaware that the fight for LGBT rights didn’t end with a Supreme Court decision.
Once again, being stuck in the future and practicing utopic thinking can lead to a severe lack of engagement on social issues that liberals care about. It’s the difference between thinking that Roe. V. Wade was the end of the battle and remaining engaged enough to fight every single conservative legislature and demagogue that makes abortion today technically legal, but impossible to get.
And engagement is not the only area where the problems of liberal future-pressing are made manifest.
Let The Adults Drive
Often, in their push to create a more just society, liberals are guilty of devising a political revolution to which minorities are essential in supporting, but when it comes to structuring that revolution or being “in the room where it happens,” minorities consistently get the short end of the stick.
It’s the difference between thinking that Roe. V. Wade was the end of the battle and remaining engaged enough to fight every single conservative legislature and demagogue that makes abortion technically legal, but impossible to get.
Consider that blacks and Hispanics have already been told this election cycle that they are voting against their best interests by their strong support of Hillary Clinton. But in the gallons of articles about these issues, is there ever a sense of introspection at the infantilization necessary to tell people that they don’t know what is good for them?
– Is there ever any question of precisely why blacks do not feel that Bernie Sanders would be the best bet for them?
– Is there ever any questioning of Hillary’s decisive win in Puerto Rico, full as it is of people that are routinely disenfranchised from the political system and process?
– Is it always viewed as an insulting statistic to ask the question of why Sanders’s wins did not span a more diverse demographic range?
To me, this suggests a fundamental misconception among liberals: minorities like blacks, who vote reliably Democratic, are needed for support, not input. This again creates a dynamic of blacks sitting in the background while the adults make the decisions. For the conservatives, it’s “We don’t want you.” For the liberals it’s, “We want you…to get on board.” I understand that not breaking into that particular voting bloc was disappointing for Sanders supporters, but you’ve got to come up with an answer that’s less insulting than “They don’t know what’s good for them.”
Where does that really leave minorities?
Identity Politics and Economic Policies
Another troubling aspect of the Sanders campaign is the outright rejection of the validity of identity politics. I’ve heard many liberals, including Senator Sanders himself, brusquely shove identity politics to the side, saying things to the effect of, “Well, when you fix the economic disadvantages, the racism goes away.” And that is simply not true. Economics are certainly a part of the black struggle, but it’s not as if blacks who aren’t poor don’t experience their fair share of racism. Has Barack Obama not experienced extreme racism, even as a laureate of Harvard, one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation? I’m listening.
The reason Barack Obama still experiences a startling amount of racism is that it is simply not a construct reserved solely for blacks shackled by the manacles of low socioeconomic status. The problems of racism and prejudice are not purely economic, and therefore cannot be mended tangentially. Rejecting identity politics out of hand is probably a good way to not speak to the concerns that many minority groups have, including Hispanics, blacks, and the LGBT community.
Economics are certainly a part of the black struggle, but it’s not as if blacks who aren’t poor don’t experience their fair share of racism.
However, rather than connecting with the concerns, liberals have gone a different way, and decided, like Bernie Sanders, that the South’s votes don’t matter because “it’s the most conservative part of the country,” or that Planned Parenthood (who does great work in minority communities that desperately need it) and its endorsement of Hillary Clinton constitutes “the establishment.”
Rather than thinking there were legitimate reasons that minority voters didn’t want Sanders to be their president, liberals opted for the insulting fantasy that Hillary must’ve just rigged the election, because “Well, I know what’s good for black voters, and it’s Bernie, so she must’ve cheated or tricked them.”
To me, this suggests a fundamental misconception from liberals: minorities like blacks, who vote reliably Democratic, are needed for support, not input.
Another reason that Bernie’s campaign may have failed to strike a winning chord with the black community is that one of the chief identifiers of the communal black struggle/experience is endurance, not idealism. Mothers resolutely praying for the safety of their children, Negro spirituals that sing about the struggle, the grind, the endurance of cyclical, everyday violence, and the slow, step-by-step march towards freedom that every generation gives its energy to for the next – these features dominate the black story.
How then, do you pitch idealism to these people, and wonder why it doesn’t appeal to them as much as an approach that is billed as thoughtful, pragmatic, and consistent?
Trickle Down Revolution
The last point I’d like to make is that liberals have much to say about the pure applesauce of trickle-down economics, but not a lot to say about the blind spots necessary to believe in trickle-down revolution. Any kind of theory that puts forth the idea that the specific problems of unity, racial division, and minority communities in this country can just be solved by another problem means that once again, minority interests get trampled by the white people who know what’s really best for them.
It’s just like the problems that communities (the LGBT community, the feminist community, and the atheistic community, for example) faced when they realized that there were persistent problems of race and diversity that were not addressed and did not simply go away with revolutionary change for the whole. So you still have the world’s most famous atheists being 4 white dudes, white feminism, gay white men still getting gobs more representation than anyone else also emblematic of the gay community, bisexual people treated as if they don’t even exist, and Caitlyn Jenner somehow being the “face of the trans community” despite being straight trash as a person.
Liberals have a lot to say about the pure applesauce of trickle-down economics, but not a lot to say about the blind spots necessary to believe in trickle-down revolution.
The minorities in these communities often did not find that revolution trickled all the way down to them, and therefore there was no reason for them to expect that Sanders’s revolution would trickle down to them, either, or that they should prefer his revolution to the slow, steady, and pragmatic grind that Clinton represents that is much more characteristic of the historical and present narrative of how these communities took a seat at the table for themselves in the first place.
As we wrap up the primary process, it is apparent who minority voters have chosen as the candidate that would best serve their interests. They are attempting to deftly straddle the dangerous nostalgia of the right as well as the demoralizing naiveté and utopic thinking of the left. Because we have problems to solve today, and a step forward is a step forward.
Perhaps it is up to us to get behind them as we always insist we are, rather than their job to get behind the plan that we’ve devised, if we have any interest in listening to what they have to say, instead of simply getting them in line. We might find that, in doing so, we will gain a better understanding of the biases and prejudices that run rampant throughout our whole country, not simply one particular party, and discover the true power of unity, not the false pretenses of unity that create chasms such as these at crossroads such as this.
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If you ever want to effectively shut down a conversation about women in politics (as you do in an election year), all you have to do is use the word. You know what the word is. It’s a strong word, and it’s a word that no one wants to talk about, and it will nuke any conversation you’re ever trying to have.
For the love of god, stay with me here.
The Evanescent Categories
Let me tell you a story about race. Race, I believe, has two parts, and one is what I call an evanescent category, or “soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence.”
The current American atmosphere often lends itself to saying that racism exists -acknowledging that reality – however, it is inappropriate, egregious, and even seeking victimhood to identify any particular person as racist, any situation, comment, or circumstance as racist, and we are openly reticent to the enactment of policies meant to eliminate the power of racism. It is also okay to talk about racism in the past, but not in the present.
So we have this atmosphere where racism in the abstract is acknowledged, but absolutely no practical manifestation (the evanescent category) of said racism is allowed to be. We convince ourselves so thoroughly that it doesn’t affect our perceptions that we rise up (in a rather hostile manner sometimes) biting back at any suggestion of it.
This, I believe, happens with sexism, and it’s worse for influential women like Hillary Rodham Clinton.
HRC and Sexism
As soon as you mention sexism in the context of a women running for president, people flip out.
“I’m not voting for someone just cuz of their anatomy!”
“I don’t vote with my vagina!”
“Women owe Hillary nothing!”
“I’m not sexist just cuz I hate HRC, I hate her cuz…!!!”
“You’re trying to judge her by a different standard.”
That last one is my favorite because I think it sums up the main concern running through all of these. They are concerned that a woman is going to be held to a different standard and that she should be held to the same one as everyone else…which is funny, considering that if you acknowledge and understand sexism, you understand that the whole point is that women are already held to a different standard than everyone else. That’s what sexism is.
So I’d like to point out a couple identifiable cases of sexism as they relate to HRC, “an issue which, frankly, I am surprised to hear that people suddenly care about.“(hats off to the legendary Poehler and Fey.)
Hillary is constantly referred to as “shouting.”
Let’s get one thing straight: I have never even heard Bernie Sanders talk at anything below the absolute top of his register, but for some reason, he is “powerful”, “commanding”, “fierce”, or “passionate” when he does it, whereas Hillary is “shrill” or “yelling.”
Bill’s infidelity reflects on Hillary rather than on Bill
Bill Clinton remains one of the most likeable U.S. presidents, along with the universally adored Barack Obama. We all know about the scandal. But what you may not know is that many people use Bill’s sexual proclivities as a reason you shouldn’t vote for Hillary. Pretending that Bill’s behavior has anything to do with anyone other than Bill is definitively sexist (also, I’m sorry you’ve only talked to, like, five people in your lifetime, but some couples get over infidelity.)
HRC is blamed for policy blunders of the 1990s – a time when we put another dude in charge.
Bill Clinton was the president of the United States in the 1990s. At no point was that not true. Therefore, you could object to Hillary’s work in other facets of government, but a careful line is not always drawn when blaming Hillary for policy blunders of the 1990s, a time where she didn’t have even close to the final word, because, ahem, she wasn’t the president.
Her unlikeability rises for supporting the 1994 Crime Bill…
…that Bernie Sanders also voted yes for. When he votes yes, it’s seen as a “mistake” or “voting for what’s good in a bill”, like the Violence Against Women Act. When it’s her, it’s the wicked witch coming to decimate the black community.
Her unlikeability rises for having ties to Wall Street and using super PACs…
…both of which are true of President Barack Obama.
She is not allowed to attempt to change the issue of her likeability at all.
When she makes mention of working as the second most powerful member in the Obama Administration, she is seen as “hiding behind Obama.” When Bill stumps for her, she’s “leeching off his reputation.”
And in defense of unlikeable people, what else do you do if you’re unlikeable or you appear to be? You could very well be a great politician and not be “someone someone could get a beer with.” When men for centuries have used women and children solely for the purpose “softening them up”, she gets slammed for the same thing. She’s literally being told, “Hillary, just BE different.”
She is not allowed to want the presidency.
If we’re being honest, we should admit that the presidency is a top shelf prize for any politician. If that’s your life’s work, and you have even a remote shot (and I do mean even very remote, like “Bobby Jindal remote”), you take it. Actors want Oscars. Writers want Pulitzers. Scientists want Nobels.
These and many other examples we can point to show a pattern of sexism that clouds the way that we judge Hillary Clinton, pointing out that the concern that she isn’t held to a different standard has already unfortunately come true, though not in the way that the people who voiced those concerns might expect. In many respects, HRC has just acted as any male politician would, can, does, and has.
In my opinion, it has to do with the fact that we are dedicated to the idea of dismantling things like sexism, but not to the realities of them, because the realities call us out of the apathy of the abstract, into the reality of identifying and acting on particular instances of these double standards.
We want them to be gone so badly that we pretend that they are, but get very hostile when disabused of our fantasies.
And if you don’t believe me, you don’t have to vote with your vagina, but just try nuking a conversation with the “S” bomb sometime.