I am beginning to think my oft repeated idea that people in the Untied States treat politics like a football game may be a bit off the mark. I am wondering if maybe treating it like fashion is perhaps a better comparison. We wear our political associations like accessories and those who do not “get it” are losers, or worse, that deserve whatever fate awaits them. Americans in public discourse, or even the semi public sphere of online forums, rush to show off their conservative or liberal bona fides, or even their radical credentials if that is where their politics lie, eager to show how much more with it they are than those around them. So shallow are their devotions to their ideas of a just world, however one imagines that might be accomplished, that they see no problem sharing crap like this:
Note the last word in the first sentence there, “ruin,” and note who this is coming from. This is coming from the people who claim to be the compassionate side of political discussion in our country, yet they are celebrating two states’ financial ruin. They are cheering for the massive suffering this will cause. Rather than worry for the vulnerable in those states, the people they purport to champion, their knee jerk reaction is to point at laugh at the clowns running those states. We blast the electorate in those states for being dumb enough to vote against their best interests when we should be reaching out to those who we acknowledge have been duped.
The right is no better. They champion the so-called Tea Party’s right to assemble, even armed, against a President who has displayed no radical agenda, a man whose politics are to the right of the last (fairly right leaning) Democratic President and maybe, just maybe mind you, just to the left of Ronald Reagan. Any observation that these protests might be racially motivated are met with cries of “it’s their first amendment right,” keeping in mind that no one is saying shut them down. Meanwhile, when a community fed up with its sons and daughters being drastically disproportionate targets of state violence takes to the streets to say enough is enough, suddenly these people are about “law and order” and people should just go home when the cops say so.
Conservatives, though, make no special effort to claim they are above that. It is liberals and the left (the two do not necessarily go hand in hand, and indeed often do not) that make a big stink about both compassion and being above hypocrisy. The Right, for all its many, many flaws, at least fights the (not so) good fight for those it is claiming to defend: the traditional, uber-capitalist, Christianist, white-bred, “decent” people (their definition of “decent” isn’t terribly nuanced, however.) The Left, and liberals, seem to be willing to throw their beneficiaries under the bus in the name of feeling superior to their political rivals.
It comes, in part, from not being too far from that conservative base. Too many of the champions of Left or liberal thought come from that same straight, white, cis (usually) male viewpoint and almost exclusively from a middle to upper middle class background. They champion class justice issues without fully understanding, beyond the obligatory and masturbatory reading of either the Manifesto or Das Kapital, what they mean. Too few really know the suffering of the poor, the black or brown, the queer, or women. If they do, they know only from a very limited perspective and certainly not how those issues interact with each other, or how the life of a poor, white cis woman may differ from a poor, black man’s, or a middle class trans woman’s. They are disconnected in a meaningful way from those who they advocate for, and it shows when they make jokes like the above.
There is a method of political organization called the Wellstone Method. It is named for the late, and sorely missed, Senator Paul Wellstone. Senator Wellstone believed that civic engagement should, as much as possible, be one on one. He knew the best way to enact meaningful change was to know what people, and the best way to do that, was to get out and do just that, know them. He understood who and what he was fighting for. It is something many self described liberals and lefties need to do again, get out and know who they are fighting for. They need to meet the downtrodden and listen, without speaking as much as possible, to know what they are up against and how they can improve the lives of those. Or we can keep making wise cracks about ignorant red necks, but somehow that seems counter productive.