I like to think that the darkness that we are experiencing right now is something we’ll look back on like McCarthyism, or the specter of Nazism. I believe that reactionary politics, the politics of fear, are a sign of society’s progress as a whole, and that Millennials will not accept the inequity inherent in our inheritance. We as a generation get a lot of flack (from the generations that raised us, which I find interesting) about some of our traits, but employers are finding that millennials are globally conscious and want to make a difference in the world.
One of my dad’s favorite shows is Foyle’s War, which is a very real-feeling picture of what it was like during and after WWII in England. I suppose I didn’t really realize how truly dark those times were, when it seemed more a matter of “when” than “if” the Germans would land on British soil. Dad and I watched all of Foyle’s War this spring–twice–and it left me hungry for more British WWII reading. I picked up The Charioteer, not knowing anything about it, because it is about that time and place and because I love Mary Renault, as y’all know. I’m not sure I’m following all of the story’s nuances because I was looking for a light read, like her Greek mythology fiction, and so much of what these incredibly repressed gay British men think goes unsaid and even unwritten. However I think that it’s a pretty good glimpse of what it’s like to be the “other” in a society. The protagonist, Laurie, spend a lot of time having to worry about being caught even making eye contact too long:
Perhaps it was only instinct that made Laurie look around… at one of the far end of the buffet, one of the decrepit waiters had appeared. Laurie’s gaze traveled out… to meet a cold, flat, withdrawing eye, glaucous and sunken… the face could still be read… the glance, so quickly caught away, lingered on like a smell; it had been a glance of classification.
Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (which I have previously mentioned and which I am still chipping away at) says that when we think we identify with someone, our brain tries to imagine what we would do, or rather, it simulates the mind of another person. People we don’t identify with don’t get the same treatment– like how Black Americans routinely are given less medical treatment than whites. We have a harder time putting ourselves in their shoes, feeling their pain. Banaji and Greenwald present research that shows that people naturally desire to share more resources with groups they identify as members of, creating the “us” and “them” binary that we see over and over again.
I’m generally optimistic, but frankly, today I’m a little down. Today I sat and watched one of my state’s senators stand on a stage and get heckled– not that he was innocent, by any means. I always thought of this guy as someone whose politics I didn’t agree with often, but who seemed like a reasonable enough guy. But today he threw out dog whistles that he knew would enrage the crowd, which was made up of 95% liberal/progressive people. I’ve followed politics for my entire life, and here’s what TV loses in a political encounter like this: the nuances of the atmosphere in a room. Today, our senator warmed up the room with feel-good stuff that we all like: basketball, football, baseball, and the companies that have flocked to our state (due to its anti-union laws and low taxes). He then shifted to addressing Russia and healthcare. Crowd was mostly on-board with Russia, but started to get vocal. The woman behind me started yelling “Nunes! Impeach Trump!” I asked her to stop so I could hear because I really wanted to know what he was going to say. I don’t trust the man but he does want to be reelected, right? So he has to do at least some of what he says he’s going to do. But she, and lots of other people, were just yelling out buzzwords and demands. Then the questions started and it reached an outright frenzy, especially when he didn’t answer a question about Planned Parenthood to the crowd’s satisfaction.
He stood pretty firm. He treated the crowd like a bunch of kids that he had to explain stuff to, which enraged people more. And then he slipped in a mention of his AR-15 when gun control came up. That man knew what he was doing. He knew it would piss people off to hear that, in a city where people got massacred in a church during Bible study. People absolutely howled, and he just said, with the utmost self-righteousness, (I’m paraphrasing) “Criticizing me for owning a gun is downright un-American. Liberals are the most intolerant people in this country.”
I stood up and left.
Look, he’s not necessarily wrong. Look at college campuses, where students should be going to hear things that make them uncomfortable–but where they too often wrap themselves in their comfortable progressive bubble. I believe that there is a place for trigger warnings about things like sexual assault or trauma, but we can’t close out things we don’t like, and we don’t have to be offended by things that we don’t agree with.
But what really got me was how he smirked after that statement. He successfully made us the crazy leftists, and himself the stalwart conservative. And the crowd played right into his hands. He, the bridge over troubled partisan waters, is as much part of the problem as any fringe candidate. And so the cycle continues.