when you’re arguing with a mind wide shut
Comedians, following the long tradition of court jesters, have always been an invaluable part of the public conversation. Those who malign them for being political or making intentionally feather-ruffling jokes about current events and tell them to just “stick to comedy,” and actually mean it, forget that since the first recorded jokes we’ve found, politics and politicians have been comedic targets. In the world of nonstop news, they can also use the time it takes them to prepare a show to slow down, understand the issues involved, and rehearse incisive commentary. So it’s little wonder that news shows suffer from horrible ratings and are viewed in bite-sized clips while comedic half hour talk shows are drawing millions of eyeballs on a regular basis, and a comedy site has been doing its best to analyze both the rise of destructive anti-establishment politics, and their amazing immunity from criticism or any other tool in our arsenal to control extremism. Its newest shot at a political theory of alt-everything, it published an article drawing parallels between Trump and, amazingly, Insane Clown Posse.
Yes, it sounds like a crazy stretch, but the comparisons were in many ways quite apt. Both have devoted fan bases who see criticism as validation and scorn as impotent jealousy, whose ideas of dealing with those who disagree center on merciless, vicious retaliation, and whose disdain for people often judged by society to be accomplished standard-bearers is simply impossible to understate. But strangely, before detailing all the ways in which the out and proud Deplorables and Juggalos have their ears firmly shut to criticism and how ready they are to scream “fuck you!” at the critics, so much so we can forget about piercing through their anti-everyone else bubbles, we’re passionately implored that it would be naive and unhelpful to simply write them off as lost causes. For me, that doesn’t compute. It sounds like a very well rehearsed platitude that seems soothing at first blush, but totally and infuriatingly useless in real life, much like the accomodationism craze. We are being asked to listen to and help people who want us to shut up and go away forever more than pretty much anything else in the world.
Seriously, can someone explain this to me? We’ve just been told how this culture revels in the hatred of those who dare think they may be better off, or more educated, or support a boring, establishment way to do things. If these people actually are better off than them and dare criticize their ideas about how the world should be run, they’ll double down on telling them to go and fuck themselves, both middle fingers proudly raised. So what do we do exactly? We tell them to kindly maybe give science a chance? Ask them whether they would please be so kind as to work towards more accessible education? Politely wonder if it would please them to consider that there’s merit in learning more about how healthcare is broken in the US and why this is the case? Weren’t we just told that this is the fastest way to be get a torrent of tweets calling you a “beta cuck libtard” or a “sore loser socialist” and told to go choke on your latte or get robbed in the alleys of that filthy, crime-riddled city you must live in? Aren’t we being encouraged to simply engage in an exercise in futility for the sake of social decorum?
It seems so difficult that the author, Nathan Rabin, pretty much gives up on the idea himself and ends his article not with an idea no how to reach out to this political phenomenon born of resentment in human form, but with what I can’t help to see any other way than an admission that reaching out to the pathologically insular and outsider-hating Trimpists isn’t going to happen…
At this point, I just hope that Democrats find someone politically savvy enough to alchemize the hatred and contempt they will inevitably face (from Donald Trump and his Twitter account, if nothing else) into something powerful and productive, the way both Donald Trump and Insane Clown Posse have.
Maybe I’m missing something, but whenever the writer of the plea for us to reach out across the aisle and make friends with diehard Trump supporters who view any criticism as a badge of honor, using it as an excuse to engage in even more outlandish behavior, gives up on the thought right after laying out his sociological treatise on them, what is there for us to do? We’ve been told again and again that we simply don’t understand them or reach out to them, and are ignorant of what drives them despite 13,000 word treatises on Trump’s America being so common as to warrant their own parodies. We’ve also been told that voting against Trump was the province of coastal elites, supposedly evidenced by a county by county vote map. But that map also shows a huge flaw in this narrative in cities like Columbus, OH, which in no way could be described as a haven for coastal elitists, but has been a rather deep shade of blue for many years come election time.
Diehard Trumpists will boldly claim on social media that it’s because broke, decrepit inner cities of growing metropolitan areas just voted for handouts, but if you ever find yourself in inner city Columbus, you’ll see new and shiny apartment buildings, coffee shops, craft breweries, restaurants, nightclubs, and of course, a thriving mixed use district around Nationwide Arena, home of the Blue Jackets, one of the top teams in the NHL this season. I’ve seen a lot of these transformations firsthand when living there and more when I go back. Far from the caricature of the crime-riddled, failing, unaffordable city, it’s an up and coming boom town where a mix of recession proof industries like finance, healthcare, and contracting with government agencies, formed a solid bedrock for a tech explosion big enough to attract cash from Amazon and VCs. For it to fall into the Real America vs. Coastal Elitists narrative that was supposed to be the theme of the election, it shouldn’t have voted against Trump by a 2 to 1 margin since it’s in the Real American Midwest.
In fact, if we look at the overall picture, it fits closer to Rabin’s thesis of the people who think society left them behind vs. the winners of the globalized post-industrial economy. Counties with the lowest educational achievement easily went to Trump. Voters afraid they will be automated away flocked to his promises of returning and securing their jobs, a promise neither he, nor anyone else can possibly fulfill. Furthermore, the 472 counties Clinton won have nearly twice the share of the national GDP than the 2,584 counties that went to Trump. Even more telling, all these numbers are consolidated from the 659 counties with only a 4% greater share of the national GDP than the counties won by Bush in 2000. In just 16 years, the economic gains went to big metros, which consolidated their footprints, becoming less connected to their surroundings. And the only messages Trumpists have to the majority of the nation are “now you suffer” and “to hell with your world,” as detailed by pretty much everybody who ever profiled them.
So if Rabin is right about his diagnosis of the Trumpist mentality, doesn’t his list of arguments as to why its adherents willfully render themselves utterly and defiantly unreachable also mean that not writing off the idea of finding common ground with them is just wishful thinking on the part of those of us who see politics as a game of compromises and negotiations rather than just a bludgeon to lash out at others to settle scores? Maybe the “close-minded,” improper rhetoric of fighting back instead of negotiating our way out of the incoming shit storm, is actually spot on because that’s the only choice with which we’re left? Trump himself framed the upcoming four years by calling those who dared vote against him and still have the temerity to disapprove of him “his many enemies” on Twitter. If those aren’t literally fighting words, what are? He and his fans aren’t interested in governance and compromise, they want a war. And if we refuse to recognize that, we’re bound to keep on losing important fights for science, health, and secular freedoms.