The Long Slog of Progress

Hillary in Pictures memed this beautiful photo from the campaign trail, taken by Barbara Kinney, about which I wrote a short piece, which ended up being widely shared.

When I saw their tweet this morning, it was perfectly timed, as I happened to be thinking about some of the erroneously characterized "populist" rhetoric currently in fashion, designed to appeal primarily to the resentments of straight, white, able-bodied, cis men, who are not wealthy.

Specifically, I was thinking about how that rhetoric functions to perfectly serve the entitlement that underwrites that resentment. The entitlement that is, for instance, evident in articles like this one at the conservative Federalist, which argues that the the Alt-Right is "what happens" when (privileged) men are expected to participate on a level playing field.

Or this one at the New York Times, in which a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School posits that one of the "reasons that men may be reluctant to take jobs in the growing service sector" is because "many service sector jobs involve 'serving' people of higher social status. I think women are more willing to do this—for cultural or genetic reasons, who knows."

Who knows. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

To a large extent, much of this "populist" rhetoric centers, though not explicitly, the idea that highly privileged people have the luxury of being lazy about politics, and that they want to keep being lazy.

"Populist" rhetoric of a certain sort assures them that they can be: It doesn't demand that anyone make sacrifices, or show up, or even do their homework to learn the basics of how politics and governance actually work.

It's sweeping promises that suggest all it takes to get things done is making lots of noise and showing up to vote once in awhile.

I recently wrote: "[Many voters] still haven't learned the most important lesson about themselves: That they eagerly preferred to listen to men who told them what they wanted to hear than a woman who told them the truth."

One of the truths Hillary Clinton told us, if not explicitly, is that progress doesn't happen instantaneously. Politics is rarely grand gestures and explosive moments; it is measured in frustratingly small increments, and many of the "biggest" moments consist of work that is not even visible. A phrase removed from, or inserted into, a piece of legislation can be a triumph. It can affect millions of lives, and the decades of advocacy and hours of last-minute negotiations can yet go virtually unseen.

What a horrible reality for people who are used to getting everything they want on demand. Who have become accustomed to instant gratification.

That thing about Hillary that so many of us admired, and which strongly resonated with us—that she works so hard—was probably a huge turn-off to lots of people.

People who did not like hearing that effective governance is an extremely deliberative process.

That progress is a long slog.

She represented, she embodied, the notion that politics and progress are incremental and take lots of grit and determination and patience and work. That made me admire her. I'm sure it made lots of people resent her, because she was communicating the last thing they wanted to hear.

They wanted someone who would give them things now. And here we are, with a president who wants to make things happen fast, and it's a fucking disaster. Because fast is anathema to good governance.

And I suspect that it mattered—a lot—that it was a woman modeling for us what the incremental, deliberative, difficult work of progress really looks like.

Every pundit who groused that she reminded them of a nagging wife. Every internet commenter who complained that she reminded them of their nagging mothers. Resentful of those women who had the temerity to expect them to participate in household or emotional maintenance. In each of these bitter complaints was embedded a hostility to the notion of women doing and expecting hard work.

And a resentment that very privileged people are now facing a world in which they might be expected to work as hard as marginalized people have always had to work. A world in which very privileged people might have to earn that to which they feel entitled.

Some of them have already begun to discover that which people without their privileges have known for a very long time: Sometimes all the hard work one's body can give won't provide what one needs, no less that to which one feels entitled.

The only effective response to that is committing oneself to the hard work the long slog of progress demands. But many of them refuse to do that hard work, preferring instead the gossamer promises of men who vow to restore their privilege.

I look at that picture of Hillary Clinton and I see an invitation to join her in the hard work that needs to be done, not a figure of contempt who expects of me something I'm unwilling to give.

Progress demands our participation. Anyone who has had the luxury of not understanding that until this moment must greet it with fervor for the work that needs to be done. Because they've long been exploiting the work of others, who lacked such luxury for their whole lives.

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