Days Like These: Thoughts on a Year of Cruelty

2017 was supposed to be a better year than the the one that preceded it. Before the 2016 election, I longed for, but never took for granted, President Hillary Clinton to build upon the progress that President Obama had made over the course of 8 years.

Instead, here we are.

First, there's the misogyny. Amorphous and ever-changing accusations of primary "rigging" aside, everything I've observed about the 2016 election has instead ingrained in me that cultural and political forces would have done anything and everything to prevent us having a female president. Some of us may have wanted it more than anything, but it was never meant to be in 2016. If not the emails or the likeability or the lack of joy/sex in Hillary's campaign or what-have-you, it would have been a myriad of other ever-shifting ex post facto reasons not to support "this woman."

It is undeniable: anyone who says that structural misogyny doesn't exist in the US is simply not operating in good faith.

Then, of course, as documented in this space and elsewhere, terrible news comes at us constantly and quickly these days. Perhaps more patterns, themes, and narratives will become apparent in the years to come, but as I review the past year's news, I see the predominant theme of the Trump Era as being nihilistic cruelty.

In her 2012 book On Cruelty, Maggie Nelson observes anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean's belief that if people just understood the actual cruelty of executions, they would oppose the death penalty. Nelson disagrees (and so do I), writing:
"Alas, if only it were so. For if the bad news from Abu Ghraib made anything clear in recent years, it is that this model of shaming-us-into-action-by-unmasking-the-truth-of-our-ations cannot hold a candle to our capacity to assimilate horrific images, and to justify or shrug off horrific behavior."
One of the important tasks of the resistance is eradicating from ourselves the notion that if more people simply knew that Trump was horrific that they would oppose him, or even care.

It's true that Trump is historically unpopular, for now anyway, but a certain percentage of Trump's base knows exactly who Trump is, they support him anyway, and they always will. We can debate what that percentage is, but what seems certain is that they voted for him because of the cruelties he's hellbent on inflicting.

In light of these realities I suggest three important tasks for the resistance, although of course there is no shortage of such tasks:

1. We must refuse to be gaslit by those who tell us that deplorable people are motivated not by cruelty but by economic anxiety. Republicans have, for decades, fanned the flames of bigotry for political gain and Trump is an end result of that strategy. As a consequence, many marginalized people live in a near-constant state of fear as to what the Republican administration might do next. It strikes me as adding trauma on top of trauma to ask us to collectively pretend that bigotry doesn't exist in hopes of appealing to the people responsible for inflicting this trauma, or who are at best indifferent to it.

2. Due to our two-party system, the Democratic Party is the only meaningful political party in the US capable of resisting and opposing the Republican agenda. Instead of seeking to tear this party down and transform it into a party centered around white male angst, some folks need to show a better appreciation of the fact that ongoing intra-party/intra-left conflicts are deep, longstanding, and predate the Hillary v. Bernie divide.

Too often, this divide is falsely portrayed as an either/or dichotomy: the Democrats can focus on the economy or "identity politics," but not both. Or, it's presented as a conflict between "progressives" v. "centrists," when the boundaries of these labels are ill-defined, ever-shifting, or have come to be rather-stupidly defined not by policy but by whether someone voted for Clinton or Sanders in the Democratic Primary.

Can't we build up and support candidates who can articulate a nuanced understanding of the reality that while our economic and political systems are flawed, "identity politics" are not mere side issues?

3. More broadly, we must continue resisting the normalization of Trump's cruelties. As we've been seeing with George W. Bush's recent redemption arc, the normalization of Trump makes other Republicans who are no less deplorable, yet who are more subtle in their bigotries, seem normal, decent, and better by comparison. We must remember that they are not.

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