A friend who attended Landmark shared a view on life that I’ve tried to adopt – You are 100% responsible for every relationship you have been in. That doesn’t mean the other person has 0% responsibility, but your approach to relationships is much better if you don’t look to blame the other person, and always look for how you can improve and learn what you can do better.
I fail miserably at this. I try, but fail again. But I digress.
When we are flabbergasted that Trump made it through the Republican debates, then are shocked that he survived the nomination, then are panicked that he came through the convention, and are beyond our wits that he is still a legitimate contender for the US Presidency, they we’ve failed to understand our own part in the absolute tragedy that is the decline of our political system in the U.S.
I say “we”, that while despite being a Republican in high school, and from then on a registered libertarian, I include myself as equally guilty in this mess despite backing Gary Johnson for President in 2016.
A while back I wrote about my own journey from being homophobic to having my eyes and heart opened. And that I wanted to tell my story, because I feel like so many of my friends pretend as if they didn’t have the same views (or at least acted as if they did) when they were young. And in first understanding that there are plenty of good, well-meaning people who are simply ignorant – and then in reaching out, and we change our approach to bridging the gap, we can help other people make the journey from ignorance to acceptance.
So what does this have to do with Trump, and the continued growth of what appears to be a more and more frightening part of American (and global) politics?
Enter the Daily Show. Now, I’ll admit I was a fan. In the year or so before Jon Stewart left the show, he appeared on CrossFire, accusing the hosts of being the problem with American politics, that they are polarizing the country. He was right – the polarization of our country that surfaced and was then accelerated with the Gore Vidal – William F. Buckley debates (though even the documentary around this over-polarizes the event) And yet Jon hid behind the shield of being a comedian, and held himself blameless – yet his reach and impact, among people I know, was far greater than CrossFire.
We have become numb to the polarization and expect it – and so know, when we hear, for the 10th presidential election in a row, that the candidate is dangerous, many people have stopped listening because the hand was over-played again and again by both sides.
From the Daily Show came its offspring, the Colbert Show. I did enjoy it, though maybe less than the early Daily Show.
And now 10-20 other “political comedy” shows exist, that pedal in ridicule. We even have a few here in Australia, where “news” comes across in light-hearted verbal slapstick – and dammit, these people are clever. Brilliant writers, comedians, talented folks.
Over the last 10 years, we began to laugh harder and louder at people who did not share our views.
This last weekend, I showed a “Triumph the Insult Comic” video to Aussie friends of mine. The video lets us inside a focus group of Trump supporters, who have been told they’ve been recruited to provide feedback to the Trump campaign on some potential Trump ads. These people were not selected from the most intelligent cross-section of our nation. Some of these people both lack basic intelligence and some have no moral compass whatsoever. The bits that follow are hysterical, and the first time I watched it, I found myself crying – I was laughing so hard.
But it’s actually not funny. It’s a tragedy, and by sitting back, and mocking the opposition, we give them no chance to learn, no change to hear rational, empathetic arguments. Would they all listen to our arguments? Certainly not. But would a few? Would it shift the conversation from mockery to potentially helping people see the truth? I’m willing to risk it.
The Daily Show interviewed Trump supporters at a rally. Queue the laugh track. The point of the segment was absolutely right – there is an absolute hypocrisy within the rhetoric and the beliefs of his supporters. But this section only served as an opiate for the converted – to laugh at the ignorance and enjoy dinner as we laugh as those we consider less intelligent, less rational or open-minded.
From someone who is open about being an elitist with little remorse, that last paragraph might come as a bit of a shock.
Our laughs may not last that long if we’re not careful.
While most people who know my political views (again, largely libertarian) know that I am not President Obama’s biggest fan, his response on gun control at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana is the example I want to follow. Despite an aggressive and inaccurate question, his answer showed absolute respect for the person asking the question – because this was his chance to make his point, to possibly change one opinion and the opinions of everyone else around. I wish him luck.
It’s time to take the high road and invite others to walk on it with us – which means being humble, listening patiently to attitudes that you do not agree with, and the firmly expressing your own opinion and why you believe it is so important. And often times, we will have to get much louder and even fight for what is right.
It is easier for me and all of us to hide inside of universities and the professional class. It is easy to only have people of like mind over for dinner. It is easy to treat the waitress as a human shopping card where your transaction is only about your credit card and splitting it several ways. It’s much harder to take a risk and try to connect to someone who might express an opinion that you loathe, and try to find a way to listen, understand, and then assert yourself.
Am I a good example? Absolutely not. I live in a WASPy beach neighborhood with ridiculous rents and surround myself with friends who support me. While I grew up in what might be described as “the top of the lower class,” and exited high school more in the middle class, I am now an adult of privilege.
Have I been a political activist who has done my part to change the world? Absolutely not. I am a libertarian philosophically who deep down inside simply never wants to be responsible for the disasters of American politics over the span of my life on both sides of the political fence.
But it’s time for me to be more vocal – even though I know a lot of my friends and family won’t like my ideas. But I promise to listen as much as I talk.
I understand the motivations of many people who support Trump and why those feelings exist: It’s hard to make a case that politicians have improved the lives of the majority of the people in the US (and around the world). People are willing to try anything. Sadly they are willing to throw a hand grenade into a classroom and hope that somehow in the aftermath, a better educational system will emerge. We need to help them understand that it’s a hand grenade and not a paper airplane that might miss it’s target. It’s a dangerous game where everyone is going to get hurt.
Time and time again, when we don’t find a way to build a bridge to the other side, the other side builds a guillotine, or a rocket, or something worse.
Note: I really wanted to end the last paragraph with “like Jeans Shorts”, but that would undermine the entire point of this article in not ridiculing others.