40,000 Americans Unnecessarily Died This Summer, I Don’t Care That Sally Baked You A Cake Once
Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang swung into Twitter earlier this week to make a comment no one asked for. In the wake of someone (rationally) stating only Democrats would even considering enacting the agenda Yang ran on, a Yang-Trump supporter said such a position was unnecessarily partisan and Republicans can also support Yang’s ideas – which is true, but of course they wont. It then turned into a discussion about being friends with people who voted for Trump.
Now for those who know him, this is quintessential Yang. He’s at heart a peacemaker and a consensus-builder. This is the same man who once stood there smiling while two supporters stood next to him in blatantly racist face masks mocking Asian features. I’m sure it didn’t offend him, but it offended a lot of others. It’s also why he did so terribly in the primaries despite his strong social media presence and bold ideas – because he’s just not the right fit for these times.
And neither is anyone who thinks we can “agree to disagree” with Trump supporters right now, or cast aside their political views to find common ground somewhere else.
Political disagreements are not like disagreeing over whether or not you liked Avatar or who your favorite Real Housewife of Atlanta is. Politics is often a matter of life and death, and we have made a pattern of trivializing it. We have made a pattern of avoiding litigating serious issues because it might ruin the some false sense of unity and camaraderie. We have created a world where there are no standards that we expect our friends and family to live up to.
At no point in modern history has been more clear that political preference is a matter of life and death than right now. There is no objective debate over how Donald Trump responded, and continues to respond, to the COVID-19 Pandemic. He botched it, and he continues to botch it.
And this is someone who in response to the death toll of 160,000 Americans, simply said “it is what it is.”
How could anyone want to be friends with someone who continues to support keeping that in power? What is your level of standard for friendship? Would you be friends with someone who acts like Donald Trump or says what he says or treats people the way he treats people? If not, then why would you be friends with people who not only are OK with it, but seek to empower it by keeping him the world’s most powerful job?
Well there may be two reasons:
1.) Keeping The Peace
“What do you want us to do, have a civil war?” someone said to me a few years when I said it was no longer worth it to befriend Trump supporters. It made me think: Is this less about overlooking dangerous beliefs and more about just keeping the peace?
People are justifiably afraid of the divide that is occurring in America. They know it’s a recipe for civil and social unrest. They believe trying to focus on common ground, rather than divides, can help with that. They yearn for a sense of unity and common purpose. That’s why you often hear people suggest we should go back to “9/12” – a reference to sense of unity the nation felt after the September 11th attacks. (That was all a facade, but that’s for another post).
But conservatives know that, and they seek to manipulate that to their advantage. You want unity? Give us what we want. Common ground is whatever we say it is. There’s a reason why right wing polemicist Glenn Beck called his Obama-era Tea Party-aligned movement the “9/12 Project.” He knew if he can claim that narrative, his movement can set the standards that must be met to get us back to “9/12”
They market themselves as the arbiter of unity, and since politics to the right is just a game – not a matter of survival like it is for poor and marginalized communities on the left – they are more than happy to make it seem like they’re cool with liberal ideas, you know, in theory. It’s much easier to say you’d be friends with someone who supports higher taxes on the rich, its much harder to say you want to be friends with someone who thinks Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in the country.
When the opinions are given equal weight, that makes THEM seem reasonable. Democrats, for decades, have given in to this type of Republican hostage taking, for the sake of the country.
And look where it got us?
2.) It Serves Me
Another friend pointed out once that he would stop hanging out with his racist friends, “but I wouldn’t have anyone to play softball with.”
Social status is important, and conservatives use it for their advantage. They make sure to occupy the top of the social food chain, so people will do practically anything to be friends with them and stay friends with them. They are the athletes, the “it” girls, the popular kids. Liberals, on the other hand, are typecast as the nerds, the geeks, the loners, the social outcasts. (The irony is, it’s actually sort of the other way around).
But the real reason is privilege. The consequences of Trump’s presidency don’t effect them. They are not in the cages, or banned from entering the country, or banned from the military. They are not the target of white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The Trump presidency’s effects are abstract to them; so it’s not a surprise they see supporting Trump as no different than supporting a sports team or being a fan of a musician.
It’s easy to overlook negative traits in a person that don’t directly effect you. If you’re not gay, do you care that the person you have a good time playing sports with is against gay rights? Do you care that the person who bakes you cakes for your birthday thinks black people deserve to be brutalized by cops because they’re “animals?”
Probably not. It’s just a matter of disagreement, not a matter of your rights and safety. Your relationship with the person is transactional and serves you, so why sacrifice that for a cause that doesn’t serve you? You should care, however. Not caring is what empowers their views. It normalizes these values that should be in the dustbin of history and instead marched around Charlottesville, Virginia with tiki torches a few years ago.
Trump’s presidency has had real consequences to minorities and other marginalized groups in the United States, and empowered Neonazis and white supremacists. It has had an even bigger impact this year in giving oxygen to lies about COVID-19 that have gotten tens of thousands killed. Advocating for medicine that doesn’t work isn’t a matter of reasonable disagreement, its life and death. Just accepting it as a different opinion and moving on is dangerous. It could get people killed. We need to take lies and misinformation more seriously. Who you vote for and what policies support are a window into a person’s character, and character is one of the few acceptable ways to judge a person.
I know its hard to have to disassociate yourself from people you love and have known for decades or a lifetime because of beliefs that don’t directly effect you – I’ve had a hard time doing it too – but if we really want a fairer, more just, world, we have to have standards.