The Lie of Political Correctness

“People were tired of walking on eggshells.”

If I had a copy of the Constitution for every time I heard that one — that it was the pushback against political correctness that got Donald Trump elected. That people loved he was willing to say whatever was on his mind — that this meant he wasn’t filtered and he’d deliver the truth. They mistook his lack of decency for honesty when really it was just — lack of decency.

Because that’s what political correctness is — decency. Kindness. Good manners. But good manners were given a bad name by people who couldn’t be bothered, or who wanted to score political points. “We can’t afford to be politically correct,” said Donald Trump. As if there wasn’t a much more nuanced, more intelligent, reason to avoid language like “radical Islam” that terrorists could use to recruit people to their side.

Here’s a secret: There are plenty of liberals who feel tentative about what to call whom, who find it slightly annoying when the appropriate names for a group changes or certain sections of a group break off and we need to learn a new name. But, slightly annoying in the way you realize you turned right instead of left ½ a block back and you need to make u-turn — a 30-second detour from the main destination. Really not a big deal.

Because “walking on eggshells” — a bit dramatic, but ok — is the small price we pay for being kind. Because what “walking on eggshells” means is not saying words that offend people. The vast majority of people are not out looking to be offended. The vast majority can differentiate between someone who just didn’t know from someone who is racist.

It’s not hard to say “American Indian” instead of “redskin.” It’s not hard to add a Q to LGBT. It’s not hard to not tell a racist joke. So I think for the people who hate political correctness to the point that they’re willing to vote for a shallow bigot just to make a point, it’s not about the anxiety of walking on eggshells. I’m fairly confident these same people do not walk on eggshells afraid they’ll mistakenly call their white neighbor, “Cracker,” or their local cop, “Pig.” What it’s really about is their desire to say what they damn well please. Maybe because they hold racist views, maybe because they think it’s funny when other people do. “I’m not a white racist, I just tell funny black jokes.” Either way, they don’t have the time nor the patience to be kind.

Racism still has a strong hold of this country. Passive or active, it’s strong enough to denounce political correctness, strong enough to elect Donald Trump, strong enough to forbid Sen. Warren from reading Coretta Scott King’s words on the Senate floor. Strong enough — but too fragile to bear the responsibilities of kindness.

Refuse to Play the Game

“Words are all we got.” Dean Baquet, December 8

Remember when, “Don’t let the terrorists win,” was the refrain of the moment and we were urged to get out and go shopping after 9/11? Most people, of course, knew it was about more than shopping — that we didn’t need to simply resume our daily habits; we needed to overcome our fears because the terrorists’ goal was to make us so afraid we’d turn on each other.

Then it became about shoe bombers, waterboarding, and recession. Underwater mortgages, the Boston Marathon, and Newtown. Somewhere along the way we forgot to not be afraid. We forgot to not turn on each other.

Of course, social media makes it worse by providing anonymity to people who confuse ranting with cogent thought. But social media is also a chance for real discussion and while I find it there every day, it’s also been disappointing to see how many people try to tamp down any talk of anything worthwhile.

People are comfortable in the status quo, especially when it is blissful ignorance. Disrupting the status quo is uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable every time I post on Facebook or publish an essay like this.

But, as the daughter of a woman who once went running into the middle of a fight outside Walgreens, I am also uncomfortable in the role of bystander on the playground watching a bully at work, hoping he’ll calm down and leave the poor kid alone. There are a whole slew of rationalizers who keep pressing the “wait and see” button but for me, for many, that time has passed. The lip is bloodied, enough damage done. I don’t want to wait quietly to see if he goes for the throat.

It is purely, unabashedly, American to speak out against leaders who threaten liberties, who keep a hand over our mouths.

Much has been said about the need to understand Trump voters. I agree. I’ve sought them out, read their words and talked with them face to face. I’ve listened as they speak about industry, health care, and welfare reform and growing up around racism — growing calloused to words that, to them, were just words. I’ve listened as they said this election season the news was too overwhelming so they didn’t pay much attention and then simply voted the way they always do.

Listening to them does not threaten my beliefs but it does help me understand, a little, theirs. I can start to separate Trump the voter from Trump the man.

And I want nothing to do with dividing this country further. I refuse to be a pawn in Trump’s game.

The same should be asked of Trump voters: Listen. Believe us when we say it’s different this time. Believe us when we say it is about dignity, equality, and patriotism. Trump represents everything we feel threatens our democracy — he uses his words in anger to divide us. He has continued this rhetoric after the campaign, as president-elect. And he pushes us steadily backward instead of moving us forward on matters like climate change, human rights, and even the notion of truth.

I suspect there are many Trump voters who are concerned but want to see their vote vindicated. The problem is, the man we have elected is such a master of marketing and sparkle and colorful balloons, that it will be even harder these next four years to get at the nugget of truth in the middle.

But we must, and we can’t do it divided. The truth will lose.

He says he hates newspapers and accuses them of lying but that is because he wants to control the message. That is why he loves Twitter. By controlling the message, he controls us. Don’t let him. Some of what he says in the next four years will be true and good, and we should talk about that. I hope he helps small businesses and the working class. But we shouldn’t let it silence us during the moments he will lie. He has, by many accounts, nominated a knowledgeable general in Mattis. But that shouldn’t silence us on the fact that he has also appointed a racist in Bannon, or insulted China on Twitter.

Scrutiny is good.

Donald Trump is the worst of the dividers, but he’s not the only one. They are on both sides, in both parties. They say “all” and “always,” painting us with the broadest of brushes and taking away our faces, our humanity. They rely on the things we are angry about, the things we are scared of, and that’s their main message. These politicians and pundits are afraid, too — that we’ll vote them out of office or turn off the television — so they coddle anger and the attention it gets them like a newborn baby. Or like a crack addiction.

They think we’ll read a headline and maybe the first paragraph, we’ll listen to the screaming heads on cable news, and we’ll become enraged. It doesn’t matter whether a bill is good policy. It doesn’t matter whether this country was founded on the very idea of compromise.

Or they play games, attaching controversial language about abortion to a bill about roads because they know we aren’t paying attention, and they think we like the game.

I wish their assumptions had no merit, but the problem lies with us. We — you and I — have a responsibility and we are shirking it. A small fraction of voters put Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the general election ballot. We have power but we give it up. We forget that we are the parties, from the school board on up to president.

When did it become too hard to be an informed citizen? It isn’t easy, but when did it become too hard?

What happened to thoughtful conversations about government? When did that become an eye-roller?

We don’t talk politics with friends because we’ve been taught it’s a taboo subject. But that is accepting the notion that everything has to be a fight. We’ve accepted the idea that to disagree with someone is to insult them. To have an opinion is obnoxious.

But to be angry — boy, that is acceptable. That feels good. We’re so damn afraid, we indulge in anger like children. Even those of us who did not vote for Trump read about him and feel almost happy in our anger, righteous even. He invites our anger, deserves it, and we hand it over gladly.

This line from the movie Glory comes to mind lately: “We all covered up in it. Ain’t nobody clean.”

Politics is personal. But we have to be able and willing to express our ideas with respect and base them in fact. Anger can be good, useful even. But we have to know when to kick it out the door.

We are a nation of people who refuse to know each other, to read the news and have thoughtful dialogue with people we disagree with, and that is dangerous.

Because when we lack connection with each other, we elect people who work hard to divide us further. Donald Trump is working very, very hard to divide us.

Great leaders use their platform to rally people around a common cause for good. They help us feel the possibility of what we can be, and they remind us of our humanity, our sameness.

True policymaking and real governing are the hard things in all this. We need to quit voting for the clowns who put on a good show. We need to look for the guy who people make fun of for being a policy wonk. Vote for the woman who doesn’t end her statements with exclamation marks and who doesn’t use bombastic language to freak us out. Vote for the people who compromise.

We can still tune out much of the news. Paying attention and finding truth is easier than it seems.

The current situation is exactly what terrorists wanted back in 2001 and it’s what they want today: that we are so afraid and angry we forget who we are.

We have forgotten there are stories behind each of us. We have forgotten what our purpose is and where the meaning lies.

We need to remember. We have got to work together to hold on to America’s common cause, together. It doesn’t mean we stay silent in our corners and it doesn’t mean we don’t write the truth out of fear of making people uncomfortable. It certainly doesn’t mean we’ll always agree. It means we keep talking, and reading and listening and writing our stories, because that’s all there is to do.

There’s a reason this blog is called True STORIES. There’s a reason I put a quote by Colum McCann on the masthead. “Through our stories, we survive.” I believe that.

child patriot.jpg

Our Liberal Creed

Recently someone asked me, derisively, what we liberals even believe in. Last night over drinks, my sister and I answered that question:

  • We believe most people have good intentions, no matter what country they were born in.
  • We believe in bootstraps. We also believe no one pulls them up on their own.
  • We believe in faith—in gods, in trees, in the sun…whatever floats your boat.
  • We believe in the scientific method.
  • We believe intelligence is a good thing. We view this as formal education + street smarts + a good amount of reading the newspaper.
  • We believe in the fundamental importance of journalists to a republic.
  • We believe conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories.
  • We believe family tradition is good for stuff like Christmas pajamas, cookie recipes, and Sunday night dinners, but born-and-raised gets you only so far. At some point, you have to step away and decide what you believe on your own.
  • We believe in hard work.
  • We believe “the common man” is all of us, whether you are a white rancher in Montana or a black nurse in Baltimore.
  • We believe Real America includes the coasts.
  • We believe in the dignity of the presidency.
  • We believe people deserve second chances. But not many.
  • We believe in the gray areas.
  • We believe in the 2nd amendment. We also believe no private citizen needs a military-grade weapon and that people who buy guns should be vetted, just like teachers, politicians, and babysitters.
  • We believe in hunting. By this, we do not mean: trapping, using dogs to corner an animal, using a guide to lead you to an animal on a reserve so you can shoot it and hang its head on your wall, sitting in a blind waiting for an animal to cross your path while you drink beer, or anything else that is not hunting.
  • We believe people who work 40 hours a week should be able to feed their children, support an ailing parent, pay their bills, and have something left for popcorn and a movie. If not, then the minimum living wage should be raised.
  • We believe government can’t solve all our problems but it should also be judged by how well it treats its weakest members.
  • We believe sick people should have the medicine that will help them get better, chosen by their doctor based on need and not the insurance companies based on cost.
  • We believe in quality childcare and support for new parents. This includes paid maternity leave that is on par with the rest of the civilized world.
  • We believe college graduates should be able to afford groceries and their student loan bill.
  • We believe the world isn’t always fair, but you change what you can.
  • We believe in helping others. We don’t care if the beggar on the street is lazy or an addict. He is on the street and we are not.
  • We believe in renewable energy. We could power up this whole country using the sun. And it’s just sitting there, free.
  • We believe in the entire Shakespeare quote: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow…thou canst not then be false to any man.” And when you get to the top of the ladder, whatever ladder you’ve climbed, lend a hand to the person below.
  • We believe in contraception and teaching people how to use it. We would love to believe our children will remain abstinent until 25 but that’s not the real world.
  • We believe women should have the choice whether or not they want to become a mother, and whether or not it is safe for them to do so.
  • We believe in life, including the hundreds of thousands of U.S. children waiting to be adopted.
  • We believe love is an emotion that should be celebrated no matter who is doing the loving.
  • We believe in freedom of speech but we also believe that comes with the responsibility to not be an idiot. Or a racist.
  • We believe political correctness is synonymous with kindness.
  • We believe we are connected, irrevocably, to the natural world. As the most intelligent creatures at the top of the food chain, we have a duty to Manage. This. Shit.
  • We believe jails should contain violent offenders and the people-with-more who screw people-with-less on purpose. Everyone else needs either traffic school, rehab, mental health care, or a living wage.
  • We believe our Irish immigrant ancestors, who were spit upon and denied jobs (“No Irish Need Apply”), were just as American as we are today, seven generations later.
  • Finally, we believe in the words of Benjamin Franklin, who, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, told gathered citizens that the founding fathers had just created a republic, “if you can keep it.” Being an American citizen is a privilege and a responsibility. Don’t complain; do something. Don’t ignore the news; read it. Don’t stay home; vote. Honor America. Keep it.

Rape in the Year 2012

“If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind. I watch these guys and I’m, like, ‘What is happening? Am I a secretary on ‘Mad Men? What’s happening?’”  

–Tina Fey

In light of the latest caveman orating about rape, here are some bits that haven’t gotten as much news, from Jill Filipovic at The Guardian:

  • Sharron Angle, who ran for a US Senate seat out of Nevada, said she would tell a young girl wanting an abortion after being raped and impregnated by her father that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and that she should make a “lemon situation into lemonade“.
  • Douglas Henry, a Tennessee state senator, told his colleagues:  “Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse.”
  • Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly declared that marital rape doesn’t exist, because when you get married you sign up to be sexually available to your husband at all times.
  • And when asked a few years back about what kind of rape victim should be allowed to have an abortion, South Dakota Republican Bill Napoli answered:  “A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”

A final thought, from a friend of mine:  I wonder if all of the politicians, MALE politicians, telling American women that rape is “legitimate” or “God’s will” would tell that to the boys Sandusky raped? Perhaps they could explain the implied irony of God’s will to the boys raped by priests? Or if they were raped themselves–you know, God willing?

To Yard Sign or Not to Yard Sign

Unlike what seems like the rest of the country outside of D.C., I love politics. It’s as dramatic as a reality show, but smarter (and real-er).

Dramatic, because instead of sex, drugs, and sparring… That is, in addition to sex, drugs, and sparring, there are Big Deal issues like freedom, justice, prosperity. Dramatic, because of the history of this country—the founding principles, suffrage, slavery, death, war, love, hate. Every human emotion is tied up in politics and policy. Not even to mention what’s tied up in campaigns and elections–it’s as competitive and aggressive as football but without the concussions and literal chest-thumping.

Smart, because policies are complex. Because we field hundreds of bits of information thrown at us and figure out which are facts and which are opinions, what is true and what is false. Smart, because we have to have the self-awareness to know what we really care about.

That’s not to say I always love politics. I have to turn off cable news for months at a time. But I always find myself drawn back to it because at heart I’m a patriotic American. (And you thought the right-wing had hijacked that phrase.) And I love a good debate.

Also unlike what seems the rest of the country, I think we should talk more about politics, not less. If we all talked–and listened–a bit more we would force the few at the top doing most of the squabbling to squabble smarter. And truthier. We’d raise the level of the conversation.

However, I’m not the type to make the first move. I (usually) don’t babble on about politics at parties unless someone else brings it up first. I volunteer for campaigns, but I’m the one who makes calls to supporters simply to remind them to vote. I drop off yard signs to those who’ve requested one.

Every election, I delay putting a sign in my own yard declaring whom I support because it feels like I’m drawing a line in the sand:

Here I stand : There you stand. Aren’t we different.

I also worry it too-strictly defines me to my neighbors who vote otherwise. Sure, I love a good debate, but some of my favorite moments in a debate are when those I disagree with get me to think twice about my opinion, when they make me stop and reconsider. (My husband will say this absolutely never happens; don’t believe him.)

In the end, I always put up a sign because of this: if politics is as important as I say it is, I should do what I can to help elect the person I support. And if I can’t openly declare where I stand and what I believe in, then what’s the point?

For this Monday–Meet: My Yard Signs