Well, Sara Benincasa has sure elevated political condescension to an art in her latest post, I’m Voting For The Democrat In November Because I’m Not A Human Tire Fire.
That’s not my judgment, incidentally, but Benincasa’s own:
You think this is condescending? I’m using small words to help you understand what many, many, many of us get: your assertion that you can’t in good conscience vote for Hillary is an insult to me and women and queer folks and all the people who benefit and even have a chance to thrive under Democratic policies. You’d consign us to 4 years of Trump and two or three decades of a disgusting, vile Supreme Court because you have a sad feelz in your tum-tum?
Disgusting and vile? Well, that sounds just awful!
True to the genre of being offended on behalf of others, Benincasa suggests that by writing in Sanders, I’m consigning folks to the flames. As one of said “queer folks”, I find myself in a bit of a pickle.
If I am relegating myself — and ‘my people’ — to hell-fire, when will this journey take place? Will I have time to pack my bags, or must I commute immediately after voting?
And given that my airline miles will have no purpose while I’m in hell, will I have the opportunity to upgrade to First Class for my trip? Or, if it’s anything like Delta, will I have to wait until I achieve status?
Granted, there is another possibility here. I might hate myself, and so, find hell a pleasant distraction from my self-loathing. Very good.
Of course, while Benincasa indicts the motivations and planned actions of others, she is oblivious to her own:
You don’t like Hillary’s past support for military actions in XYZ? Cool! Me neither, sometimes! Show me a president who has never made a decision that led to the deaths of women and children and innocent humans at home or (more likely) abroad and I will show you a lie. You think Bernie wouldn’t take military action if necessary? You think our bombs wouldn’t land on kids even if he took every precaution to ensure only military targets were hit? In what fucking world is the leader of any country a saint?
Saints don’t exist. Saints are a lie.
You think that’s an endorsement of policies that kill innocent children? Then you’re sorely in need of a course in reading comprehension.
Here, and throughout the piece, I learn a few things.
First, I lack the ability to comprehend what I read.
It’s a bold claim, having had the privilege of a first-world education. Granted the schools are in shambles, but I suspect that we’ve had some success in imparting this particular skill. On the other hand, there remain many people who do lack the skill. Sometimes owing to a lack of resources, and unsympathetic governments. Sometimes owing to biological disorders.
In fact, up to twenty percent of people may have a reading disability. Not necessarily something insurmountable, but some number will have difficulty in even basic reading comprehension. If I cared to exploit a group’s lack of privilege in some area for my own cynical political arguments, as Benincasa does throughout her piece, I might suggest that perhaps those folks wouldn’t appreciate her retort.
Of course, I don’t, because I haven’t surveyed those with reading disabilities to see how they feel about the common quip. So as for their positions on the matter, I’ll leave it for them to decide.
I’ll treat them like everyone else. You know, without condescending to them, and without assuming their consent. And if there’s some consensus in the group, and I think their arguments reasonable, then I’ll gladly support them. Pretty straightforward it would seem.
Second, and specific to her point, I learn that voting for a President doesn’t imply that you endorse their policies. It’s true in one sense: Namely that those who vote for a President often do so without believing they endorse their policies. Mostly, they’re unaware of their candidate’s actual policies.
However, it’s profoundly mistaken in another sense. If you indirectly contribute to a particular person being handed immense power, including the power to kill one million people without consequences, you are in fact complicit. Your complicity is in proportion, perhaps, to your knowledge of their policies. Everyone understands this if you’re talking about the mob, but if you talk about real authority, then suddenly it’s outlandish.
Still, as Benincasa concedes that she has such knowledge, there’s little question of her complicity. And of course she’s complicit, because we all are complicit.
Every moment we spend not attending to urgent matters — like the very real threat of human extinction — is a moment that’s profanely wasted. And when you have a President who has caused, say, one thousand deaths of Pakistani civilians — you know, actual human beings — I believe it is our moral obligation to impede such wanton violence. Few people even attend demonstrations, and still fewer engage in the sort of direct action that could force the end of militarism; these are shameful facts about who we are or what we’ve become.
It’s really no exaggeration to say that our unwillingness to accept minor inconveniences has resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent people over the years. And it’s striking that Benincasa misses these points, given that she also holds voters to high moral standards. But only when those voters purportedly oppress first-world women and queer people. If they’re anyone else, they’re a footnote.
Granted, she appears to anticipate this by writing, “Show me a president who has never made a decision that led to the deaths of women and children and innocent humans at home or (more likely) abroad and I will show you a lie”.
So, we’re all helpless and without options. We ought to enable Presidents because others have done terrible things. And so we’ve arrived at our hypocrisy and moral vacantness.
It only deepens, as she writes:
Barack Obama has done amazing things for queer people here! He has also okayed the use of drones that killed innocent children in Pakistan and elsewhere! If you cannot look critically at your candidate, you will not look critically at your President. You’re a cult member. Cult members never do anything good ever, except for the Amish people who make really great soft pretzels. But they still oppress women, even with their charming bonnets!
I’m sure she’s attempting to be amusingly irreverent here, but somehow I can’t find that legalized same-sex marriage is an effective counterpoint to killing innocent children. The achievement of the former doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the latter. On the other hand, Jeffrey Dahmer once helped an old lady cross the street, so maybe everything is just a wash.
Finally, I learn implicitly that while our actions have no consequences whatsoever, the actions of others are very important to examine. Benincasa chooses to chastise Sanders supporters, while doing her due diligence to ridicule Donald Trump and his supporters.
This must be rather cathartic, but somehow I think chastising and ridiculing others is not a very sound strategy for gaining their support, or averting a Trump presidency. Rather, if you care about others, you’ll empathize with them. You’ll try to understand why there are people who are racist, you’ll try to understand why some folks support Trump, and you’ll try to understand that the two groups are not simply interchangeable.
That is, you’ll do this if you care to connect with other people, learn the origins of mistaken and often vicious beliefs, help address those origins, and help to convince those holding such views of the errors in their thinking.
Alternatively, you can play into a demagogue’s hand, and vilify them and their supporters.
You can choose to ignore the fact that many people who are profoundly hurting are flocking to Trump, partly as a result of his scapegoating groups. Those groups are perceived to be the cause of their ills, so if you want to inform Trump supporters of the truth, you’ll do so. Others flock to him because they’re tired of a politics that has marginalized them, and they find him authentic.
No person will listen to you while you berate them, so ridiculing them is either useless or counter-productive. In doing so, you will have changed nothing (or will have contributed to the problem), but you’ll gain the sense of having done honest work. For my part, I think there are far more impressive pillars in the fight for social justice.
This point is very general, applying to Sanders supporters and others as well. If you want to ridicule them as “Bernie Bros” or as harmful to those who experience discrimination in the first-world, you’re welcome to do so. In this latter case, you’ll have to explain why so many younger women and minorities are evidently working to sabotage themselves. It seems very unlikely to me, but oddly I think they deserve to give their input in the matter.
Again if you care about people, you’ll empathize with them. And in the case of “Bernie or Bust”, you might recognize that you’re attacking the very people who care most about social justice. You know, people who care about a living wage for all. People who are concerned with, or even ashamed of, our role in the world. And many do seem to think that voting for Sanders is the right thing to do, regardless of the nomination.
You can talk about whether that’s right or wrong, but if you vilify them, you’re only supporting our suspicions. Namely that there’s no space for those who oppose crypto-right-wing theology in the Democratic Party.
There’s reason to believe that Ralph Nader didn’t cause Al Gore to lose the election. Many Nader supporters would have split for Bush, perhaps counterintuitively, and Gore had also pursued certain county recounts, and missed others more likely to have pushed him over the top.
Moreover, the vote differential in dispute was so infinitesimal, it’s clear the Democratic Party utterly failed. It’s not a victim of the Supreme Court, so much as the fact that Bush was elected because roughly half the voters voted for him. That’s the problem.
And it’ll happen again and again, so long as we use vilification as a tactic of… well, not actually convincing people, but airing our grievances.
All of this is also completely irrelevant, if you believe people are permitted to run for office, and that others are permitted to vote for who they see fit. The concept of “spoiling” an election is fundamentally undemocratic, and an insult to autonomy and arithmetic. But then, of course, voting is the least we can do.