We Are All Cousins

Edmund Pettus bridge, 1965I woke up thinking about how the Left is also to blame for the rise of Trump. By practicing divisiveness, by condescending to huge swaths of the population, by assuming that values not shared (like Christianity) are values born of ignorance, we’ve abandoned the poorer people of this country–what sixties people used to call “the masses” with a straight face.

When I became a union organizer 20 years ago it was not to preach to the choir but to join with workers whose rights were compromised or nonexistent. I did this because I came from a family who could no longer get work; the factories of Northern Massachusetts had gone South and then overseas. I felt overwhelmed by how overwhelmed people I loved were–by how the term “quality of life” had become an oxymoronic phrase. My family went from working-class to underclass, and I saw how our country passed them by in terms of basic rights like medical care, labor laws, shelter, and education. I saw how this negligence was breeding resignation and rage. Rage that was understandable but rarely well-placed. The racism that developed, for example–and I would no more excuse it than I would excuse a man rationalizing his misogyny because of a bad experience with a woman–was the square to the ugliness of profound disenfranchisement.

Trump is evil, he genuinely is. But like Hitler 80 years before, he is a malevolent crazy person who would be just another laughable figure if he weren’t drawing power from so many people’s worst shadows—their fear and anger and sense of disconnection and even desperation. Witness the fact that there are many, many voters–people of color included–who have jumped on his bandwagon despite the fact that it directly contradicts their own interests. We should be trying to reach out to them instead of peacocking to each other about how stupid they and Trump are. We–and by we I mean people lucky enough to have time to think about something besides how to keep a roof over our heads and food on our tables–should be leading with compassion and fortitude, not snark and superciliousness.

I am not sure how to do this, not right now. But I know edmund pettus bridge, 2015that the achievements of every successful political movement came from appealing to the best in each of us. From recognizing each other as people, and from asking each other to listen well and make sacrifices and be brave. We must keep our seat on the bus. We must sit the fuck in at the lunch counter. We must stand on the picket line. We must get off our asses, not be on each other’s asses. When we point a finger, three more point back at ourselves. If we’re ever going to cross this bridge, we need to hold hands instead.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy