Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone
like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean
“treating someone like an authority”
people who are used to being treated like an authority
say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and
they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I
won’t treat you like a person”
and they think they’re
being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.
And there I am on the busy playground, looking up at my daughter with her two stuffed monkeys as she is about to put them down the slide. It is still a little cool out, winter into spring, and the clouds blot the sun, making it easy to see her clearly.
Down the slide goes one monkey, this one not quite as precious to Ess, this one the emissary into the world, spiraling down towards the ground. And up the slide charges someone new, one taller and bigger and stronger than my daughter. I had anticipated this: aware that these stuffed toys, so obviously having only spent time indoors, away from rain and dirt and vicissitudes, would attract all kinds of attention.
And so it seemed to go in slow motion, this new person’s run up the slide, and the picking up of the monkey and the taunting of my daughter. This other human, bigger and taller, with an affect neither sing-song nor menacing but rather flat as to almost seem bored, holding my daughter’s monkey aloft and saying “get it. get it. get it.” And my puzzled daughter, knowing she couldn’t reach it, wondering why she was being asked to, watching as the monkey, instead of being talked to, comforted, told what would happen, instead of being set down gently, ice cold water scrubbed away from the bottom of the slide, instead of being treated with tenderness and care, was flung indiscriminately back down the spiral again, not even worth the effort required to hurl it away into the distance.
The interloper drifted away and I picked Ess up, wrapping my arms tightly around her, whispering in her ear “you did nothing wrong” and pointing out other slides, other downward spirals that I thought might distract but I knew carried the same risk. It was all I could do when faced with the world again, this time walking my child through it.
Among the most popular explanations for Trump’s victory
and the Trump phenomenon writ large is the Calamity
Thesis: the belief that Trump’s election was the direct
result of some great, unacknowledged social
catastrophe—the opioid crisis, free trade, a decline in
white Americans’ life expectancy—heretofore ignored by
cloistered elites in their coastal bubbles. The irony is
that the Calamity Thesis is by far the preferred
white-elite explanation for Trumpism, and is frequently
invoked in arguments among elites as a way of accusing
other elites of being out of touch.
But what about this:
The most economically vulnerable Americans voted for
Clinton overwhelmingly; the usual presumption is
exactly the opposite.
So what’s this about? Well, look at how the white voters voted:
Trump won white voters at every level of class and income.
He won workers, he won managers, he won owners, he won
robber barons. This is not a working-class coalition; it
is a nationalist one.
Oh. Oh my. So…
White working-class Americans dealing directly with
factors that lead to a death of despair were actually less
likely to support Trump, and those struggling economically
were not any more likely to support him.
Which means, as you can imagine:
…when social scientists control for white voters’
racial attitudes—that is, whether those voters hold
“racially resentful” views about blacks and
immigrants—even the educational divide disappears. In
other words, the relevant factor in support for Trump
among white voters was not education, or even income, but
the ideological frame with which they understood their
challenges and misfortunes.
So. Let’s say you go to your next family gathering and someone there is saying “gosh, people just voted for Trump because their jobs are going away and they’re making less each year!” Well then your everyday, intelligible, non-wonky response would be “then what about the millions of blacks, immigrants, refugees… all subjected to the same pressures — why didn’t they vote Trump, too?” This is summarized so, so well here:
Perhaps the CNN pundit Chris Cillizza best encapsulated
the mainstream-media consensus when he declared shortly
after Election Day that there “is nothing more
maddening—and counterproductive—to me than saying that
Trump’s 59 million votes were all racist. Ridiculous.”
Millions of people of color in the U.S. live a reality
that many white Americans find unfathomable; the
unfathomable is not the impossible.
As the piece continues and the evidence mounts, you can see that wealth and education don’t help people see the world more clearly. Instead, they use their wealth to amplify and their education to justify away their preconceived notions, prejudices, and racism. So, I used to think, man, if you could just get everyone some economic security and fine education (yielding some time each day to read and think!) then, golly, we’d have racism licked. (I don’t say “golly” in my head when I form thoughts, but it is an accurate characterization of my general affect.) Now I am confronted with clear evidence that people just carry their worst traits right on through their lives. And that makes me sad.
Oh and by the way, there’s an idea here in fly-over country: “but I’m nice to everyone!” Which I’ve always been uncomfortable with. And in this Atlantic piece, Serwer states the problem so much more clearly than I can, by saying there’s this…
…widespread perception that racism is primarily an
interpersonal matter—that is, it’s about name-calling or
rudeness, rather than institutional and political power.
Talk about a big “rather.” Serwer then walks through United States history with devastating clarity. When he returns to present-day, you will see today’s racially divided America with startling perspective.
“I’ve noticed that the truth works. People can feel the
truth. If you’re being yourself and you’re just using
your own emotions, they can feel it. If you’re doing
fake, they can feel it. It took me a while in comedy to
realize that your truth is more powerful than your mask.”
For great advice, you can substitute “in comedy” with “in life”. And Wesley Morris’ entire profile of Peele is great; read it. But so that quote is an insightful and fundamental truth, yet it makes me think of the road that Peele took to get to winning an Oscar with “Get Out”. Specifically, the HILARIOUS sketches Key & Peele wrote and performed that can make you better understand racism, code switching, and black identity. Peele’s movie takes all those themes to another level of artistry, comedy, ambition.
Of course, since horror movies terrify me, I haven’t watched it yet. But I’d like to.
The United States, by contrast, is very rich, and already
dedicates way more than enough resources to set up the
world’s most generous health-care system, and a lot more
besides. We spend $3.2 trillion per year — literally
twice as much as the OECD average as a share of the
economy. We pay enough in health-care taxes alone — that
is, the government revenue that goes to Medicare,
Medicaid, the VA, and a few other things — to cover a
Canada-style Medicare-for-all system for the whole U.S.,
and then that much again in private money. In other
words, if we could simply copy-paste Canada’s universal
health-care system into America, taxes would actually go
All that means is that America doesn’t have to worry much
about costs; it has to worry about allocating existing
spending properly. We already have a gigantic pool of
resources dedicated to health care — about half private
and half public. We just have to adjust that spending so
it can support a single-payer system.
People will eventually see this as better — I hope to see it happen in my lifetime.
Yesterday, I got to go to the playground with you twice in a single day. You took my hand and we slid down slides side-by-side. You’re getting bigger: you sometimes go down the big slides without sitting on my lap. I showed you how to go down a slide upside down, head first, and you took the idea and ran with it, sliding in every goofy direction you could think of, laughing uproariously.
You still ask me to sit next to you in the back of the car, with Mama driving in the front. Usually, you just want me to hold your owl or your bug or your rabbit, and then have me voice them, asking questions you think of. But sometimes, you’ll hold my hand.
You love to splash in puddles, even when you’re wearing your white long sleeve shirt with its (also) white tutu sewn on.
You are learning new ways to ask for what you want: we were on a walk and the three of us realized it was too far to the playground, and that it was too far to even carry you on my shoulders there and back again. So when I knelt down to tell you this and to get us walking home, you threw yours little arms around me and told me “you can do it, Dada — I know you can” and then you gave me a kiss on the cheek. Right now, you never dole out pecks like that, so I knew you were just trying anything you could think of to get me to do it, despite what Mykala and I had said.
Americans enjoy lower qualities of life on every single
indicator that you can possibly think of. Life expectancy
in France and Spain is 83 years, but in America it’s only
78 years — that’s half a decade of life, folks. The same
is true for things like maternal mortality, stress, work
and leisure, press freedom, quality of democracy — every
single thing you can think of that impacts how well,
happily, meaningfully, and sanely you live is worse in
America, by a very long way. These are forms of
impoverishment, of deprivation — as is every form of not
realizing potential that could be.
But I don’t wish to
write a jeremiad, for I am not a pundit. The question is
this: why don’t Americans understand how poor their lives
have become? Is it even a fair question to ask?
Of course, one can speak of capitalism and false
consciousness and class war, of technology hypnotizing
people with outrage. But I think there is a deeper truth
here. There is a myth of exceptionalism in America that
prevents it from looking outward, and learning from the
world. It is made up of littler myths about greed being
good, the weak deserving nothing, society being an arena,
not a lever, for the survival of the fittest — and
America is busy recounting those myths, not learning from
the world, in slightly weaker (Democrats) or stronger
(Republicans) forms. Still, the myths stay the same — and
the debate is only really about whether a lightning bolt
or a thunderstorm is the just punishment from the gods
for the fallen, and a palace or a kingdom is the just
reward for the cunning.
Hence, I have never once sees in
America a leader saying, “hey! See that British
healthcare system? That German union and pension system?
Why don’t we propose that? They work!!” Instead, the
whole American debate is self-referential — pundits
debating Andrew Jackson (LOL) instead of, say, what the
rest of the world does today in 2017. How can a broken
society grow only by looking inwards? If you are a
desperate, heart-broken addict, what can you learn from
yourself? Won’t you only, recounting your pain, reach for
the needle quicker? So we must look outwards, always, to
learn best and truest — but I will return to that.
Check out that lightning bolt / thunderstorm / palace / kingdom sentence. That says more, with more accuracy and indelibility than I could hope to with 5, 10, 20 runs at writing the same idea. And that’s just one sentence.