Tina Fey attempted to bring humor to a nation reeling from a devastating week in Charlottesville with her now-notorious “sheetcake” bit. Some thought it was funny satire, others found it offensively “tone-deaf” – and the think-pieces flew furiously, with battle lines drawn with an unmistakable polarity: you either loved it or you hated it; you either oppose racism or you condone it; you either lift women up or you beat them down.
The opinions were entrenched, the accusations replete with strangely hyperbolic complicity – and once again, the road to progress was paved with good-intentioned hell.
This isn’t terribly surprising, really. We liberals have always prided ourselves on our free exchange of thoughts and ideas – but that craving for self-expression has ushered in an era of deafening personal megaphones and a frenzied penchant for “speaking our truth” that is great for individuals, not so great for consolidating voting blocs.
During the presidential primaries, the intraparty warfare hit a fever pitch. On the Democratic side were two candidates who held similarly progressive views, but had different strategies for implementing policy. On the Republican side was a brazen conman speaking in racist, xenophobic platitudes – and when the Kremlin hacked both parties’ databases, they needed only weaponize the former’s content to achieve their aim of installing Trump as president. It’s quite telling that it was not the side aligned with White Supremacists that was ripe for manipulation, but the one sniping over minutiae.
At the time, I attributed Russia’s success in dividing Sanders and Clinton voters as simply exploiting a rift between the idealist and pragmatic wings of the party. But, in reality, it speaks to the larger self-aggrandizing touting of “specialness” that is, in fact, our political liability – and literal Nazis inhabiting the White House finally elicits condemnation from conservatives, while “sheet-caking” is destined for rancor within the liberal ranks.
While there are certainly conversations to be had over what may (or may not) inhibit social progress, forcing false equivalence between flawed allies and deplorable enemies only gives ammunition to Trump, emboldening he and his similarly cynical-minded conservatives in their drumbeat “slippery slope” chides.
I’m not advocating sacrificing selfdom at the altar of political viability – to be sure, we are all beautiful snowflakes with unique stories to tell. But we will never create the avalanche we profess to want if we can’t get on the same page.