The New York Times recently published a piece of appeasing drivel worthy of inclusion in the Daily Prophet under Dolores Umbridge in its Sunday Review ― a piece titled “Are Liberals Helping Trump?” by Sabrina Tavernise. It concerns the plight of the poor, beleaguered Trump supporter under (metaphorical) attack from all the mean angry liberals doing things like calling out fascism; being upset that human rights, the environment, and democracy are eroded; and protesting these things.
If you don’t remember any articles suggesting that the Tea Party become more moderate or tone it down to reach out to liberals (or that it should, perhaps, stop actually attacking the equal rights of American citizens); or telling conservatives who protested Obama to stop because they were hurting Democrats’ feelings; or asking Republicans ― who, let’s remember, have won the presidential popular vote only once in the past twenty-four years (so basically once in my lifetime) ― ought to tone down their movement to win over moderate liberals instead of becoming more extreme and pushing them left, that’s because there really weren’t any, and certainly not in this accusatory tone.
Because it’s nonsense. Most of the country supports access to abortion, marriage equality, keeping at least the spirit of the ACA, and some gun control. We have a lot of work to do, particularly on race and on trans issues, but the fact that we differ from Republicans is not our main problem. The main problems facing Democrats in the election are internal rifts, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and clarity. Calling neo-Nazis deplorable is not a messaging problem. The fact that so many people did not realize that the ACA and Obamacare are the same thing is a messaging problem. We have to stop letting our opponents define the rhetorical grounds of the argument, because that continues to give them an enormous advantage that isn’t supported by what most Americans actually want or believe.
But my biggest problem isn’t with the article’s main premise. It’s with a particular line of comparison the author uses, which reveals some of what underlies this whole issue, something conservatives have been very successful at propagating: the idea that being against intolerance makes liberals just as intolerant ― in essence, that calling someone racist is as bad as being racist. Our country is, of late, particularly bad at distinguishing the right to freedom of speech, which is fundamental, from the right to consequence-free speech, which does not exist. You cannot insult someone and expect them not to get angry in response.
In writing about the plight of sad Trump supporters, who I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for, Tavernise describes the consequences faced by Bryce Youngquist, a 34 year old tech sales professional from Mountain View, CA, which Tavernise calls “a liberal enclave where admitting you voted for Mr. Trump is a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay.”
A little history lesson for Bryce and Sabrina here: No, it absolutely isn’t. First of all, in the 1950s, sex between persons of the same sex was functionally illegal in many states ― and anti-sodomy laws are still on the books in some, despite the 2003 Supreme Court case, Lawrence vs. Texas, that ruled those laws unconstitutional. Voting for Trump is, while ill-advised, perfectly legal for registered citizens to do. In addition to being arrested and jailed for sodomy, coming out as gay in the 1950s could lead to being institutionalized and forced to undergo conversion and aversion therapy. Renters could be kicked out of their homes (in many states, they still can). People could lose their jobs (in many states, they still can). If they had children, they could lose custody. You would—as many LGBTQ people still do ― lose your family and friends. Brutal beatings and murders of LGBTQ people happened—and still do, especially to trans women of color.
Let’s take a look at the plight of poor Bryce Youngquist, who: “stayed in the closet for months about his support for Mr. Trump. He did not put a bumper sticker on his car, for fear it would be keyed. The only place he felt comfortable wearing his Make America Great Again hat was on a vacation in China. Even dating became difficult. Many people on Tinder have a warning on their profile: “Trump supporters swipe left” — meaning, get lost.”
Mm. Entire months in “the closet.” Didn’t put a bumper sticker on his car. I’m actually also afraid that my car will be keyed ― or run off the road ― because of my Hillary sticker (mostly because it’s rainbow) but I don’t expect Trump supporters to care, and am also slightly more concerned about my and my friends’ rights, so I somehow manage to just go about my daily life nonetheless. Mr. Youngquist only feels comfortable wearing his MAGA hat in China? That’s... an interesting place to feel comfortable making that particular statement, but all right. Is he afraid he’ll be physically attacked for wearing the hat? Is he afraid, as women around the world are on a daily basis, that he’ll be subjected to unsolicited comments about his clothing or insulted? Or does he just think people might give him angry looks? As a woman, I never take it for granted that I can walk down a public street without any of those things happening. When I’m with my girlfriend, the calculation of whether or not it’s safe to hold hands adds some extra fun spice to our day. As for making a political statement ― well, if I choose to wear a political shirt or hat, I do so expecting that it might lead to comment or even confrontation. Making a public statement means that people are going to respond. That’s a choice.
As for Mr. Youngquist’s Tinder woes, you know what makes dating difficult?
When it’s illegal.
you decided that your personal interests trumped the human rights of millions of people, and it is not our job to make you feel comfortable about that."
These comparisons, and this article as a whole, feed into the rather nasty expectation that people who are actually marginalized must accommodate the people who marginalize them lest we be “mean.” I would also suggest that Mr. Youngquist consider the impact of his vote on the women he would like to date, and whether they might perhaps have valid reasons for turning him down. If you voted to send us back to the 1950s, whatever your personal feelings on LGBTQ people, people of color, women, the disabled, etc. ― you decided that your personal interests trumped the human rights of millions of people, and it is not our job to make you feel comfortable about that. Doing so will not help our movement, it will dilute its efficacy.
Appeasing those who put us in this situation isn’t going to get us out or save our rights, let alone increase them. It never has. And with a vice president who is associated with promoting conversion therapy, a Republican party that included such therapy in its platform, and a Congress still considering reintroducing the First Amendment Defense Act that would effectively make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in the name of conservatives’ victim complex, comparing Trump supporters to the people they voted to marginalize is not only factually incorrect but irresponsible.