Progressives Must Stand Our Ground and Show Our Teeth

In November, something broke inside me. In the space of thirty days, the election combined with two other profound personal disappointments which sent me reeling. In hindsight, those three events had a lot in common. They were all about the shattering of illusion – seeing people and situations for who they really are, or what they had become. These experiences hobbled me, showing that my superpower for seeing light in every person and situation isn’t enough for them to shine. They humbled me, showing limits to my ability to change things alone. In November, I lost more of my waning innocence.

Losing innocence can be a good thing; a necessary developmental step in evolution. Conservatives are right to criticize liberals for being too idealistic and naïve at times. We have two profoundly different worldviews: one sees abundance, nurturing and opportunity; the other sees scarcity, hostility, and challenge. Both views have strengths which have been key to our survival as a species and nation, but we have become imbalanced towards the latter.

Generally speaking, people think others are like them. I learned this lesson at 26 when my boyfriend not only cheated on me, he felt justified since he believed I’d been unfaithful. I hadn’t cheated, but I had told him about being in compromising circumstances with an ex lover (hoping to solve the relationship problems this incident uncovered). I realized after his infidelity he never believed I hadn’t cheated, because given similar circumstances he would have cheated on me.

As a straight cis woman, my romantic relationships with men have taught me my hardest lessons about people. I’ve learned the best way to identify men to avoid is to listen closely on the first few dates – and believe them. (Non-sociopaths are surprisingly frank about being unfaithful, irresponsible, controlling or dishonest – most women laugh off these confessions then live to regret it.) I’ve learned the surest way to identify a weak, dishonest or wishy-washy man is to pay attention to his behavior over time – and believe him. I’ve learned that when I talk and talk with my partner yet still cry alone in the bathroom at 3 a.m. over his cruelty, the time for talk has passed. It’s time to set fierce boundaries or leave.

Like a woman to her abusive spouse, it’s time for progressives to stop talking, stand our ground and show our teeth to the right-wing extremists and white supremacists trying to take over our country. We’ve been too nice, and it’s hurting our collective future. When our leaders show us that they’re liars and cheats who neither respect us, nor the values and rules of this nation, we must believe them. When our leaders don’t know, understand or defer to facts, we must believe them. Progressives’ default problem solving tactic is talking things out and trying to understand. But dialogue only works when there is equitable commitment to discovering truth together and taking responsibility for outcomes. When someone demonstrates they aren’t willing, or able, to do both, the time for talk is over.

People think others are like them. People who are manipulative, self-centered, untrustworthy or cruel treat others as if they were, too. That’s why white supremacists fear people of color, misogynists fear women and rich people fear the poor masses. They know they’ve treated us like dirt, and believe that if the power roles were reversed, we’d screw them until eternity – because that’s what they would do. This fear leads to violence – from gaslighting to bloody corpses – as an attempt to avoid this fate through control. Conversely, people who are forthright, generous, trustworthy and kind treat others as if they were, too. When they’re not, tragedy ensues. We may empathize with the pain and trauma that lead the unkind to be that way, but the reasons matter far less than the damage wrought by their behavior.

We must be wiser. We can be shrewd and fierce, yet still have integrity. Progressives renounce judgmentalness, but making a wise, thought-out decision based on actual data isn’t prejudice, it’s discernment. We’re not being melodramatic or imagining things. The fear of the bigots, misogynists, rich, and right-wingers is of an abstract, imagined future. The fear of people of color, women, the poor, immigrants, and Muslims is of the present, factual and daily threat to our very lives and livelihoods.

Continuing to respect someone who disrespects us isn’t noble, it’s foolish. Continuing to trust someone who’s repeatedly lied and violated that trust isn’t virtuous, it’s self-hating and dangerous. Staying silently in intimate relationship with someone who’s demonstrated through behavior – like voting for Trump – what they really think of you, your family, and your values is disingenuous. Inclusion means all people are included, but not all behaviors. Unconditional love for others has nothing to do with where we put our body, and unconditional love for ourselves has everything to do with what we allow in our space. We can do both.

We must stop disrespecting the extreme right and white supremacists by disbelieving their actions and trying to change them. We must stop excusing and condescending to rural and working class Trump voters by saying they didn’t know any better. Despite living in a smaller bubble than “liberal elites”, they are grown adults who made a choice with consequences. We must stop romanticizing the heartland – they are no more American than coastal city dwellers, and they neither speak for the majority nor represent our nation’s future.

We can have integrity, compassion and love without respecting, trusting or deferring to the undeserving. Remember, the fiercest members of the animal kingdom are the mothers – capable of deep tenderness and ferocious protection. Like them, I will not insult or attack unprovoked. But I will yell back. I will grab back. I may even hit back. I will avoid or leave useless conversations and toxic people. I will join the mobilizing millions rising up for mutual dignity, liberty and prosperity. Lives and likelihoods are at stake. It’s time to hold our ground and show our teeth.

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