I am defending my personhood. You are trying to map your vision of personhood onto the rest of us.
In the wake of the 2016 election, I and many of my leftist friends have taken to the streets, the airwaves, the media, and the Internet to express our dismay. Many of us are bewildered. Lots of us are angry. And some of us are terrified. Hillary Clinton has won the popular election by over two million votes, but Donald Trump’s victory in the antiquated electoral college has saddled us, and the world, with a President that the American majority rejected. More to the point, Trump’s campaign platform—based in racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, jingoism, classism, fear-mongering, religious intolerance, ableism, and outright lies—contradicts alleged American valuations of life, liberty, and equality.
So much about this election does not make sense: poor and middle-class Americans voting for a bankruptcy artist who believes in trickle-down economics, which has never worked for anyone but the rich; evangelicals praising Jesus while voting for a bigoted, alleged sexual predator who would neither repudiate the Ku Klux Klan’s endorsement nor admit that casually assaulting women does not equate to harmless locker-room behavior; white women voting in droves for a man who objectifies them, and on and on.
None of this even touches on Trump’s pick of “A Funeral for Every Miscarried Fetus and Conversion Therapy for Every LGBTQ Person” Mike Pence for Vice-President, or choosing white supremacists for key positions, or all the obstructionist, reactionary ideologues who won or maintained their congressional seats at a time when individual rights to live freely and safely are under serious attack.
On the left, we are speaking out against and protesting this incoming administration’s policies. We are openly questioning the critical thinking abilities and motivations of those who voted for Trump and his ilk. And many of us are no longer concerned with using the most conciliatory language. We are giving voice to our rage. We are standing up aggressively to the tyranny of bigotry and the ideologies of domination and marginalization. We aren’t going to stop until this country lives up to its own ideals.
One problem with being an angry leftist, though, is that so many of our fellow citizens do not think such a creature exists in nature. “I thought you liberals were supposed to be tolerant,” they say, “but you’re only tolerant when people already agree with you. You can’t handle it when people think differently than you.”
This is nonsense of the highest order.
To be fair, the American Left has its share of tunnel-visioned jerks. Every group does. Leftist hardliners reject opposing ideas out of hand, just like right-wing and centrist hardliners do. Leftist extremists—the kind of person who would, for instance, injure or kill loggers in order to stop clear-cutting—are just as bad as any other kind.
However, this idea that leftists must give every horrific idea and every Neo-Fascist/Neo-Conservative/“Alt-Right” lunatic as much respect as we show to progressive actions and good people is reductive and silly.
Whether you call yourself a general leftist, a liberal, or a progressive, you are not required to be nice to everyone always. You are not required to pretend that bigoted positions are worthy of respect. You are not required to let anyone live in their protective bubbles, where they can safely assume that their votes have no consequences on real people’s lives. You are not required to be silent or passive. You are not required to be anyone’s doormat.
I would argue, in fact, that you are required to stand up. To march. To protest. To write letters and make phone calls. To donate your time, energy, and money. To use your online platforms, including social media, to make your voice heard and your positions clear. To band together in love and peace and fellowship and, yes, anger and sadness and bewilderment. You can choose your tone, your mode of expression, your level of willingness to engage with those who want your silence.
I reject the idea that all people who voted for Trump did so out of ignorance or stupidity. Some of his supporters are undoubtedly ignorant or stupid, but we should not write off the whole of middle America so easily. Something else is going on, and leftists should assume some of the responsibility for figuring out what it is. Some people voted for this man without a conscious hateful thought in their heads. For whatever reason, he offered them something valuable enough that they could overlook his bigotry. Still others voted for him because of his bigotry.
For me, though, the “why” doesn’t really matter anymore. I am eliminating Trump supporters from my life, not because they disagreed with me on one election, but because they have shown me how little they value me. We are not talking about a disagreement over infrastructure budgeting. We are talking about condoning, or at least ignoring, hatred. By voting for this man, Trump supporters have clearly said that they support or can live with my oppression.
They cannot claim ignorance. Trump showed us exactly who he is throughout the election cycle. He supported so many hateful positions and said so many horrible things about so many people that I seriously wondered if he was trying to lose. And yet 62 million people voted for him.
I take that personally.
So, if you encounter me on the street or seek me out online and try to explain why I should be fine with a Trump administration and how I am simply throwing a hissy fit because I did not get my way, do not expect me to thank you for it. Do not expect me to let you live in that bubble where you can vote for this man and still believe you are a good person who would never hurt anyone. You are hurting people. Millions of them.
No leftist posited that grabbing women’s genitalia is just good fun or that taking away their reproductive rights is moral. No leftist suggested or supported a Muslim ban and/or registry. No leftist suggested that Mexicans are rapists and murderers or that long-established families should be broken up. No leftist suggested that differently abled people are funny or that “the blacks” have nothing to lose. No leftist supported conversion therapy or the elimination of LGBTQ civil rights.
Trump supports all of that. If you voted for him, you voted for his baggage. When people respond negatively, even aggressively, to such attempts at marginalization, they are not indulging in hate. They are, in fact, resisting it—not just for themselves, but for everyone affected.
So, yes, I am angry, and I am resisting, and I am not always nice. But my resistance is not the same as your hate. I am defending my personhood. You are trying to map your vision of personhood onto the rest of us. We will not stand for it.
Brett Riley is the Pushcart-nominated author of The Subtle Dance of Impulse and Light (Ink Brush Press). His work has appeared in journals such as Solstice, Folio, The Wisconsin Review, Red Rock Review, The Evansville Review, and many others. My feature-length screenplay, Candy’s First Kiss, has placed in five screenwriting contests.