I always find it worthwhile to try to understand those with whom I most disagree and to decipher the experiences and psychologies animating their belief systems. It helps me understand why the world is the way it is and why it’s not the way I’d like it to be. And also what I need to address in seeking to transform the world. Transformation tends to begin with understanding others, not just dismissing them.
I’d love to see a world without racism, sexism, or class inequality, without gun violence, with a clean environment, universal health care and more. To me, it’s just obvious such a world would make for a better life.
It’s also obvious this belief isn’t largely shared, at least not by those powers holding the most sway to shape our world. My evidence? The world doesn’t come close to aligning with the vision my belief system projects.
Just enough of the American electorate found Donald Trump’s statements on the Access Hollywood tape tolerable enough that they could still stomach voting for him. It’s hunky dory with them if a man wants to grab a women’s genitals when he pleases.
And a good 40% or more of the population found Trump palatable enough, even likeable, when he declared there were fine people marching in Charlottesville in August 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us” while carrying tiki torches. He continues to have the support of a surprising (at least to me) percentage of Americans, even when his rhetoric triggers mass racist shootings, as it did at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and at a Walmart in El Paso in August 2019 when a gunman admittedly targeted Mexicans and echoed many of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican talking points.
The world for which Trump advocates, one that is racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-worker, pro-pollution, and more, is the world I fear most.
That fear will motivate my vote this November.
I’m guessing a variety of fears swirling among the electorate will motivate their votes well.
An article that I found just recently circulating on social media really helped me understand just how out of touch I am with some pretty powerful beliefs and fears at work in hearts and minds of American voters.
My fear of a violent and inhumane world replete with racism, sexism, and class inequality seems rather foreign to many Americans. They don’t fear such a world at all.
At least Evangelical voters don’t seem to, if we see the former high-profile tele-Evangelist Jim Bakker as any kind of representative.
In any case, as he spelled out his fears in anxiety-ridden tones, it made me aware of the breadth and differences of what people fear in America.
While many of us fear a Trump re-election, the likes of Jim Bakker fear he won’t be re-elected.
Why? Well, let me answer this question in his own words.
Bakker said recently, “Trump must be reelected. God sees we are moving in the right way and returning to the Lord. If the liberals take over, they will destroy all our progress. Before you know it, a transgender will be teaching your son anal sex in high school.”
This statement was eye-opening. I would not in a million years have thought to fear a “transgender” teaching my son anal sex. In fact, I checked my long list of fears, and it wasn’t on there anywhere. Nothing even close.
Well, I do fear laws that that don’t protect the civil rights of transgender people, and I do fear laws that make anal sex a crime.
But obviously this isn’t what Bakker is talking about. Just the opposite.
And upwards of 70% of white evangelical Protestants support Trump, so Bakker is not an outlier among this voting bloc.
What Bakker’s comments made me realize is that that the political conversation in this country doesn’t even have a common or centering subject. It’s not even a real debate.
While many of us are trying to have a conversation about health care, the environment, racial and class inequality, taxation, and so forth, the “other side” isn’t really engaging these issues at all. They are more concerned about who will be teaching their male children about anal sex.
While my initial encounter with Bakker’s fears made me laugh and filled me with a mix of incredulity, horror, and amazement, my second thought was that we progressives seeking a humane political and economic society that distributes resources to meet people’s needs and endows civil rights on all must think about how to change the way we engage in political debate and conversation.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m not comfortable with the view that these voters are beyond engagement. Such a position is no different from Mitt Romney dismissing 47% of the population as unreachable.
What a progressive culture needs to do, I’m suggesting, is find a way to bring these issues and fears about transgender people teaching anal sex in schools to the center of a conversation.
We can talk about health care, the environment, racism, and income inequality all day long and not get heard–because this isn’t what is on the minds of this community of voters.
Maybe the way forward is to think about how to assuage these fears—strange to many of us, I’m sure—without abandoning our principles and without dismissing the other side.
My guess is that many people might be like me in that their list of fears did not have anywhere on it the fear of a “transgender” teaching your son anal sex.
Maybe we are hopelessly divided. I don’t know. But I look at how Americans turned quickly on the issue of marriage equality, and I look at the numbers of Americans supporting recent protests and declaring they’ve had enough of racism in America.
In doing so, I see possibility in addressing America’s fears seriously if we are to bring civil rights to all.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.