Like many people I’ve been deeply disillusioned by the recent election of Trump, as well as the concurrent rise of far right parties in Europe. I might need to read and learn more about populism and demagoguery, but until I do, I’m left with the knowledge and understanding I have, and it leaves me struggling.
You see, I’m a lefty. I believe in secular humanism and an ethos of making the world a better place for all, of redistribution and justice. Core to this belief is the inherent value of all human beings and that in a world awash in riches as ours is, that anyone living in want is unacceptable.
I think I’ve fallen into an intellectual trap wherein I’ve come to see the world like many other lefties, as a simplistic duality with wealthy exploitive overloads at the top and an oppressed majority at the bottom. While in very broad strokes aspects of this is true, there are degrees of oppression, based not just on economics but race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and others. It’s a hierarchy with different people located at various levels depending o these differences, the one commonality being that the top is more or less universally populated by wealthy older white men.
But this vision is crumbling. I’ve read many analyses of the US election and think I have a general idea of why this is happening there and elsewhere. The greatest crisis for me comes from the fact that those I’ve championed in my life –those majority manipulated abused and controlled by the old white guys at the top, are showing damn good reasons why one should not advocate for them.
What does a socialist do when millions of those he has advocated for turn out to b e bunch of racist, misogynist ignorant assholes? You can make a lot of good observations why entire swaths of the population might be disaffected, but when the disaffected choose as a leader such a dangerous, horrible human being as Trump, you have to question the value of promoting the interest of the “masses”. The wealthy powerful, as a collective, have shown very good reason why they should be opposed and their seemingly limitless power curtailed. But for who’s benefit?
One question I never seen asked among those of us who fight power, is what is the value of those whom we are fighting for? We are appealing to a sense of justice of course, but what do you do if you’re fighting for increased welfare and justice for a hateful, violent bigot?
Some will likely respond that access to shelter and food and security are human rights, things we all deserve regardless if we are an asshole or not. But what do you do with the knowledge that without a degree of mediating education, sensitivity, and self-awareness, that a typical undeveloped person might just be an ugly, abusive self-interested bully? What if that is just human nature, the core of who we are?
I’ve known a number of people who became not very nice people on account of past victimization, and not just individuals: look at the ability of the state of Israel to be unmoved by and even inflict enormous suffering on Palestinians, all the while more or less referencing their own victimization in the holocaust. Too often victimization doesn’t teach empathy but a craving for power.
So the masses of people around the world who are feeling challenged and discomforted by changes they don’t understand, by loss of privilege, status and even opportunity, react to others not with a new knowledge of what displacement feels like, but a hatred to those they feel should be blamed for it.
The challenge for someone like me is to try and forget the sheer number of people I’ve met in my life who are very much like Trump, albeit without the economic power. The same hateful ignorant things are spoken in countless bars and coffee shops across the world. I personally live in a world of largely educated progressive Liberals so I don’t usually run into this viewpoint, but I grew up in blue collar culture, was a working man for many years of my life, and know that Trump’s views are legion. The further you go from urban elite centres the more prevalent his views are the norm.
In BC I’ve witnessed time and again while residents have voted in far-right governments, despite the fact that their policies function to favour and enrich the wealthy few at the expense of nearly everyone else. And the most distressing fact is the right uses the most odious tactics of blaming the poor and disadvantaged, and perpetually feed on myth, fear and ignorance. They appeal to stale ideas and illusion rather than facts on the ground, even though those myths only serve to punish those who vote for them. Life gets harder and tougher for everyone but the most powerful, and yet those responsible point elsewhere and say look at that person over there, and the masses willingly comply.
Are those masses we on the left should really be advocating for? They are being oppressed, but they are willingly complying on their oppression through ignorance, stupidity and because they live lives not based on ideas but the darkest of base human nature. What if your typical man on the street really is an asshole at heart? Just because they are part of an oppressed class, does that mean we should ignore such things?
Of course it’s part of a long Christian tradition to help sinners and let god sort it out. That certainly makes things easier, but does that still apply in a secular world? Ironically, it is the Christian right most likely to ignore this core value and set draconian limits and parameters on aid to the needy, based on an extremely dogmatic interpretation of Christian scripture. Is it time for the left to do as well? Should people of conscience fight for the rights of those who hold odious views and actively undermine the rights of others?
I guess the first thing to come to mind is forgiveness, not because an asshole deserves it, but because if one doesn’t forgive people being people, one is likely to become consumed with rage and hate. Hating the hateful helps no one, certainly not oneself.
Maybe in the end what needs to happen is to focus on the good, focus on what you can do, how you can make a positive influence. Arguing with or opposing the bad doesn’t work; in the end you can’t see the difference between you and them.