Shut Up And Joke
SHUT UP AND JOKE
- or -
WHY I LEARNED TO START WORRYING ABOUT MY COUNTRY AGAIN
AND STOP KEEPING QUIET FOR THE STATUS QUO
AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK...
someone close to me will say a variation of this phrase:
"I'm sick and tired of hearing about politics."
I usually nod along and say, 'Yeah, me too,' which they never seem to believe. But it's true. I am sick to death of hearing about politics.
Ever since Donald Trump's surprise victory on November 8th last year, everybody seems to be obsessed with American politics. And not just in the United States either. A quick Google search reveals thousands of news reports, articles, and think-pieces about the current state of the American administration. And I'm sick of it.
Waking up each morning in 2017 is akin to emerging from a long-term coma. Each new day brings a new set of questions: What did I miss overnight? What's happening? Wait, who said THAT?! Frankly, it's exhausting. The sheer pace of news updates and information and opinions is overwhelming, especially in a world that is already very overwhelming. It's enough that in a recent series of interviews conducted by the Associated Press, one Trump supporter is quoted as saying:
“I tuned it out. I didn’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.”
Again, I understand the impulse. I wish I could just tune it out too, but every time I try, I find that I just can't pull myself away. I want nothing more than to wake up in the morning, crack a couple dumb jokes about what's happening in my world, and go about my day. But it's just not that easy.
So I'm writing this. I hope that this page will address a couple lingering questions from my friends and family about why I 'can't just let this go' when it comes to American politics and the state of the world.
Who knows. Maybe along the way I'll convince you to start caring too.
THE WORLD AT LARGE
One of the most important things to remember is that we, the current generation, are living in one of the most important times in all of human history.
We're on the cusp of an incredible amount of progress, from the desire to colonize other planets to constant steps towards cures for horrible diseases. Not to mention the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that shows we may be permanently damaging the planet beyond our capacity to fix it.
In the last hundred years, we've made incredible progress on human rights, while still continuing the fight for race, gender, and religious equality around the world. Meanwhile, we're starting to run low on resources such as food and water around the world, and it doesn't look like we're planning on dying off any time soon. Needless to say, we're an advanced species living in a complicated time.
That's why it's so important that, as we navigate these difficult decisions and situations, we select the people who will best represent our interests. Not our personal interests, necessarily, but the best interests of our nation, our species, and indeed, our planet. Our elected officials are our voice to the world at large, and we need to trust that they're looking out for our best interests. The only way to do that is with accountability -- knowing what's going on, and reacting appropriately to make sure it's in line with what we expect.
THE 'NEW' NORMAL
In political science, there's a term known as the Overton window. The concept itself is simple: in public life, there is a 'window', or frame of reference, that society will see as 'normal' behavior. Over time, the Overton window has a tendency to shift; for instance, the idea of racially segregated bathrooms is inconceivable in 2017, but was a relatively common occurrence in the 1940's. With new behavior, the Overton window shifts on what the public allows and doesn't allow, so it becomes important to monitor societal changes and ideas to ensure that we're shifting the window in a positive, affirming direction.
That's why the election of Donald Trump has been so troublesome for so many Americans. Many of the values held by President Trump and his associates stand in direct opposition to the views held by a large majority of the country.
For instance, Donald Trump himself famously bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy," an act that is legally defined by most other people as sexual assault. He's further been accused of sexual assault, with credible evidence, by no less than 14 women. Forget historical precedent for scumbag philandering Presidents, as many of Trump's apologists will scream -- this is now, not then. In the present day, only one man is President, and he's a sexual predator.
How about his right-hand man in the White House, Steve Bannon? Bannon has famously, on the record, referred to modern day geopolitical events as parallel to a white supremacist novel about the 'eradication of the white race'. He's the former editor of Breitbart, a website with a strong traditional history of racism, even noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hotbed of hate and racism. And, he's a strong supporter of white nationalist and Nazi enthusiast Milo Yiannopoulos.
But let's not stop there! How about Trump's son, who actively and repeatedly carried out Trump campaign outreach to white supremacists? His immigration advocate who ran a 'race purity' group? And of course, the myriad of sins from the modern Republican Party, including their newest senator who went into Election Day charged with assault against a reporter for doing his job?
The problem becomes that, as Richard Nixon once noted, "it's not illegal if the President does it". The idea of America's leadership embodying and condoning explicitly un-American ideas is frightening, and contributes overall to a negative shift in the Overton window. For instance, since Donald Trump's election, we've seen a massive increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. We've seen public school teachers give out ugly, racially offensive awards 'as a joke' to literal children. Hell, we've seen a literal Nazi rally, complete with burning torches and racially charged chants, take place not in the darkness of the back woods or a warehouse, but in suburban America. Two years ago if you had told the average American that their neighbors would gather outside to chant hate speech and wave torches around, they'd think you were crazy. Now it's just another part of the news cycle. And it's not just Americans noticing it. The United States is being discussed all around the world, and not in a good way.
That's why it's important for people to continue to point out the hypocrisy and hate currently festering in America. We, as a nation, need to collectively remind each other that this hyper-offensive, derogatory period in our country's history isn't the new normal: it's an abnormal insult to everything that makes this country great.
THE BRUTAL TRUTH
In honesty, this is a fight that I could walk away from. The current Trump administration doesn't threaten me personally in any way. I'm a white dude, middle class, college educated, and straight. I live in a Republican state that is very friendly towards business rights and less so towards civil rights. Statistically and politically speaking, I'll be just fine. I'm the faceless majority. Nobody's coming for my rights, because there's too many of me.
My friends and neighbors aren't so lucky. From my desk here, I can see the house of my neighbor: a British-born Muslim who told us, immediately after the last Presidential election, that she didn't necessarily feel safe in America any more. The owner of my favorite restaurant, a Sikh, mentioned recently that he's been subject to several pointed questions about his legal status, religion, and patriotism from what I can only assume are ignorant customers who don't realize the difference between Muslims and Sikhs are about 2,347 miles and also literally everything else. I can go on my Facebook feed and find the concerns of several first-generation immigrants who are legal citizens, but whose lives have been complicated by the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has sprung up following the last election.
I can look away, but they can't.
I can ignore the news and pretend everything is fine, but they don't have that luxury.
So I'm choosing not to. I'm choosing to accept the world just as they are: straight on, unflinchingly, and as uncompromisingly as possible.
I remember the America I grew up in. I remember the ideas that I thought made it great. And I believe it's my obligation to keep reminding you of those same things.