by Bri Castellini
I think as liberals, especially liberals who are well-educated about discourse and rhetoric and identity who could be considered the “intellectual elite”, we often get the idea into our heads that if we just won the argument, those who disagree with us will finally come around. I can cite endless clips from comedy and straightforward news programs alike where a liberal reporter or correspondent interviews people on the street with simple questions designed to make them think about their preconceived notions differently. Like most viewers of these programs, I held my breath waiting for just one interview subject to notice how absurd they’re being. Spoiler alert: it never, ever works. And so we all feel superior and smug and work on new thought experiments to try again. But in watching the endless and yet also far too brief Supreme Court hearings these past few weeks, I remembered that that’s not how it works. It’s not that these powerful men don’t believe Dr. Ford. Even if the FBI investigation had been allowed to run its full course, the decision makers wouldn’t be any more or less convinced. It’s not about belief. They just don’t care.
People who voted for Trump were not unaware of his history, or his hateful rhetoric, or the disgusting way he speaks to and about women. They didn’t care. There are lots of other reasons they voted for him, but it comes down to the fact that they cared about someone with enough boxes checked in favor of their beliefs being in power. And yet during the election liberals pretended that if we could just show those voters what an awful man he was, we could swing them back to reality. But it wasn’t that we just hadn’t showed them the right news clip or the right audio clip or the right densely-cited thesis on all the ways Donald Trump being in power is the most toxic thing we could do to ourselves. They. Don’t. Care.
And that’s terrifying. And makes me, clutching my degrees and my 6 years in competitive public speaking, feel absolutely powerless and unprepared. How do you combat hate if not with logic? How do you convince the hearts and minds of half the voting public that Russia influencing our elections and perpetuating hate crimes at the Mexican border are not “better than having a Democrat in the presidency” without a well reasoned argument?
One of the most interesting and alternatively most upsetting articles I’ve ever read and then kept bookmarked for occasions such as these is the one about Derek Black, a boy raised in white supremacy who over the course of several years was convinced that maybe people of other colors and backgrounds weren’t so bad after all. That article details how a group of Black’s college peers took him under their wing to slowly but surely get him to a place where he wasn’t just convinced that white people weren’t inherently better, but he cared that they weren’t. That’s the interesting part. The upsetting part is that obviously that’s not a replicable strategy for half the voting public. And it’s all well and good to feel like changing one person’s mind is something we should all strive for, that means nothing when half the voting public elected a man who in public stated an alleged child molestor was better for public office than a Democrat.
I don’t have a nuanced take on all this. I don’t have a solution. I do think it’s worth us all recognizing that the better argument doesn’t win. Power does. And I don’t know how to change that. I don’t know how to look someone who doesn’t care about rape culture in the eyes and say anything that will change his (of course it’s a “his”) mind. I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People. I don’t know how to do anything but argue and present arguments and do research and present thought experiments with obvious answers that apparently don’t mean anything.
For whatever it’s worth, the image on this post is one I took when I attended a McCain/Palin rally with a press pass for my High School newspaper. Palin mentioned “Joe The Plumber” 11 more times than she did the economy. What a thing to be nostalgic for.