Like a lot of people on the left* , I am fucking angry right now. A judge who is clearly partisan, a proven liar, and temperamentally unfit for high office, has nonetheless ascended to a position of great power. His appointment shifts the political alignment of the Supreme Court for decades to come. As of Saturday, one of the justices on the Supreme Court believes that presidents should not face civil or criminal prosecutions while in office. For someone of my political beliefs, this is a disaster.
There are already many, many think pieces about misogyny and the end of America as we know it. There will be many more. There are protests in the street. There are calls for impeachment of both Trump and Kavanaugh.
All of this is both natural and understandable. Anger is a stage of grief. We do not, however, have time to indulge in anger for long. Outrage like this, no matter how justified, is a kind of protection against reality. Not a very good one–no good protections remain to us–but a way to substitute helplessness with the more pleasant sensation of rage. And while communal expressions of rage help us feel less alone, it also reinforces a dangerous echo chamber. We get the sense that the vast majority is on our side. That Kavanaugh’s confirmation happened against our will.
The above statement, which I’ve seen shared on several leftist pages in the past 48 hours, has an obvious problem–not everyone represented by a Republican senator is a Republican, not everyone represented by a Democratic senator is a Democrat. If we’re going down this road it makes more sense to divide America using the Trump/Hillary vote percentage and extrapolate from there. 46.1% of voters voted for Trump. Assuming that this percentage accurately reflects the sentiment of non-voters, that’s 150.1 million.
It doesn’t really matter. Take either number and really let yourself feel the full force of its meaning. A LOT of Americans wanted this. Half of America, give or take a few million. On Saturday, hundreds of millions of people celebrated what they perceive as a just and obvious victory for truth despite a politically-motivated attempt at character assassination of an innocent and admirable man.**
I’m not telling you what to do with this information. I don’t know myself, anymore. What I do know is that these people are not going away. They are here, in America, living where you live. A Blue Wave in November won’t get rid of these people, nor will it make their opinions irrelevant. They are a large and important voting block. They are here to stay.
Dismiss this point as centrism at your own peril. I’m not arguing that you should care about these people from a moral perspective (though there’s an argument for that). I’m arguing that you have to care about them because they are here. Any plan you make must take these hundreds of millions of people into account.
America–split roughly in half–occupies two different realities that overlap geographically. Each side believes the other side is actively attempting to dismantle America, and they’re both right. We are all trying to dismantle the things that the other side truly believes lie at the heart of this nation. America is locked in a battle for its soul and its future. At the moment, that battle is largely metaphorical. If we keep travelling down this road, it’s going to get literal within the next few years.
If you think it’s time for that literal battle, start thinking about ways to win it and where you want the borders drawn.
If you think we still have time for dialogue–and I guess I must, if I’m still writing–if you think we can still win hearts and mind, then we have to change our tactics considerably. What we are doing right now is not working.
How Could This Happen
The Left is operating at a serious and fundamental disadvantage in that their vision of the world is far less pleasant than the world of the right. As someone who’s lived in both worlds and actively stays in contact with the one they left, I can tell you which side feels better.
The conservative world appeals to more than old white men. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 46% of white women believe Blasey Ford and 43% believe Kavanaugh. With margin of error, this is a fairly even split.
This female support of Kavanaugh is not begrudging support of the party line. It is passionate and deep-rooted. An Atlantic article describes the reaction of some of these women conservatives. Their support is not reluctantly partisan, but highly passionate and emotionally charged. “I was screaming at the TV.” Crying. These are strong emotional reactions, even for people who are very political.
This isn’t as shocking as it seems.
The far left has taken these statistics and reactions as a sign of white women supporting white supremacy out of selfish interests. They are at least slightly more correct than the majority of liberals, who often seem to perceive women as a block of innately virtuous and supportive feminists. But there’s a lot going on here–far more than a cold calculation of the benefits of our current system for white women. It’s an investment in patriarchy, but the reasons for that investment are complicated and go beyond material and systemic gain.
If you could choose between a world where people who went to Yale and wield tremendous power are just and kind and couldn’t possibly do this, and a world in which Ford and her weakness and her trembling and her faulty, traumatized memories are correct–well, I know which world is more appealing to me as a woman.
Ford’s testimony attacks fundamental elements of female identity. If she is telling the truth, it means we live with and among predators. It means we are all potential victims: it can happen to anyone. Should it happen to us, and should we come forward, everyone we know will call us horrible things. We will be laughed at, mocked, outcast. To accept this world is to accept a fundamental powerlessness in society as it stands today, especially for women in conservative communities.
I already live in that world and I fucking hate it. I didn’t always live here. It was much nicer to believe that the reason I haven’t been raped is because of the way I dress and act, that most women are lying. I actively miss that world. I understand why women want to stay there.
White men don’t want to believe it either. A lot of ink has been spilled over the identity-threatening implication that, if Kavanaugh’s high school hijinks are predatory, a lot of men are predators–if not you, then someone you know. But there’s more identity than this at stake here.
Consider the defense Kavanaugh offered, the one so many people on the right found compelling. Kavanaugh worked hard. He accomplished great things. He went to Yale. He’s had an illustrious career. No one who has been rewarded so richly by the system could possibly be a sexual predator or a frat boy drunkard.
Once again, two worlds are on offer, one far more pleasant than the other. In the Leftist version, people like the drunken idiot from your high school can and do ascend to positions of dazzling power for reasons that have more to do with birth and connections than ability and virtue. The system does not reward merit: those at the top may not deserve it, those who struggle to eat and live may not deserve it either. There is no justice on this earth, and–bad news–no justice when you die either. God is dead. Everything is awful.
Contrast this bleak outlook with the world of the Right, in which those in control obtained their position by virtue of exemplary conduct and intelligence. Under this worldview, your success bestows virtue on you. After all, if you were a bad person, you wouldn’t be making six figures. Wouldn’t have a mortgage or a job. Even if you are failing in some way, there’s still an appeal in the idea that the world is fundamentally just as long as no one actively works to create injustice. If you are a good person, you clearly do not deserve your low position in life. The obvious conclusion is that someone stole your success from you. As discussed earlier, anger feels better than helplessness. It’s both easier and more pleasant to blame the libs than to believe the whole system broken from top to bottom.
The world is ordered. If it’s disordered, it’s only because liberals keep fucking with the way things are supposed to be with their welfare state and yammerings about social justice. If things are going well, it’s because you’re a better person than everyone below you. If things are going badly, it’s because someone stole your success from you.
I wish that ordered and just world existed. I wish Kavanaugh had unimpeachable character because he went to Yale and had a successful career on the bench. To stop believing these things is to embrace a lifetime of suffering and late-night meltdowns.
The person selling french fries will always have an easier time than the person selling kale. The left needs to realize this and act accordingly.
Be Here Now
As things spiral out of control–as Kavanaugh ascends to the Supreme Court, as the administration moves hundreds of children to tent cities in the Texas desert and fails to unite children with their parents, as Mueller continues to indict high-ranking members of the Trump administration while Trump himself blames China for election interference, as we grow used to an atmosphere in which the President routinely lies about facts of record and a news cycle that never fucking stops…it’s hard to know what to do.
We live in dangerous times. The Supreme Court has a clear conservative majority, and will for the foreseeable future. In the short term, this means a lack of oversight over Donald Trump and his excesses. Long-term, this means the erosion of women’s reproductive health and the impossibility of meaningful police or criminal reform. It certainly means less restraint on crony capitalism. It probably means a continuation and expansion of our current immigration policies.
Half of America is excited about these things.
It has never been more important to be here now. To see what’s there. To stop screaming into the void and hoping that a liberal version of sanity will return. It won’t. Not without work that becomes increasingly difficult with every polarizing day that passes.
* Not everyone on the “right” believes Kavanaugh ought to be confirmed, or believes exactly what I describe later on in this article. I know a lot of libertarians who do not, for example. Nonetheless, whether or not one believes Kavanaugh appears to be largely a matter of which side of the aisle you align with. For the rest of this article I’ll be talking about things in those terms. If you’re an exception to statistics, don’t take it personally. Back to article
** The decision to bring forward Blasey-Ford, Ramirez, and Sweatnik was obviously a political one. That doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do, nor does it render the testimony of these women irrelevant. Kavanaugh’s response is certainly relevant. Everything that happens in the halls of government–and a great deal that happens beyond it–is political. Each party uses any advantage they can find to gain the upper hand. Of course this was political. So what? Back to article