Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After

Once again, the United States will be inaugurating as president a candidate who did not receive the majority of the votes cast (commonly referred to as "the popular vote," as though it were a popularity contest). The conservative-dominated Supreme Court, which had the privilege of determining the outcome of the 2000 election, insisted then that our system does not guarantee that all citizens have the right to vote or that all citizens' votes count equally. Since then, the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. There's no question in my mind that the curtailment of the protections inherent in the Voting Rights Act was, a factor in the outcomes of yesterday's general election; it's impossible to say yet just how significant a factor it was in the assignment of Electoral College votes (one of the many elitist institutions built into our "democratic" system). I expect we'll be hearing more about this soon.

Very early this morning, over at The New Yorker, David Remnick, clearly in the throes of the initial shock, wrote:
The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.
I, too, feel sick and flattened. (And also angry.) But to my mind, we've had many sickening events in the history of the United States and liberal democracy, and over my lifetime I've witnessed or experienced a good many of them, some of which have come into my mind today in a sort of physical resonance of memory. Each time I've been through one of these sickening events it has felt as though this country has gone insane. Each time, I've just had to go on. Last night in the small hours I said to Tom and the friends who had come to watch election results come in, "I'm too old for this." Maybe I'd hoped I wouldn't find myself in this place yet again. Going into the election I'd known it would be a long hard struggle if Clinton won, but I hadn't been able then to bring my mind to bear on the long hard slog we'd face if Clinton lost--precisely because I knew it would be as arduous and exhausting as walking through waist-high mud, something that at my age would involve using muscles that were beginning to weaken and melt to flab. Now I have no choice but to let the fact of this defeat sink in--and then to go on, no matter how high or thick the muck.

A variety of explanations for the triumph of the Republicans, who will now control every branch and aspect of the federal government, are in the air. I could probably list a dozen that I've heard or read in the last eighteen hours. You can read a few of them, mostly centered on the gender issue, in a discussion on the Guardian's website: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/us-election-result-misogyny-america-panel-woman. Arwa Mahdawi's commentary particularly moved me:
Trump’s win has trained a spotlight on the extent of the misogyny that runs through America. Importantly, however, it also reveals just how far women’s rights have come; how much has been achieved; how threatened the denizens of a fading America feel. Trump’s victory is the last gasp of a desperate white patriarchy. Clinton may have lost the election but that doesn’t mean women lost on Wednesday morning. Our fight isn’t over.

Ah, but we also need to be careful not to frame Trump’s victory as a case of men versus women. Exit polls show that the majority of white women voted for Trump. It seems that upholding white privilege is a bigger priority for many women in America than protecting legislation that gives them control over their own bodies.
Indeed, if Trump’s win has taught us one thing it’s that we need to stop talking about “women’s rights”. We need to stop pretending that women in America are a homogeneous group with the same privileges and priorities. Feminism is meaningless unless we talk about intersectional feminism. It’s women of colour who should feel the angriest today. It’s women of colour who have been most let down. And it’s women of colour who have the most to lose.
What preoccupies me now, at this moment, is the future ownership of the public sphere.Will the media flip to fawning over the man who can't speak without lying and threatens vengeance on those who take note of this lies, and allow each and every lie to pass without challenge? Will the language of the most blatant, offensive white supremacy become socially acceptable and adopted by the "liberal" media? This occurs to me today because my body and spirit feel, this day after, as it did when the US public sphere went from massively opposing the invasion of Iraq in 1990-91 (with a whopping 90% of the population against it) to celebrating and glorying in the ease with which the US military machine was able to grind down its former ally. US public sentiment is fickle; it always sides with the winner.

I raise this concern not to wallow in despair, though certainly even the most optimistic of us are indeed wallowing today as we reel from a blow we aren't yet able to take in. Rather, I want us, looking to the weeks and months ahead, to do what we can to speak the truth and protect one another from the force of a hatred that will be flowing full-bore through some of the most powerful channels on the planet. Those of us who know how to use words and know how to think past double-speak and dog whistles need to occupy the public sphere to the utmost of our ability. Please, my friends: think, speak, and write. We are not defenseless.    

2 comments:

Ann Hibner Koblitz said...

Nicely done, Timmi! I totally agree that the victory was one for white heteropatriarchy, and that the people who should be most furious are women of color. I had had the (admittedly romantic) notion that white women might evince their hidden hostility toward their misogynist male significant others by quietly voting for Hillary. Clearly, I was wrong. But it's not like Hillary would have been so great, either. As you say-- there is work to be done, and it needs to be at the grassroots/state level anyway. And at the national level-- a Michelle Obama/Jill Stein ticket in 2020?? :-) Regards, Ann

jean leblanc said...

I just happened to start a new poetry blog last week; in the past few days, I find myself writing about how I use poetry to make sense. Only art can save us.