Donald Trump’s election has sent progressives into a tailspin, and there have been numerous protests against the new president. But not everyone shares the sense of imminent catastrophe. Marches and demonstrations are viewed with cynicism by many, and if those opposed to Trump want to engage with people outside their activist groups, they need to address some critical problems in their movement.
I never expected to hear people sincerely asking if it’s ‘ok to punch a Nazi’, but as this is happening now, then here’s the answer: it’s ok if you’re fighting in World War II.
But nobody’s fighting in World War II. And the people we’ve been advised to punch are not Nazis.
Look at Milo Yiannopolous’ intended audience at UC Berkeley, where protests turned into riots. There’s nothing to suggest that the people assaulted there have any connection with fascism, and the same goes for Milo himself. Some of them stated they were present to show solidarity with the principle of free speech—a principle antithetical to fascism, which actual Nazis would trample under their boots.
But the supporters of free speech were beaten unconscious. By anti-fascists, who then sent out a tweet boasting that they ‘control the streets’. Controlling the streets being, of course, entirely normal and not at all oppressive and authoritarian, right?
There is simply no grey area around the violence issue. If you believe in little details like human rights, democracy, and living in a civil society, then it’s not acceptable to use violence for political ends. And yes, that includes toward actual racists like Richard Spencer.
In fact, it especially includes the worst cases. It’s easy to defend free speech when nobody is saying anything that bothers you, but to keep your cool when baited by truly extreme views shows conviction to your principles.
And as Maajid Nawaz said recently, “violence coupled with a sense of moral righteousness is precisely how terrorists emerge.”
Liberal progressivism has been the dominant political ideology for as long as some voters can remember, and the trend toward globalism has seemed unstoppable.
But it just stopped.
Whether this is a positive or a negative shift depends on your point of view. But here’s the thing, the move toward globalism was a democratic one, and the move away from it is also a democratic one. Underpinning it all is democracy. It would be nonsensical to revolt against the core mechanism that allows us to live peacefully, just because it throws up results you don’t like sometimes. After losing a vote, you pick yourself up, accept that a democratic majority has disagreed with you, and work out where you went wrong.
Alternatively, in the event that a majority has chosen to go against you, you could sweepingly write off the opinions of everyone on the opposing side, and conclude that there’s a problem with the system. But that would be myopic. After all, the system worked just fine when your guy was winning, didn’t it?
So maybe the flaws lie elsewhere. And logic dictates that it’s the losing side which will, by definition, be in need of an overhaul.
This relates back to the first point about punching Nazis. Trump is not Hitler. The revolution will not be televised and neither will the alt-right propelled global apocalypse, because neither is happening any time soon.
People get sick of hearing exaggeration. They tune out. So keep at it with calling people fascists and Nazis, and the only change will be that the words become meaningless. Nobody will care and we’ll be left with some very important language that doesn’t work anymore, because it’s been recklessly misused.
So be precise. Be honest. State the facts as they are and people will keep listening. Contrary to the insults, Trump supporters are open to debate and perfectly willing to listen to opposing points of view.
In fact, some Trump voters don’t particularly like Trump either, but have perfectly coherent arguments as to why he got their support anyway. Talking to people who have differing political views can only be a good thing, so rather than demonizing people, try engaging with them.
Trump isn’t judged by the same standards that Barack Obama was. Among progressives, the bar has been set preposterously low for Obama, who often receives only the gentlest of scrutiny for his time in office. For Trump, on the other hand, there is no bar, as everything he does is deemed inherently barbaric. Obviously, there’s a point in the middle of these two extremes at which we should place a neutral marker.
An example of this bias is when Trump’s first military raid in Yemen was widely reported as having killed up to thirty civilians and a Navy SEAL. This is grueling news which we should all know about. But looking at some reactions to it, you’d have thought that US military action in Yemen had started on the day that Trump took office.
Obama was ordering drone strikes in Yemen for years, with predictably devastating consequences. Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember this generating an uproar among progressives. And that’s because of double standards.
You don’t like a sexist remark Trump made ten years ago in private? That’s understandable, but the reality is that a lot of people will never give it much thought.
You think Trump gives odd, rambling speeches, and is liable to be crass and unprofessional? Ok, I agree. But his weirdness and general demeanor aren’t cause for mass protest.
These aspects of Trump’s strange persona aren’t worth discussing if the purpose is to gain wider support . Neither is it reasonable to simply protest ‘against Trump’.
People care about specific issues, such as the Executive Order on immigration, so be clear about defined grievances, and explain what the alternative might be. Emotion is subjective and mutable, so avoid it and stick to concrete policies. Skip the moral outrage—a lot of people don’t share it—and then we might have a meaningful exchange on our hands.
And keep in mind that constructive discussions involve opposing points of view. If you’re only talking to people who nod their heads and agree, then you’re doing group therapy, not politics.
This post can also be read at The Huffington Post