There’s an amazing film by the brilliant Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski called BLIND CHANCE. BLIND CHANCE was the film that inspired the lesser-but-still-interesting film, SLIDING DOORS. The difference between the two was that Kieślowski’s cinematic meditation focused on political ideals and personal happiness and how they might change based on different sets of experiences. BLIND CHANCE explored several different possibilities of one man’s life when chance alterations are introduced, the different paths and belief systems that unfold and are adopted, ways of seeing and interpreting the world, that can be contained in the same person based not just on choice, but on chance.
There but for the grace of god, some might say.
For me, a threat to both our country and our world even greater than Donald Trump is that of intolerance and limited perspective in any form. From wherever it derives and however it manifests. Bigotry, rage, fear, shaming, demonizing, condescension, devaluing, blaming. These are greater threats for me because I believe they are the very things that serve to create and legitimize men who think and act like Donald Trump and the people who respond positively to him. I would add to that horrible picture a political system that favors and rewards corporations over people and places financial success and gain over humanitarian causes and concerns. Trump is not an aberration. He is a culmination.
I, like many liberals, want to see Hillary Clinton win this election so that Donald Trump doesn’t become our next president. Unlike some, I do not share many of Clinton’s voting choices or her approach to governing. I cannot see into her heart, but I am able to give her the benefit of the doubt that she does come from a good place and a desire to make life better for most people. It’s not her motivation that concerns me most. It’s that I believe she is mired in a style of politicking – the one she and her husband helped solidify into the Democratic Party – that favors a particular relationship with corporations, conglomerates and banks, the big-moneyed powers in our country. This is matched by an equal and active cynicism of the kind of Progressive approaches that I deeply believe are not only possible, but crucial to changing not just the course, but the mindset of this country.
From the tapes of Clinton’s speech at a Virginia fundraiser hosted by former U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Beatrice Welters, and her husband Anthony Welters, the executive chairman of an investment consulting firm founded by former Clinton aide Cheryl Mills:
“There’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel. So as a friend of mine said the other day, I am occupying from the center-left to the center-right. And I don’t have much company there. Because it is difficult when you’re running to be president, and you understand how hard the job is — I don’t want to overpromise. I don’t want to tell people things that I know we cannot do.”
I have no issues with Hillary or anyone else embracing this belief or approach or favoring the center-left, center-right position in this election. I just don’t share it. And Hillary has been – and there are traces of it above – somewhat dismissive and condescending of Progressive beliefs (“you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means.”). But I understand that those beliefs do not match her own personal beliefs and experiences and are not outcomes or actions she believes are possible.
Also from the same recording of Hillary’s speech in Virginia in addressing the subject of Progressivism and Millenials:
“I think we should all be really understanding… and should try to do the best we can not to be, you know, a wet blanket on idealism. We want people to be idealistic. We want them to set big goals. But to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.”
That’s a fair assessment. However, I also believe it is a very big part of the many problems we face today. We have, over time and in my opinion, exchanged our actual goals for what we believe or are told is possible. Our goals themselves have been diminished and painted as impossible and unrealistic and so we’ve actively lowered the bar on what we can achieve before we even try and achieve it. We now aim for less. Our goals are less. And in the end, we settle for even less than that! All because we are being asked to “take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.” But they are not bigger goals.
What is difficult and frustrating for many who do still maintain a deep belief in the attainment of truly Progressive goals, is that as soon as Bernie Sanders became a serious contender in her eyes (and the DNC’s), Hillary and many of her most avid supporters started presenting her as also being a deeply Progressive candidate.
She is not. By her own admission.
But that doesn’t mean she is bad or wrong. But there are many who disagree and see her approach and vision for the future as actively keeping our country mired in beliefs and actions that we think actually help perpetuate the social and political landscape that helped pave the way for the type of disenfranchisement and sense of powerlessness that created an opening for someone like Donald Trump to be seen by many as a solution to our problems. I also think she is a genuine foreign policy danger and I do not agree with many of her proposed economic and environmental approaches. I believe she represents a system that does not work and that has become outdated and is in dire need of deep reevaluation; a political belief system that has helped move the Democratic Party away from many of the beliefs and approaches that once defined it.
In the same breath, I can shift my focus and see how and why others would see Hillary differently, would embrace her policies, believe they are the best path forward, the sensible path forward, and would completely place their faith in her. It’s not that big a leap. It’s perspective. Personal experience. Personal evaluation. And I genuinely respect those who see her this way, those for whom her words and actions resonate. There is no treasonous action in having different political points of view or beliefs.
In much the same way, I can shift my perspective to see why Trump-Supporters see Trump the way they do. For example, I watched the first presidential debate the other night and saw Trump as a selfish, childish, petulant, moronic, self-destructive, egomaniacal man-child with no ability to properly govern himself, no less a country. But… with a shift in perspective, I can also see how people would walk away from that debate believing he kicked Hillary’s ass and didn’t let her get away with her usual bullshit and told it like it is. As Michael Moore tweeted mid-debate, “If you’re watching this in your blue bubble u probably have no idea how this is playing in the living rooms & kitchenettes of middle America.” Indeed.
I believe the only way to connect, communicate and begin to understand Trump-supporters, is to be able to step back for a moment, recognize them as human beings in an emotionally and politically complex environment, and try and understand what it is they see and why it effects them. I can do that and still vigorously disagree with them. Even be deeply concerned by them. But if I can’t even see them, if I am left with nothing but utter confusion and contempt, then I will never be able to help change anything or anyone. I will be limited by my own inability to empathize, to see beyond myself.
Many actors – the best of them, anyway – should be skilled and studied at stepping into other peoples shoes, of seeing themselves in those shoes. Not to mimic the actions of other people, but to emotionally embody the space they are in and to recognize the parts of themselves that are similar, to empathize, even if those actions manifest differently in us. Again, much like the lead character in Kieślowski’s BLIND CHANCE is unwittingly forced to do.
It has to be recognized and acknowledged that Hillary chose to return to courting the center-left, center-right after Bernie Sanders was out of the picture. Even though, as she describes herself “I don’t have much company there.” That’s not where the bulk of voters are. She chose not to embrace the already excited and motivated group of Progressive and Independent voters Bernie Sanders had rallied and was openly asking to back Hillary. I can admire her choice to go with what she believes, even if I disagree with the direction it would take the country. But she also chose to do so at the risk of alienating all of those excited voters – many of whom had never been motivated to vote before – and at the risk of not garnering enough votes to beat Trump.
The same goes for people who believe in Hillary and share the direction she wants to take this country. They chose to vote for her even though Bernie Sanders was consistently polled as being the candidate more likely to beat Trump. And by a pretty wide margin. I’m not castigating anyone for voting their beliefs or for the candidate they most believe in. Quite the contrary. I would have done the same. But it needs to be stated that doing so was more important in that moment than defeating Donald Trump. Now that we’re in a situation where Hillary is losing ground to Trump, people are pointing fingers of disdain and resentment and intolerance at those who are struggling to cast their vote for someone they actively believe will take the country into a direction they don’t believe is best. Yes, better than Trump, but where was that logic and insistence from Hillary and other voters earlier when they were making their choices? We all need to take responsibility here and recognize that we’re not coming from such different places or struggling with such different choices. It’s not Bernie-supporters and Independents who created the scenario we’re in. We all did. Together.
From where I stand, it would be far more effective to insist Hillary return to courting Progressives and Independents – which is not a lonely place – than continue courting the center-left, center-right in this final month. Berating and alienating Progressive and Independent voters en masse is a choice that almost ensures Hillary doesn’t get as many votes. If keeping Trump out of the White House is the most important goal, showing intolerance for other voters is not the way to do that. Again, I understand the frustration and disappointment and outright fear that we’re all feeling at this juncture. It’s real. For all of us. But how we respond and act to that is what will make the difference. Finding someone else to blame and not taking responsibility will not. In fact, it may well set us up to repeat this scenario in 2020.
Which leads me to the point of this blog post. I’ve witnessed an enormous amount of shaming, belittling, name-calling, rage, intolerance and devaluing coming from some of Hillary Clinton’s most avid supporters. Don’t misunderstand me, I have also seen immense tolerance and understanding and thoughtful frustration and a desire to communicate from Hillary-supporters. And as someone for whom Bernie Sanders resonated and matched many of my own personal and political beliefs, I know that there are many Bernie-supporters out there who display the same level of intolerance and rage toward Hillary-supporters that I described above.
No “side” is immune to this reaction.
I believe, no matter what side it is on and no matter who it is directed toward, intolerance is a deeply destructive element.
Love Trumps Hate.
I see that bumper sticker and Facebook meme posted a lot. And yet there is so much hate on display from all sides, not just Trump’s. There’s a danger in seeing oneself as being on the “righteous” side. I believe many liberals and Democrats have a hard time seeing themselves as intolerant or bigoted simply because they are on the side that preaches tolerance and fairness and equality. But that does not mean they live it.
Last week on Real Time With Bill Maher, he and his guests displayed what I found to be a shocking level of disrespect, condescension, devaluing and complete intolerance of the views of one man – a Republican – who could not currently bring himself to vote for Trump OR Hillary. He displayed a respectful desire to try and articulate his experience. But no one was interested in even listening. They didn’t want to understand. Their only goal was to diminish his perspective and experience and treat him like a spoiled child who needed to be both scolded and publicly shamed. There was zero tolerance for any view but their own. Ironically, that comes dangerously close to the definition of bigotry, something we like to reserve for Trump-supporters and neo-nazis, and would be downright indignant at the mere suggestions that we, too, may engage in such deplorable actions.
So let’s shift perspectives here again and take a look at a result-oriented approach. This is an emotional election in a very polarized nation. We’re not just polarized across party lines, but within parties as well. If your goal is to get more people to vote for Hillary, then it is crucial to reign in your emotional reactions enough to be able to genuinely place yourself in another’s shoes and to – as a human being – understand and not delegitimize their perspective and experience. You don’t have to agree with it or like it. You can even be concerned by it. I can tell you as someone who has struggled to vote for Hillary this election, that one of the most profound difficulties I’ve had in doing so has come from those that have directed unbridled rage and degrading, intolerant accusations and hostility at me. Not only because it’s hurtful or has come from some friends that have known me for decades and I would have hoped knew me better, but because that response cuts away at my belief that we will ever change what I believe is destructive about our political and social system, that we will not be able to overcome such immense obstacles as hate and blame to find our way beyond the problems I believe we face.
The only way I can be okay voting for a candidate I believe will help either set us back or keep us mired in a political system that I see as a failed one that ultimately paves the way for and aids in creating openings for men like Donald Trump, is to offer her my vote while at the same time being openly critical of those things I passionately believe will hurt us. You don’t have to agree or share my political beliefs or interpretations. But if you are coming from the perspective that yours are right and mine are wrong, that the way you see Hillary and her policies are the clear truth and not an interpretation or a perspective, then you will probably never reach anyone who might one day have changed their perspective. And you probably won’t be open to allowing yours to change either. In doing so, you erect a wall to keep yourself in one place and others on the other side. It may not be a physical wall like the one Trump promises to keep out people of color, but it is nonetheless a wall, only it is meant to keep out other perspectives, other points of view. To me, it is no less dangerous.
For those who can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, or those like myself that will do it, but will struggle internally while doing so, there is a very real danger in placing your vote toward someone you don’t believe in. It goes beyond keeping Trump out. It has to do with losing one’s voice about our deepest passions and concerns. It’s about the message we send with our votes, how they are interpreted and what actions result from them. Remember how awful, how repugnant it felt when George W. Bush was re-elected and insisted he had been given a mandate from the people? My vote doesn’t come with an attached message for Hillary or anyone else to read that states, “I don’t believe in or support many of your policies and only voted for you to keep Trump out.” We show our support through our vote. But if my vote goes toward strengthening the belief that this is the direction I want to see our country go, that these are the actions and policies I want to support and urge, then I am genuinely going to have a struggle of conscience. Yes, even with Trump in the picture. He is not the be all and end all result of this election. My vote toward Hillary goes a long way toward strengthening, even validating many of the DNC’s actions that I find abhorrent. It also goes a long way to strengthening the hold that both the DNC and the RNC has over the entire election process and their ability to invalidate and suppress Third Party options in our political system. For me, that’s huge. It’s devastating. And to know I aided in that, even to stop Trump… Yes, that is difficult. Yes, it preys on my conscience. But if you can’t see past the fear of Trump to take in that there is more to the picture than just him, that there are other valid perspectives and experiences, then there’s a good chance you might end up alienating those very people whose votes you need to actually defeat Trump.
There is a little over a month to aid voters who are struggling with their consciences by not diminishing that struggle simply because it is not yours, and assuring them that there is and will always be a place for their voices and beliefs after the election. That is not pandering or placating, that is respecting and understanding.
However, if you choose to call them insane, selfish, childish, disillusioned, misogynistic or lacking in some basic understanding of the actual political process due to being innately moronic, instead of recognizing them as passionate liberal advocates for what they believe, then I promise you that you will have lost more votes for Hillary Clinton this election than any Trump-supporter or anti-Hillary person ever could. And right now with the polls placing the candidates so close and both still polling as unlikeable by a large segment of the voting population, this is the time to look closely at both the approach and psychology of our actions.
There was what I found to be a fascinating and insightful discussion on why some Hillary-supporters are attacking and actively alienating the very same voters they should be courting. The discussion took place on the Katie Halper show between Katie, Glenn Greenwald, and Gabe Pacheco. It spoke deeply to my personal experience and frustrations and, I believe, paints an accurate picture of what many are struggling with and trying to understand and overcome.
Sadly, in such an environment as the one described above, there is zero reason to believe that my beliefs will be tolerated and not directly attacked and dismissed after the election when it will be most important to fight for and voice what I and others so passionately believe. Even with my vote cast for Hillary, I still have friends who openly berate me and accuse me of being a misogynist or of being ignorant because Hillary doesn’t fit my definition of “progressive” or that I see her as being hawkish on foreign policy or not strong enough on environmental issues. The same name-calling and condescension awaits me on the other side of the election. Along with a complete intolerance and active devalueing and dismissal of and direct attack against my views. And it doesn’t stop there. That intolerance is in danger of creating even less support around Hillary Clinton over the next four years from all those who are struggling and believe something different from those who wholly embrace and believe in Hillary and, by the time she is up for re-election, she may well have even less support – and more vigorous dislike and resentment – than exists today. That same intolerance may force another Republican candidate as crazy or even crazier than Trump to gain even greater power in those four years. So, we risk dangerously diminishing support for Hillary’s re-election while simultaneously creating another vacuum for an enigmatic egomaniac to fill. The odds of her winning that time around could very well be damaged to the point of no return. There is more at stake here than just Donald Trump. Our actions have long-term repercussions, too.
Again, Trump is not an aberration. He is a culmination. Ask yourself, What do I want to build? Where do I want us to be in four years? What role do I want to play in that coming to fruition? Or am I too committed to the rage and frustration and fear I feel to move past it? And no, I don’t just ask that of others. I ask it of myself every single day. And on some days, I do better with it than on others. But I am committed to doing better. To quote a cliche, “to be the change I want to see.”