Sunday, July 2, 2017

Zoe Williams on Rise of Homophobia, Racism, Sexism, and Dim-Witted Nationalism — And the Choice of Affluent Elderly White Voters to Elect Donald Trump

Zoe Williams writes in today's Guardian

Homophobia is on the rise on too many continents for this to be the coincidental ascendance of a few idiosyncratic characters. It comes, as it always does, with racism and sexism, the persecution of refugees and a dim-witted nationalism in which every state looks back to its glorious, exceptional, entirely misremembered past, and seeks to build a future on returning to it. It is no accident that Theresa May, a prime minister who sees dissent as un-British, and Andrea Leadsom, who sees challenge as unpatriotic, should be in government with a party that wants to erode LGBT rights. 
It is no coincidence that this parliament arrives after many months of hypernationalistic political language. There is no rational reason why disapproving of the sexual behaviour of others should go in lockstep with believing your nation to be superior to all others, yet it does. These are the politics of simple answers to complex questions: your life is bad because your nation is floundering; your passion for your flag will make your nation great again; differences cannot be tolerated because difference is disunity. Authoritarians are always with us, but in stable and prosperous times most have the sense to ignore them. It is only in times of hardship that their certainty holds any appeal. 
At the end of this month, it will be 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act received royal assent, and male homosexuality was decriminalised. Half a century has passed, and history is looking less like an arc tending towards justice and more like a series of cycles: from enlightenment and progress, through a crash, war or disaster, back to superstition and authoritarianism. It is a grave mistake to miss the signs, to parry anxieties with confident assumptions that once progress has been made it cannot be unmade. It is myopic to think that Britain is alone in its debased new politics, galvanising to see the patterns in authoritarian politics everywhere. 
Homophobia is nothing but a desire to stamp out otherness; it ends nowhere but in nationalism and control. It is far more significant, and infinitely more costly, than a billion pounds. It is never a quirk, and always a project.

It comes, as it always does, with racism and sexism, the persecution of refugees and a dim-witted nationalism . . . . Homophobia is nothing but a desire to stamp out otherness; it ends nowhere but in nationalism and control. This sounds very right to me. It seems self-evident to me that Zoe Williams' analysis is correct.

As I read it, I think of a reader of this blog with whom I've had a very abortive conversation about his decision to vote for Donald Trump. I wouldn't have known of that decision, except that he sent me an email informing of his decision after I shared here the following tweet, which I have pinned to the top of my Twitter feed:

Because I don't like cutting anyone off, ignoring anyone (I've experienced this far too often as an openly gay man to feel happy doing it to others — though I will decisively cut off trolls who use my blog to taunt and hurl insults and spread disinformation), I emailed this reader of my blog recently to tell him that I haven't been in touch after he wrote me about his decision in the 2016 elections because I am really at a loss for words. I don't know what to say to someone who tells me he voted for Donald Trump because, as he insists, we all know that Hillary Clinton is malicious (the media have told us this) and Trump was the lesser of two evils.  

This reader of my blog is a former Catholic priest who is now married and functioning as a priest in another church. He's up in years. I know from communications he's sent me that he's in touch with a large network of other priests and former priests of his generation. I am grateful to this acquaintance for his generous help with a project of my own, and I do not want to return generosity with hostility.

In response to this acquaintance's communication to me, I asked him how it is that we all know that Hillary is malicious, and what media sources have shown this to us. I suggested in asking this question that he had chosen to believe tripe about Hillary Clinton shopped around by right-wing faux-news outlets. What I didn't say was that I suspect the circle of elderly priests and former priests who are central to his communication network have played a key role in shopping around hateful information about Hillary Clinton, and that a lot of this is plain old misogyny disguised as "information"-sharing.

He responded with an email telling me he did not want Bill Clinton back in the White House, and I fell silent. What could I say — what can I say — really, in response to such nonsense? On the face of it, it's exceptionally demeaning (and, yes, misogynistic) to insinuate that Hillary Clinton would not have stood on her own two feet as president, and that Bill Clinton would have governed on her behalf. (And I'll take the presidency of Bill Clinton in a heartbeat over that of Donald Trump: the lesser of two evils, my eye!)

I also told my correspondent that I hope none of his children or grandchildren turns out to be LGBTQ, because the choice he made in the 2016 elections is going to be radically deleterious for their futures, as it will be radically deleterious for any of his family members who need healthcare coverage they can afford only through the Affordable Care Act.

When I emailed to tell him I truly do not know what to say in response to what he has told me, he replied with an email saying I should have made my views known before the election, since he had little information about Trump to go on other than his debate performance (and that convinced someone that Trump was the lesser of two evils?!). I'm perplexed at that response, since I did post here repeatedly prior to the election about what Donald Trump represented and how a choice to make him the president of the U.S. would be disastrous. 

If this acquaintance read my posting in which I shared the tweet above, then why did he fail to see all those postings I made about Trump prior to the election, I ask myself? His email also tells me that, in his view, if Hillary had been elected and Bill Clinton had been the éminence grise behind Hillary's throne, he would have caused another financial crisis.

Correct me if I'm wrong: the last big financial crisis our nation had was not under Bill Clinton but under the Republican president George W. Bush. It's no secret that the Republican party is committed above all to lowering taxes for the benefit of wealthy elites. This is the motivating force of everything that party does. It's also no secret that this drive to benefit the super-rich at the expense of everyone else wreaks economic havoc in societies that move in this direction.

This acquaintance who reads my blog lives in Michigan. When I read his last email, I thought immediately of the article that Susan Shapiro published in Salon right after the 2016 elections, recounting her conversations with her parents in Michigan who voted for Donald Trump, and who refused to discuss their decision with her. Though, as Jews, they had strong reason to take a critical stance about Donald Trump, her article implies, they chose to vote for Trump because, well, Fox News. "The media." Hillary is evil. The economy will crash if Hillary is elected.

And here's what I hear when I listen to Susan Shapiro's report about her parents, who live in the same state in which my acquaintance lives and who are, I suspect, of the same generation as his; I hear the same thing in his statements to me about his choice to vote for Trump that I hear in Susan Shapiro's report about her parents' choice: 

We prefer the kind of world Donald Trump represents. It's our world. It's the world in which we grew up. It's a world in which black folks knew their place. It's a world in which women did not aspire to be president. It's a world in which LGBTQ people were not clamoring for "rights."

We're going to wrap all of those preferences up in a spurious argument that the economy would have crashed if Hillary Clinton was elected. And we're going to call our choice to vote for Donald Trump a choice for the lesser of two evils that we made on behalf of our children and grandchildren, because we could not imagine a world in which someone like Hillary Clinton would become president — and were jarred by a world in which someone like Barack Obama became president.

I truly don't know what to say to such blindness and self-deception, to such adamant refusal to understand that one has made a horrendous choice on behalf of one's children and grandchildren, which will weigh heavily on their shoulders for years to come. Because one could not imagine a world different from the kind of world in which one feels comfortable oneself, even if that world is passing away and should pass away, insofar as it gave unmerited power and privilege to white people and heterosexual people and people with money and access to power and privilege . . . .

I could talk until I was blue in the face — I did talk till I was blue in the face — about all of these matters, and especially how a decision to vote for Donald Trump would have radically deleterious consequences for the lives of people's LGBTQ family members and friends, and some folks would not have heard what I said. Because they did not intend to hear.

(Thanks to Jim McCrea for recommending Zoe Williams' article to me.)

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