Something is bothering me.
Well, lots of things are bothering me, but there is something very specific about the way we are addressing political issues that is bothering me.
It’s bothering me immensely, actually.
We are, I think more than I’ve noticed ever before, dividing into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Not in the ever-existing Conservative vs Liberal or Big Government vs Small or Blue vs Red (which implies quite different things in the UK and the US, where in one place Red is Blue and Blue is Red, yet it’s still always the versus that gets us).
No, this is a different sort of us and them.
This is the us and them of the media and of education and of locale and of real life.
This is the us and them in which people who for all logical arguments should be choosing one side are choosing the other.
Bernie saw this, no doubt, and tried to use it as a force for good.
Unfortunately, the forces of good often lose out and the winners appear to be coming from a darker place.
In the UK, we stood by as Farage and the Leave campaign used illogical and inaccurate arguments to win ‘them’ over. In the US, Trump is doing the same.
But the problem isn’t, in fact, just Farage and Trump. The problem is also us.
Because we are all too willing to lump those drinking the Kool-Aid, buying the snake oil, swallowing this shit as ‘they’.
We’ve done this to death on the UK side. We’ve had the discussions. We’ve read the op-eds. We know we fucked up. And we’ll pay the price. For now and for a long time to come.
Now, we need to focus on the US, where there is a huge danger – a real and true crisis – that we must avoid.
I grew up in rural Alabama. Less than 20 miles from the Florida state line. In a town with not a thing remarkable about it. Even when I moved there as a child in the 1970s, the town was beginning its decline. If it’s possible to go down from bottom. A ‘mill village’.
As a child, I didn’t really realise how poor it was. There was an awareness of ‘lacking’ in our surrounds, but my parents worked very hard to ensure we were shielded from that. We were, most definitely, relatively affluent. And my parents, whose own parents and whose parents before them had steadily climbed from pure poverty to moderate comfort, my parents were very focused on ensuring their children continued the upward trajectory.
I don’t judge them for that; in fact, I am grateful. If not for that, I would not be sitting right here right now.
As a young teenager, I thought they had done a pretty good job. Unlike my classmates, who, maybe, had been to the beach, 80 miles away, and to the state capitol in Montgomery on our school trip, I had seen 45 of the 50 states. I had read and read and read. I had been to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. I had studied ballet and piano.
My fingernails weren’t dirty and I knew which fork to use.
I felt prepared to continue my parents’ journey toward the top when, as a 14 year old, I headed to boarding school just south of Birmingham.
Which is where I discovered it was all for naught.
I was told in no uncertain terms that I was a “stupid redneck hick”. I discovered that those around me knew rules to a game I didn’t even know I was playing.
I suffered. Immensely. Confidence that might have been fostered was snubbed out. Intellect that might have been developed was instead thrown into question. Talents that might have been tapped were squashed.
I did, though, learn one very important and very useful skill as a result of this: mimicry.
I learned to copy. I changed the way I spoke, rinsed, as best I could, the redneck-hick from my mouth. I changed my hair and my clothes. I reduced. I blended.
Except, when I arrived at my definitely-northern-but-located-in-the-south university a few years later, I discovered that it still wasn’t enough.
Yes, it’s true, at college I discovered professors who were forgiving of the accent and the background. I also discovered that I was still, most definitely, a “stupid redneck hick”.
Why am I telling you this?
Not for pity. I need no pity. My life is better than good and I am happy and I am well.
I am telling you this because every time I see someone lamenting Trump’s ability to galvanize the ‘hillbilly vote’, I know they are talking about me.
That is me.
And I can only think ‘you know not of what you speak’.
It matters not which slur you choose. You, we know, are speaking of us all – those not so wealthy, not so educated, not so sophisticated as you. Unrefined. Rough.
But, you see, we’re real people. Real people whose governments have defunded and sometimes defrauded our infrastructure. Real people who have not much choice but to learn what we’re taught because our access to the world beyond is so limited. Real people who are sick and tired of being told we’re ‘they’.
Real people who might be totally and completely open to doing things another way if someone would just take two and half minutes to come visit us, instead of running as far as you can to avoid our kind.
I don’t drink Trump’s Kool Aid. I won’t do it. I do not and will not buy the argument that it’s not ‘really’ about racism or misogyny or xenophobia or hate. It is. It is about that.
But it’s also about a group of people who feel they are finally being acknowledged as something other than trashy-redneck-hillbilly-hicks. It’s about people who have been left on the outside looking in. It’s about people who are without and who need to be with.
Racism, misogyny, xenophobia. They are all real and we are obligated to fight them as the dangers they are.
Economic hardship, poverty, the fear that goes alongside that. Those are also real and we are obligated to fight those as well.
Address the dangers. Develop the solutions. Learn to separate the haters from the excluded. But don’t dismiss the people because they’re desperate enough to buy the snake oil.