Welcome to the next presidential election cycle. It feels like when we used to get a new “Saw” movie every year, but more painful and nonsensical. Currently, a variety of quirky characters are already auditioning to be the next president, including Texas’ own Julian Castro.
Consequently, the vitriol has begun to flow. Elizabeth Warren is still dealing with her claims of Native American heritage, leading to a lot of questions about what the heck is wrong with white people (we don’t know either). Kamala Harris is being questioned about her record as a prosecutor, and all the sex workers I know feel like she made their lives dangerous and unmanageable with SESTA. A great many feel that Kirsten Gillibrand is personally responsible for the fall of Al Franken. Cory Booker Wall Street and Big Pharma conspiracy theories abound. Bernie Sanders is there, as always just generally being the Ron Paul of the left. Joe Biden?
Anita Hill to die on
Whenever discussion about the flaws in the individual candidates gets heated, someone always seems to bust out the guaranteed argument stopper: That’s how you get Trump in 2020. The perception is that bickering among liberals is the reason that Donald Trump gained the presidency. If we would only calm down, things would be fine.
I know that the common logic is that infighting between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did massive damage to Clinton once she entered the 2016 general election. However, it wasn’t criticism that caused the wounds; it was nonsense. U.S. intelligence has long-established that Russian operatives and bots flamed up misogyny, perceived wrongdoing, and conspiracy theories in order to help first Sanders, then Trump. The massive psychological warfare campaign waged against Clinton by a foreign power literally caused people to argue about things that had no basis in reality. So, any real discussion about how to prevent a win for Trump in 2020 must look at how to fight the next propaganda cyber-assault.
Most people I see using the Trump gambit in arguments aren’t looking at how to prevent being disease vectors for online misinformation. What they are generally doing is losing a debate. They like Candidate A, but Candidate A has things about them that affect another person negatively enough to bring up opposition. The specter of a second Trump term is thrown out the same way I as a parent throw out taking away my daughter’s electronics to stop a screaming match I no longer wish to be involved in.
I mentioned Harris earlier. I have a lot of sex worker friends, including one who is my client for the occasional freelance PR writing gig. They are not shy about how they feel regarding Harris and the effects of SESTA/FOSTA, and they feel they as a marginalized group have the right to be heard in liberal circles without automatic dismissal. This isn’t what happens as I’ve witnessed it. Instead, they get shouted down and told that their silence is the price for ending the Era of Trump, who is of course worse.
It’s a damned muzzle, and the use of it is universal across the various Democratic fandoms. I get it. Everyone is terrified that the two-year decade of Trumpian madness will continue unless we superstitiously keep our eyes closed like a political version of "Bird Box."
Those pretending that they know what is going to happen in 2020 are fooling themselves. All the political norms have been utterly shattered and scattered to the wind. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen presidential historian Michael Beschloss on television being asked “Has this ever happened before” and he has to come up with new ways to say no. Odds are, none of us know what we’re talking about in any meaningful way.
What we can do, though, is seek a better position for all of us. Warren being grilled isn’t about keeping her out of the White House; it’s about keeping white people from taking up Native American spaces. Cory Booker’s donor relationship with Wall Street is worth examining in case it makes other politicians mind their Ps and Qs. These things are bigger than just the presidency. Social progress and the accountability of our leaders don’t stop for the election, and this is not a reality show where we get to just care if our favorite gets voted off.
Nonsense is the enemy. Vague, fear and anger-based nonsense. Trying to end a discussion by boogeymanning Trump in 2020 is just more of that ridiculousness. It’s designed to bypass any concerns in the name of unity, but it only serves the person who most wants to do the ignoring.
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If you want to not argue about the Democratic primary contenders, might I suggest just not arguing about them? If a single mother who has trouble getting her kids to school appears mad about Harris’ California truancy punishments you don’t actually have to wade in with an unrelated counter argument.
Shutting down rancor can begin with you. You don’t have to pretend to be the adult separating children with a scary story about Trump. You can simply choose not to silence other people expressing their fears. You could even listen to them and decide if they’re worth something, but to do that you have to stop talking. If that’s asking too much, scroll past. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.
Criticizing candidates’ actions doesn’t mean they are bad people and you hate them. It doesn’t even mean you don’t want one of them to be president. Kamala Harris is still my first choice, but I would love it if she would address my friends’ concerns. To get anywhere better we’re going to have to understand that unity is not built by insisting other people stop talking so they can listen to you.
In 100 percent of cases where someone tries to emotionally blackmail a friend with “that’s how you get Trump in 2020” he or she would be better served saying, “I hear you, and I will think about what you said.” Nonsense must be smothered in its crib, but learning to tell it from real criticism is one of the most powerful political weapons we have. Failure to do so was far more instrumental in Trump’s ascendancy than mere respectful argument.