Deplorables, Lost Causes, and a Lever to Move the World
Take a short drive north of San Francisco, venture off a long county road to a large, lush backyard in the middle of goat and sheep farms, and you’ll find us - a small group of athletes, sitting on a bench, waiting our turn to pole vault. It’s a terrifying sport - you run at a full sprint while holding one end of a long fiberglass pole, plant the other end into a tiny metal box, jump, swing upside down as the pole bends to its breaking point, then pull yourself up as it violently unbends and flings you skywards over a bar. The physics are simple -the longer the pole, the higher you go.
Despite the ten years I’ve spent at this facility, and despite the fact that I am still in need of a lot more coaching, I made the heartbreaking decision today to never return, as one of the coaches is a Trump supporter. The stress of knowing that was too much for me.
He’s not a terrible person, many people will tell you. He’s played music at burlesque shows in San Francisco. He’s had stimulating, funny, and poignant conversations with me for a decade. He’s coached hundreds of girls and boys, men and women, folks that were out as gay, folks in open relationships, and folks of color. He’s been immersed in feminist, black, brown, and queer culture for over twenty-five years, lived in California for double that time, and in doing so has had every opportunity to understand us. He still chose to vote for Trump. He is living proof that no amount of exposure, immersion, compassion, or understanding will sway anyone that is not ready to be swayed. You can’t walk into a bar in Ohio and listen to Joe Six-Pack about his blue-collar woes and hope to lead him out of his bubble any more than he can lure you in. You can promise him a job in exchange for his vote, but it better be the same job he had when America was “great.”
You either have your news pre-masticated by Fox or you read real news and chew on it yourself. Critical thinking takes freedom, choice, and effort. As sad as it is to feel like we are leaving people behind, it is sadder still to not move forward. Our efforts are wasted on meeting people in the middle. They will continue to be repulsed and retreat.
The rhetoric of compassionately caring and listening to people who are different than you implies that the people on the receiving end are ready to receive anything from us. They are not. The most studied and documented fact in the art of therapy is that the key to a client’s transformation is not the therapist’s skill, but the client’s readiness. Readiness cannot be pushed into someone — as hard as you may try to argue with your friends on social media, you can’t create readiness in them to listen.
You can love and care for the West Virginia coal miners all you want, but they’ll still be racist misogynists until they’re ready not to be. If you think they voted Trump because they wanted their jobs back, you’re as misled as they were. Trump and Hillary both promised them jobs. Trump promised them the coal mine, Hillary promised them a new job (change.) Guess what they chose? (If you guessed racist misogyny buried in coal, you were right.)
Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Those that have tried pulling out a nail by hand understand why a crowbar is needed; pull on a nail with all your might and it won’t budge, yet put a little force at the end of a long crowbar and out comes the nail. Pulling a Trump supporter’s head out of their ass at the source is just as futile. But spend this energy further out to the left - running for office and supporting others that do so, donating, marching, hacking, creating a safe space for artists, supporting real journalism, writing fact and fiction, surrounding ourselves with folks in the Black Lives Matter movement, studying gender theory, working on improving our sex lives, smuggling in refugees, educating youth, even punching the occasional Nazi - and change happens.
Don’t go to the midwest to argue with Joe Six-Pack about who he is going to vote for in the next election (spoiler alert - it’s the Republican white guy promising repression of women, people of color, and all else that threatens change to his way of life.) Go to the South and pay for a black trans woman’s taxi so that she doesn’t have to take public transportation to work. You might literally save her life. Whatever it is we do, even if it’s just self-soothing via watching kitten videos on the internet, we can start to give ourselves permission to stop wasting time with Trump supporters. When they are ready to venture out towards us, we can be ready to receive them, as we always are.
We are not in a liberal bubble - we are the way forward. Just as a longer pole in pole vaulting sends you higher, our lever to move the world is stronger the further out we go.
Go left, young woman, go left, and grow up the country.