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Winning with hatred: The Republican agenda


Tuesday night, I went down to the graduate student lounge in my college for an election night “party;” mostly just people camped out in front of the television with snacks and drinks. My idea for this column was to take along my laptop, which I did, and chronicle what an expat election party was like.


I figured my fellow Trinity Hall students were good for some amusing and interesting quotes, which they were, and that any British students in attendance might provide a different perspective, which they did, and that even if the night didn’t go my way I could at least make lots of jokes about alcohol consumption.

But somehow I’m not up to editing through that night. I finally left at 6:00 in the morning, and laid awake in bed for half an hour unable to relax. When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed of the Electoral College. Now that, as I write this, I’ve gotten back up after a few hours and taken a painful glance at some news sites, it’s not any better.

What happened?

To tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting Kerry to win. But I wasn’t expecting this either. A score of homophobic bans on gay marriage passed. An attempt to reform the Three Strikes law in California to a more humane standard (and one that most people thought they were voting for when the original proposition passed) failed. The Senate Minority leader ousted for the first time in 52 years. The popular vote not only in Bush’s favor, but a few million people in his favor. The first actual majority vote for a President since his father in 1988.

This isn’t an election. This is a rout. The legal issues will undoubtedly continue in the days ahead, but if Bush could fraudulently win as a candidate four years ago, there is no way anyone is unseating him now.

And I don’t know what to say. I can’t even muster up the righteous anger that several of my friends and family expressed. How does a progressive keep going after this?

Along with the anger, I’ve also heard a lot of disgust. Several people have said they feel ashamed to be an American, and I’ve heard “they deserve him” a couple of times. And true, that would be one way to react—the quasi-Leninist strain of showing the populace what the alternative is, so that eventually they will break and revolt.

But I don’t think that will ever happen. My father jokes, “Remember the Reagan years, when Republicans were happy to just ignore the poor people?” He’s right; those days seem like halcyon twilights of tolerance. Look at the policy goals Bush was able to accomplish after an election he didn’t win—changing the government’s legal interpretation of the Second Amendment to bring it in line with the NRA for the first time ever. Declaring the policy of the United States to be preemptive warfare on their own terms. Chipping further and further away at a woman’s right to choose. Making homosexuals the burning effigy to draw out more support.

Four years ago, Bush defeated John McCain in the Republican primary by starting a gossip campaign stating that McCain had a black child out of wedlock. This season, Republican operatives stood outside polling places where African-American congregations marched to after their services with signs saying things like “Gay Adoption Now!” matched with an actual Kerry/Edwards sign with a rainbow background.

The politics of hate are no longer a goal; they’re the tactic as well. I still can’t quite believe that it’s become acceptable political discourse to stand up and argue that a discrete and insular minority group should have less legal rights than the majority. I can’t believe that it isn’t a topic discussed in shadowy back rooms, while the candidates deliver bright and shining lies about acceptance. I can’t believe that the politics of hatred and prejudice have become a better election tactic than running on your platform.

So where do we go from here? What possible consolation do we, the young activists of the left, have to cling to?

I wish I had an answer. While I swing between poles of cynicism and idealism, at heart I am usually willing to believe in hope. But I don’t know how much hope I can draw from last night.

My father tells me that when I was a child, my first steps of political activism were charmingly naive—I was calling up stores in the mall at 10 years old to say that they shouldn’t sell fur because it killed animals, because I was so sure that if I could just tell them, they would change. I just assumed that people did bad things because they didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong, and if I showed them, they would stop. I don’t know when it finally came home to me that sometimes people do the wrong thing because they didn’t care about injustice, or that they hold values that make an unjust result seem to them worth striving for.

But it motivated people last night. Arguments about making abortion illegal again, and ending all gun control, and continuing and intensifying the oppression of homosexuals provided a rallying cry for the right, and they clung to it even as we sink further into a morass of military casualties, a tanking economy, and systematic destruction of the social programs that progressives fought so hard for fifty years ago.

As a friend (that most rare of creatures, a Democrat in Alabama) put it, people care more about one person’s position on abortion than whether their own children have health care. People care more about preventing a loving, monogamous couple from having the same legal rights as everyone else than stopping transnational corporations from exporting their jobs. People care more about injuring the “others” they hate than helping the “us” we should love.

So I don’t know how to move on from this. Progressive politics has never really been a discourse of hate—the closest we ever come is towards the rich white plutocrats oppressing the rest of the country, and apparently we can’t point them out as the enemy to the electorate because everyone is too busy wanting (hoplessly) to be them. I’ve always been a stereotypical leftist, beating my breast about fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. But this is going to be a whole lot of fighting for people who we can’t even get into the voting booth.

I guess that’s our modern dilemma. Sell out into apathy, or once more into a yawning, murderous breach?

Gird up, folks. This is going to be a long, hard slog.


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