Columnist Benji Schwartz
I remember once trying to solve a problem during high school algebra that was way over my head and making a few unnecessary steps along the way. My teacher, as she went over the work, dispensed a pearl of wisdom.
“This step is correct,” she said. “It’s just not useful.”
More and more these days I’m brought back to that moment (and my eternal shame from the indictment) because of the debate over whether or not all the people who voted for President Trump are bigots.
There are fair arguments for either side — like even if people didn’t vote for Trump explicitly because of some kind of bigotry, their vote is a tacit endorsement. Or someone writes an article about living in a pro-Trump area and how their neighbors felt left behind by the government.
I’m not saying either side is right or wrong. I’m saying it doesn’t matter. We still need their vote.
In an ideal world, marginalized groups would not have to make nice with their oppressors. What’s right would just happen. There’d be no debate right now about how to end systemic inequalities or actively racist policies (looking at you, war on drugs, increased environmental risks in minority communities, etc).
But we’re not in an ideal world. We’re in a world where the popular vote doesn’t decide policy, and voter suppression and gerrymandering are endemic. In this world — our world — we Democrats lost this election. Badly. And that means we need more votes.
Which brings me back to Algebra 2. This argument about whether we should call all Trump voters bigots? Either side might be right (or wrong), but neither is useful.
If every single person who voted for Hillary Clinton becomes convinced that every Trump voter is a bigot (which isn’t going to happen), what comes next? Opening a conversation with, “Hello Mr. or Mrs. Bigot,” is not going to gain you a lot of ground.
I’m being glib, sure, but the point remains — calling a person a bigot, or insisting it’s the case in more tactful terms, is a nonstarter. Very few votes are going to switch sides that way.
And if no one mentions this debate while looking for new voters (and, by the way, these posts are public so damage done), then it serves one of two purposes — either it’s a show of solidarity for those who are hurt or threatened by this new administration, or it’s for self-satisfaction.
The first is a noble goal for sure — but if comforting people comes at the cost of helping them, I think we ought to reexamine our priorities.
And as for the second motivation — I won’t deny that people are justified in being angry right now. Whether or not someone intended to hurt you with their vote, they did.
But in this imperfect and unjust world in which we live, I think for now we have to look past our revulsions and whether or not as individuals we are right, and instead ask ourselves: Will this actually help fix things?