There was a time in history when both political parties wanted to own the cultural real estate centered around being the “good guys.” Republicans spearheaded the suffrage movement in the early 1900s. Decades later, they outpaced Democrats in voting for the Civil Rights Act. That result was mostly driven by geography, but the fact remains: The GOP was once an active part of the fight for gender and racial equality.
Even in this century, George W. Bush — the scourge of the pre-Trump left — positioned himself as a president who cared for the citizenry. He famously called Kanye West’s jab about his disregard for black people after Hurricane Katrina the low point of his tenure. Whether he handled the storm well or not, the president certainly felt like his care for its victims ran deep. He also strived to connect with minority voters, immigrants, and the poor under his banner of “Compassionate Conservativism.” And though you may take issue with his policies, it did feel as though he was a real human being.
The current incarnation of the Republican party is so aggressively toxic, so gleefully noxious that they can’t even keep a tenuous hold on people who have a vested financial interest in staying apolitical. People like Taylor Swift, who recently endorsed two Democratic candidates in Tennessee, or Eminem, who drew a line in the sand, exiling his pro-Trump fans (of which there were likely many).
The current GOP and its extreme factions are reveling so deeply in their “bad guy” role (and “guy” is the right word here, as they’ve scorned women at every turn) that it’s safe to assume that the less compassionate take on any issue is a pillar of their platform. A raped woman’s right to choose what she does with her body? Against it. Kids in cages? For it. An athlete peacefully protesting for racial justice? Against it. Banning trans people from public restrooms?
This isn’t even tough; it’s top of the head stuff. Every move the party makes is so deeply callous that the best possible play for Swift — a country star (at least at her inception point) with a heavily Southern/ likely Republican fan base — was to pen a highly polarizing Instagram post distancing herself from Republicans. Not because she’s anti-fiscal responsibility or state rights or any other theoretical tenet of Republicanism, but because she is anti-asshole — a pejorative which the right wing actively structures their modern branding around.
Last week, on Saturday Night Live, Pete Davidson did a bit about Kanye West’s pro-Trump rant the week before. One thing he said was exceptionally telling. “Do you know how wrong you have to be about politics for me to notice?” Davidson is 24 years old. Historically speaking, that’s been a highly disengaged voting block. As recently as August, the Washington Post was expecting the demo to have little impact on the midterms. But now? After the fall Republicans have had, with the Kavanaugh hearings and Swift’s political stance (don’t act like it doesn’t matter, the woman has more Twitter followers than Trump)? A newly released survey reports a high degree of youth voter excitement. Another poll reveals that Swift could literally swing Tennessee.
This turn of events could be the undoing of the Republican Party — not their politics, but their unabashed dickishness. That’s what Trump has never seemed to understand. As a man who treats the truth as highly malleable, you might think he would savvy how the messenger affects the message. And yet, even when he’s right he finds a way to come off like a clod.
Remember when photos of kids in cages went viral last spring? Many of the most widely shared pictures were actually from the Obama era, something the current president and his cohorts celebrated gleefully. But Trump never followed that moment up by vowing to be better than his predecessor. He never stepped to the mic and promised to be more humane. This is the pattern we see over and over again and it’s a major turn off to young Americans — a demographic that cares deeply about how people interact, offering safe spaces and trigger warnings as a courtesy to one another (much to the chagrin of their elders who feel like being inconsiderate is some strange badge of honor).
Tomi Lahren. Kanye West. All of Fox News. These professional trolls seem confused about what it is that repels young people from Trumpism and the modern Republican Party: It’s the lack of human understanding. The gross callousness. And those qualities are so absolutely unnecessary — in politics as in life — that an increasing number of new voters are willing to throw the baby out with the poisoned bathwater.
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I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting! 🗳😃🌈
Gladly ceding the moral high ground has to be the most bizarre political move on the planet, right? What sensible advisor would ever say, “Let your opponent own ‘nice’ and ‘good,’ and ‘compassionate!'”? Of course, the kicker is that the strategy has worked. It’s what got Trump elected. It’s what put the GOP in control of every branch of government. But we’re witnessing the fallout from a Boomer-driven election and Millennials and Gen Z aren’t Boomers. They don’t root for trolls or bullies. And that single truism could literally change the face of American politics.
It didn’t have to be this way, of course. Just like the Democrats were fools to hand the whole notion of “being Christian” over to Republicans, Republicans could have said “We still believe in compassion. We promise!” It would have been so painfully easy. Just looking at recent history:
- They could have supported Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick because fighting for equality is truly a nonpolitical issue.
- They could have taken a tough stance on immigration while still imbuing the actual handling of cases with an acceptable level of kindness towards children.
- They could defend the Second Amendment while allowing for reasonable gun control and copping to the fact that the NRA — a massive GOP donor — is a deeply flawed advocate for the pro-gun cause.
- They could have found some other conservative Supreme Court Justice to nominate who didn’t have a sexual misconduct allegation against him or, if that’s just impossible in their circles, they could have found one who didn’t lie under oath about a million random, petty things.
- The could have elected a president who — we’re not going to rehash this; even Kanye knows Trump is a dick — but they could have, at the very least, reined him in and distanced themselves from his crudeness.
Let’s do a single case study. Christine Blasey Ford. She speaks in front of the Senate. She cries while recounting a genuine horror. She has no political or financial reason to lie. No motivation whatsoever to fabricate. Still, if you’re a Republican, you want your guy in. Now maybe Kavanaugh gets up there next and says something genuine. Maybe he really honors Dr. Ford’s pain and — even in denying that it was him who sexually assaulted her (it was clearly someone) — admits, “I was an idiotic and often intoxicated high school kid who had a tremendous amount of growing to do.”
Not the honorable answer, likely not the true answer, but it’s something, right? It could have started a deeper dialogue and Republicans could have been a part of it.
Instead, a man who is now appointed to the highest court in the land issued a blanket denial and raged as if he was the victim. Right-wing pundits mocked Ford’s anguish. And, finally, the President of the United States, a man who is literally supposed to be better than the rest of us; a man who is elected as our chief ambassador and highest figurehead; a man who is supposed to safeguard our hopes and dreams, to calm us when we are scared, to push us to build a better union. That president said, “A man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered.” Without a word of compassion for a woman’s pain.
And the anger of good, honorable human beings on both sides of the party divide boils up. And the left’s fury turns incandescent. And perhaps they are able to put aside the circular thinking and infighting that loses them so many elections. Perhaps this time they win, carried to midterm victories on the backs of young voters. Voters who say, “I didn’t even need to know the issues. It was about a lack of basic humanity. It was about the empathy gap.”
Every indication is that American politics are still driven by Boomers and Gen X. But this November, the results might end up being bigger than politics. It could simply be an election about humanity. One which can be hugely affected by millions of young people echoing Pete Davidson to say, “Do you know how wrong you have to be about politics for us to notice?” And millions more who said that last year and have since taken to the streets. And a few million lifelong Republicans who are repulsed by their leaders. And mostly-dormant Democrats who snap into action to canvas and rally and work call centers.
Let’s say that you take the most jaded possible angle on Taylor Swift making a political statement. Let’s say you think she’s trying to co-opt a movement and she did so after her tour sold out — when her stance wouldn’t hurt her bottom line. Fine. Even if that was the truth, it would be a sort of cousin to Nike’s move hiring Colin Kaepernick. A statement that humanity transcends politics. And since the Republican party has so joyfully basked in their lack of basic humanity, the only thing for a company or musician or athlete who wants to stay relevant with the highly compassionate younger generation to do is to stand up against the GOP.
The Trumpers and the hucksters and the consultants and the hangers-on, like a colony of bees that exist only to sting and die, have swarmed together in a dangerous but suicidal cloud, and when that mindless hive finally extinguishes itself in a blaze of venom, there will be nothing left.
This might be what it all comes down to. The poisonous few versus the more compassionate masses. The bees that kill themselves by stinging recklessly and without cause. Because there was a time when both sides of the political spectrum wanted to be the “good guys,” but that era is over. It’s not even up for debate. Politics is beyond the issues now, it’s about a sense of basic humanity. The empathy gap is a notion that transcends everything. And it just might be what fucks the Republicans come November.