I want to make something clear to my Liberal friends. Conservatives didn’t win the election in November, the Liberals lost it. I know that sounds controversial to some, but we did.
We lost it when we ignored the subtle signs that were developing over the last 8 years with regard to race relations and social tensions in this country. We lost it when we dictated the public narrative through systematically ostracizing many of those who did not agree with us socially. We lost it when we decided the metropolitan life was going to be the law of the land. We lost when we went from a president who vocalized that marriage could only be between a man and a woman to a president who supported federal regulation that outlawed marriage discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The debates, whether fairly or not, painted opponents as bigots. Arizona comes to mind when, as recently as 2014, the state passed laws protecting gay marriage bans on the basis that:
“…the State regulates marriage for the primary purpose of channeling potentially procreative sexual relationships into enduring unions for the sake of joining children to both their mother and their father.”
I’m not sure that when the Supreme Court of the United States passed a federal law protecting gay marriage as a constitutional right, we did our due diligence to reach out to those opponents and have meaningful conversations that their religious freedom wasn’t being challenged — that this was not an issue of gay rights, but of human rights. I’m not sure we equipped them with the tools necessary or prepared them for the change. From my conversations with some of my more conservative friends, it seems like they believe some “gay agenda” was shoved down their throats, and if they vocalized their grievances they were labeled as homophobes. And that’s just one issue.
We lost it when Trayvon got shot and we didn’t have meaningful conversations over why Zimmerman viewed a young black teenager with apprehension in the first place. It was pretty cut and dry that those who sought a reason to justify the death of a teenager versus addressing the actions of the assailant stood at odds with us. I still don’t understand why there are laws that allow untrained citizens to patrol their neighborhoods armed in the first place. We lost it when the Sandy Hook shootings happened and we ignored all of those who said it was a government conspiracy to go after guns. In some conservative circles, Sandy Hook was referred to as Sandy Hoax, because the belief is that the entire thing was staged, as Makia Freeman calls it, “fake stage, fake school and fake victims.”
We lost it…
We lost it when more than half the country thought that the President and Secretary of State had the power to stop the death of 4 Americans in the Embassy in Benghazi – but didn’t. We lost it when we ignored the fact that the majority of our House of Representatives had no goals but, instead, explicitly stated that their top priority was going to be to stop the President from getting his bills passed. We ignored it when New Jersey elected a conservative governor…twice. We lost it when Obama dropped bombs in seven countries and the liberal media wasn’t nearly as critical of him as they were of his predecessor. I remember Bush being demonized in the media for some of his actions, and I’m not saying that there wasn’t good reason to do so, but it seems that we were much more forgiving of Obama.
We lost it because it seemed that things, while not perfect, were slowly progressing in our favor, but instead of celebrating the gradual social progress we were making as a society, we became the winning team that lacked grace. In some instances, we may have heard what people were trying to say, but did we really listen? We gave people our ears, but I would question whether or not we gave them our hearts. Maybe it’s because as a Muslim man, living in a Post 9/11 America, working in an organization that has conservatives outnumbering liberals 8 to 1, I began to humanize some of these arguments. How could the people that I worked with, had spent holidays with, people that I know would give me the shirts off of their backs hold such seemingly hateful views? I realized pretty quickly that I had failed to humanize ‘the other side‘ of the argument, the same allegation that I had been making against those who, for over a decade, had refused to extend that very same gesture to me.
The undertones of the grievances were symbolism. There was too much changing too fast. The signs that people had associated so strongly with what it meant to be an American to them were starting to slip away. It’s pretty apparent to say that in order for progress to be lasting, it must be gradual. I know that we think we had a lot of meaningful discussions, but I can’t help but that feel a lot of it was preaching within our own echo chambers. The media does us no favors by stripping down most substantial content to sound bites and sensationalism, but I don’t think it’s the media’s job to be our vessel. They have an agenda – and ours should have been collective buy in.
I began to see how our victories were bombastic and we shunned those who didn’t mimic our narrative. I’m not saying that there aren’t people that have hearts that are truly devoid of compassion for people unlike themselves, but for the majority of those that echoed these seemingly negative sentiments, I saw people that genuinely felt that the very fabric of their communities were disintegrating. They were grasping to hold on dearly for what they had considered as the vanishing signs of their American dream and culture. While change is inevitable, they would argue that it must also be incremental. For some, it was a little too much, too soon. Safe spaces, gay marriage, gender neutral bathrooms, ‘PC culture and politics,’ attempts at gun reform, environmental conservation, expanding social services, healthcare, so on and so forth. Never mind the persistent belief that we practically handed Iran their first nuclear weapon. This was enough, in and of itself, to push people to the point of discomfort, but having Clinton double down on identity politics was enough to push people over the edge. Obama’s ability to bridge gaps is what won him Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. She began to grab at the zeitgeist of the moment and it came off cold, insincere, neglectful, and most of all – distant from the reality of Americans in key states where Obama had successfully marketed a broader message of shared prosperity. She did so because she felt empowered by us. We were beginning to see signs that our lives were going in a direction that embodies our ideals but failed to realize that most Americans, or at least most American states, were left out of the equation.
I’m no exception to this rule. I’ve been living in the south for about 5 years now. Excluding the KKK and white supremacists, there’s a certain charm amongst racists in the South. Trust me when I say they are far and between, the ones who are truly racist that is. It took me a while to understand that more often than not, it’s not malicious, but ignorance in its most literal sense of a lack of knowledge. I don’t say that to be facetious. I specifically recall when I lived in a small town in Texas, that shall remain nameless, how one of my friends who was planning a trip to Kenya to help build an orphanage mobilized the entire community to support her journey. One of the supporters, a man who seemed genuinely invested in her endeavor, told her to make sure to visit Obama’s birthplace when she got there. I laughed pretty hard because I thought he had to be joking. He was not….not in the least bit. He was adamant about the fact that there was a shrine to the US president in Kenya because that was his birthplace. It was easy for me to dismiss this guy as a total moron because, really, where do you begin the conversation with someone like that? Was he serious? The President of the U.S. was born in Kenya? I’d never met a ‘birther’ before, and it was pretty easy for me to dismiss him, so I did. Similarly, I’m sure he’d never met a Muslim Yankee. The problem here isn’t that I personally dismissed him. I feel that my actions were part of a trend that, as a left leaning citizen of the great state of New Jersey, seemed pretty normal. When you live in metropolitan areas you just take that kind of thing for granted. I saw so many community activists when I was in the north east and the demographic is so diverse that I didn’t stop to realize how dismissive we were being of the so called “fly-over” states in this country. So, I didn’t just dismiss this man in this small town in Texas, I dismissed everybody like him across the country. People who literally either hadn’t been exposed to the same truths as I had been or people who were perhaps exposed to the same truths but had different priorities.
We forget that most of America isn’t the coasts. We dismissed honest, hard-working, well-intentioned Americans across this country. We collectively decided that birthers, creationists, people who don’t believe in gay marriage, and people who adhere to strict conservative religious or cultural values just weren’t going to be part of the fabric of who we are. We decided their media outlets were going to be mocked and ridiculed. In many ways – we were kind of dicks to them.
What we lost sight of is the principle of plurality and diversity of thought. That growth that occurs when you are outside of your own comfort zone. That happened because for us, in order to get along, especially in urban cities, many of us had to adopt a similar culture. So, we have this beautiful hybrid pluralistic community where we have the freedom of choice to give people grief over who they are rather than what they are, which is kind of nice. But we forgot that most of the country isn’t like that and we bullied them out of the public discourse.
We didn’t fight for principles, we fought for headlines. We didn’t fight for everyone’s rights, just those that we agreed with. We picked one group’s right to self-identify vs. another group’s right to privacy. We picked the economic interests of minorities vs. poor whites. Those of rural cities vs. metropolitan ones. In an attempt to level the playing field, a lot of Americans felt they were about get cut from the team. And on November 8th, we got an unequivocal, loud, and resounding fuck you from all of them, including many independents who were probably just tired of this lesser of two evils bullshit that has become too commonplace and accepted as part of our politics. So, they voted for the anti-establishment guy because they viewed democrats as the party that saw Sanders get orchestrated against and let it happen. Trust me, I have no sympathy for some of Trumps’ supporters. However, we zealously sought acceptance without interaction and, as a result, suffered the consequences.
I’m enjoying the last few weeks of Obama because, even before I knew who the new president was going to be, I became nostalgic for how good we had it. But now for the sake of all of us in this country, I hope that the anger, hatred, and violence subsides. I hope that we can trigger our collective consciousness and begin engaging in meaningful conversations that will make us a more productive citizenry. It’s not just about hearing but also listening to one another. Let’s get out of our comfort zones. Let’s not shun people for asking what may seem like an ignorant question because at least they had the courage to ask. Let’s stand up for one another and not just those that are like us. Your principles are easy to defend when it’s convenient, but it’s during trying times that we get to see what it is we truly stand for and are made of. What ultimately matters are the actions of the people. Our actions will shape how history remembers our nation. Because, frankly, the good ole’ Washington lobbyists are all gainfully employed determining our policies for the next administration regardless of who would’ve won. So, maybe it’s time we started to realize that we’re all in this together and to treat each other with a little more compassion. Maybe it’s time for us to realize that we have more that unites us than divides us and perhaps more importantly to start caring a little more about the person in the next house and less about the person in the White House.