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Monday, August 1, 2016

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and Also A Soon-To-Be-DatedDiatribe About Protest Votes

Going back and forth between white people fiction and the stories of immigrants barely scraping by or beautiful stories of people living in huts in Africa is jarring. It's like when my friends and I used to go to Crystal Hot Springs near Brigham City during the winter. We'd sit in the hottest hot tub they had until we were pink, then jump into the freezing pool (sometimes with ice still floating in it) like we were some kind of crazy Finns. Then we'd run back to the hot tub to be scalded again. It's like these two extremes were the only way these jaded teenagers could feel anything. Like Trent Reznor at his most insufferable, we hurt ourselves that day, to see if we could feel.

In retrospect, this teen numbness didn't come from any kind of real trials, but rather the boredom of having everything taken care of for me. I worked, but spent all of the money on CDs and VHS tapes. And work was hanging out and goofing around in a movie theater with a bunch of attractive teenagers sprinkled with an occasional unpleasant task such as cleaning up the inevitable vomit that occurs when kids are loaded up with popcorn, soda, and candy and forced to watch Pauly Shore movies. If we're being honest, even cleaning up the barf wasn't that bad. We had a powder that turned it all into some kind of white solid that could be swept up like so many M&Ms spilled on the sticky theater floor.

It was a life of leisure. I did not often feel the soreness of a day's worth of labor, and rarely did I climb into bed physically exhausted. I was bullied, though, and generally not accepted among the majority of my peers until maybe my second year of high school. I worried about grades (not so much to do the work, but enough to stay up at night dreading the test the next day), and wanted a girlfriend, and knew that I did not know how to handle having a girlfriend at the time but thought it would be fun to at least fail at it. 

This cocktail of having little of substance to do and a building resentment of the world around me is a dangerous one. There's a lot of "it's not fair," swirling around your head. A lot of Rage Against the Machine. You go to local concerts and you learn about all the injustices in the world. You learn about the revolution in Chiapas, Mexico and you get some fliers and you sign up for a mailing list and these cheaply printed 'zines show up at your house for the next decade. You start to feel guilty that you aren't being oppressed, but deep down wonder if you could handle even a little more adversity than the barely any you're dealing with.

When I was 16 my friends and I worked at movie theaters and my other friend managed a Dominos. When did you peak?

It's easy, in these moments, to hope for some kind of downfall of society so that we can rebuild something better. Something where bullies are recognized by your peers as bullies, where you don't have to listen to a girl you had a crush on tell you what a "nice guy" the guy who cornered you in the gym locker room after everyone had left and repeatedly shoved you into the same locker until you had a deep bruise on the back of your neck is. And back there, vaguely, is the understanding that even though things seem bad for you, they're infinitely worse for someone else and maybe something should be done about them, too.

The tricky thing is that while our day-to-day struggles feel so real, the difficulties of marginalized groups seem to be a combination of horrible anecdotes, without realizing the daily, even hourly, crushing weight of oppression. And this is why we get in situations where we forget the stakes we're dealing with when it comes to the future. Gay youths get shot at in clubs, which is horrible, but they also endure daily, low-level anger and vitriol. They are glared at, they hear about what deviants they are on the news, they fall in love and are told that their love is evil, they are kids and being yelled at by red-faced adults because of what bathroom they're comfortable in. All of this on top of the everyday drag of bullying, crushes, grades, and confusion of just being a person. Mexican immigrants work two or three jobs, struggle to understand the complex culture around them, watch their kids try to negotiate the minefield of the American high school, and then turn on the news and hear a man who appears to have the alien from Men in Black struggling to burst from his skin at any time tell them that they are rapists.

So when you're a white teen you see this injustice and it gets you angry for a moment, but then it's back to the daily assemblage of tiny personal offenses and discomforts. You forget, and it's understandable, because whatever place we are in right now is normal and the only acceptable alternative is for it to be better. This is good when it means that we keep getting cooler video games and superhero movies and amusement park rides. It's bad when it means that we worry more about our little inconveniences at the expense of the people in our communities who are afraid for their lives.

So when I see white privileged people on the internet insisting that a vote for a third-party candidate is the only moral choice I see what they're saying. They're not happy with the options.  Here's the problem, though. This election isn't about you. That's a hard thing for us to wrap our heads around sometimes, but it's important. Not everything is about us. Even though we live in a world that is hell-bent on telling us that it is. Sometimes our needs and desires take a backseat because someone else is suffering so much worse.   

You might hate Donald Trump, but the fact is that if you're reading this and you're white, and/or Christian and/or male, then you stand to benefit from a Trump presidency. He's for you, whether you're for him. So when you get up on your pulpit and tell everyone how brave it is that you're going to vote for somebody else so that you can send a message? Maybe we need to think about what that message we're sending actually is.

It might look to you like you're saying that you want to stand up to a corrupt system. But to the racial minorities you claim to support, it looks like you're abandoning them when they need you most. Your posts about being an ally on Facebook are great, and hopefully they cheer people up, but man, your vote means so much more than a tweet.

In your space of safety created by nothing more than a societal preference for your skin color, sexual preference, or religion, you see the benefit in taking the long view. "By casting this vote, I'm influencing future politics," you say, proudly posting your "I Voted" sticker on Instagram. Your Muslim friends, or Mexican friends, or black, or gay friends don't see it that way. They don't have the benefit of the long view. They're less concerned about 4-8 years from now and more concerned about tomorrow. They're facing the real reality that the previously quiet racists on the bus are feeling emboldened by what they see at Trump rallies. They're finding notes on their doorstep threatening them. Telling them to go home. Telling them that their kids will "get what they deserve."

You guys. They can't afford to wait for this eventual revolution.

Here's the thing: Bernie supporters have already made their point. Obviously the Democratic party saw you. They see your passion, they recognize your youth, they acknowledge how rad your memes were. Even when you tried to trick them with pictures of Cuba, they still saw all the rallies and the crowds. The future of the Democratic party will be influenced by this for decades.

Summer fattened everybody up. The family buttered without reserve; pie seemed to be everywhere. They awoke and slept and awoke in the summerhouse on the island, ate all their meals on the porch while the sun moved across the sky. They looked out at the saltwater cove and watched the sailboats skim and tack across the blue towards the windward beach, littered with the outgrown shells of horseshoe crabs.Anyway, this all ties into the book I just read, I promise. It's Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel. The last time I went to the library I was very excited to pick up two hot new books, that one, and The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.  Not since Ready Player One have I been so immediately turned off by a book from the first two pages. There might be a good book in there, but I'll be danged if I'm going to find out. In both cases it's just pages and pages of exposition before a single thing happens. I didn't read that one. But try this opener:

In SADOEAP (I don't know how to do this, I don't want to type the name over and over but also the acronym is a lot of letters and I've easily wasted more characters on the explanation than I saved on the title), we meet Edgar and Fern. Both come from very wealthy families. Edgar's dad is a self-made steel tycoon who loves to spend. Fern's family got their money the old fashioned way: inherited from ancestors who at one point owned and profited immensely from slaves. Edgar is embarrassed by money and his parents' lavish spending. Fern just sees it as a constant. These are both very privileged people.

On the outset, we learn that the family's money, by way of Fern, is gone. "The long-ago earning of that money — slaves, cotton, rum — and the spending of it, were done. The money had lived its own life, like a relative." And in order for Edgar to cash in on his birthright, he'd have to take over the steel business and abandon his writing. Fern pushes a little too hard, and Edgar decides it's a good reason to have an affair. He goes off on a boat with some lady, and Fern finds herself on a road trip with a literal giant (think Shawn Bradley, not the B.F.G.) who is crossing the country to reunite with his son. Both parents think that the other is home and wants to punish the other with their absence, so the three kids live on their own, Lord of the Flies style.

What starts out as a pretty boilerplate dysfunctional family becomes a pretty sweet story of love and confusion and hopes and dreams and privilege and resourceful kids. I liked it quite a bit. I loved the writing. You guys. The writing is so good. But the real trick Ausubel performs is in making us care about these people at all.

It's hard to root for rich people, especially Edgar, whose biggest tragedy is that he's going to have to get a job. Yes, it would be a betrayal of his socialist values, but how many of us have the option of wealth in our back pockets in case Plan A doesn't work out? It makes every decision a little less risky, doesn't it? Many people who are reading this have faced poverty. Some of us have faced losing our houses. Or had to skip meals. Or told our kids that back-to-school shopping isn't in the cards this year. It makes it hard to understand the plight of a guy who is so discouraged that his bottomless pit of free money dried up that he decides to cheat on his wife.

Hey, that sounds sort of like what I was talking about! It's difficult to feel sorry about someone with more privilege than you when all they have to worry about is if they're excited about who to vote for. They have the Plan B of continued coddling in a world that would be tailored to some fantasy era in the 50's when (white) men drank at work and (white) women wore pretty dresses and worked as secretaries (until they got married of course) and never, ever, dared to become presidential candidates.

And hey, I know some of you are conservative and if you made it this far, congratulations. I know I probably annoy you but check this: I respect you and I really think we need rational conservatives out there, just like you hope that us liberal types are also rational. I hope I've been able to convince you that even if we disagree, at least I've thought my stances through.

If we're being completely honest here -- and hey, you guys, what else are we even doing here -- I want there to be a strong and vibrant Republican party. I want it to be filled with black republicans and latinx republicans and trans republicans and women of all types. Just not this yearDeep down I don't think that's a crazy idea. I know there's more to your party than fear of strangers and fear of the future. I get the idea that we need to spend a little less, and put a little more emphasis on self-sufficiency. I like the idea of letting states figure out the way to run themselves without a lot of input (aside from ensuring basic human rights) and seeing if it works and for other states to emulate it. I think fighter jets are cool (when they work), and love aircraft carriers (when they work).

Democrats get a little unrealistic sometimes. They get in their university classrooms with their guaranteed jobs and lose touch with the disenfranchised groups they're supposed to champion because I don't know, they don't understand which wine to pair with which main course.  They forget sometimes what it's like to watch a mining town dwindle, or the enjoyment to be had hunting with your dad and your dad's friends, who are way fouler-mouthed than they are at church. I'm not saying that's some kind of "real America" and that living in the city and arguing over if the chicken is locally sourced. I'm saying that's all America. The liberals and the conservatives and the libertarians and they non-voters and they goofballs and the wastoids and the sportos and the dweebies. I want you guys to have a voice, too.

But listen. That voice doesn't have to be Donald Trump. That's all I'm saying. I know you're scared that Hillary will do whatever it is that you're afraid democrats will do. But just take a minute and listen to the groups who stand to lose on the first day of a Trump presidency. The ones who because of some roll of the cosmic dice ended up with browner skin than you. Or are trying to flee a terrifying situation and find a safe place for their children. Or were born into a religion that has a very fractious and extreme and criminal wing to it that scares people, even though it represents a tiny percentage of the mainstream group. (Was that the right link?) It doesn't hurt anything to listen, right?