A Diagnosis of the American Discourse (Or Lack Thereof)

A Diagnosis of the American Discourse (Or Lack Thereof)

By Dominick Williams | UC Berkeley
It’s tough to look outward at the political fray that describes the current state of our nation without being overcome by a deep sense of dread and worry. This protrudes even now as I read the most recent headline-
“Rex Tillerson Approved for State Secretary”- and think: holy shit.
Then I calm down (not really) and discover the contemplations that come from such turbulent times. How did we even get here? What could I have even done? What do I do now?
I’m certain there are many other students, journalists, community organizers, public officials, lawmakers, and everyday citizens thinking these same thoughts. It’s what overwhelms a concerned father of three, afraid for the future as he jostles the uncertainty of not only his wellbeing, but the wellbeing of his children. It’s what terrifies the Dreamer- who has lived in this country since she could remember- when she thinks of her family’s situation worsening due to the loss of her DACA status, which would halt her dreams of becoming the family’s first lawyer. It’s what I think of, when I look in both the faces of my father, the concerned caretaker, and my close friend, the Dreamer, as I struggle to stand my ground against the massive silhouette of uncertainty that is overtaking my outlook on the future.
I do, however, believe that this is not the time to lie defeated.
I instead believe that it’s now the time to be honest with ourselves.
How did we get here?
Interesting question. It seemed like it was a long time ago when politics had at least a sense of civility, and now we’ve come to a place where everyday it seems that some executive order is limiting our freedom or some executive nominee feels like a slap in the face to our morals and values.
For most Californians, the finger is usually pointed at the policies and procedures of the conservative. THEIR lack of reason. THEIR stubbornness. THEIR close-mindedness. THEIR belief in themselves as the sole purveyor of moral superiority.
There is truth to this argument. Many far-right conservatives have halted the federal government’s actions, proved unmoving on issues like gun control and the rights of women, and have consistently been at odds with those who are unfamiliar, who are different from them in ideology, religion, sexual orientation, or race.
But hey. Liberals? We’re guilty too.
Wait, wait. Hear me out.
A cataclysmic rift has been tearing through the United States and is ripping our country apart, and yes, this rift is splitting from both sides. That stubbornness, close-mindedness, and belief in ourselves as the sole purveyors of moral superiority? That’s a liberal dilemma as well. For as much crap as we give conservatives for not taking a seat at the table, we must critique ourselves if we choose not to be present either.
“C’mon now, you can’t reason with a Trump voter. It’s better to just cut your losses, right?”
In all honestly even as I’m writing this, a very large part of me thinks, “Well yeah. That’s what you’re supposed to do . . . wait why am I writing this?” It’s well understood that there are clear ideological differences between D’s and R’s, differences that can’t be resolved over a coffee or friendly chat. Therefore, it makes sense that I and many others do heavily agree with the “business as usual” sentiments, which call on us to progress onward leaving conservative Americans behind. Eh, feels easy. Shouldn’t be a problem.
But then I consider the consequences of such actions.
Plenty of Californians were shocked to believe that Trump had even won the GOP nomination, let alone won the general election, or even the electoral vote, without some Democrat, whether it be Hillary, Sanders, or Obama, standing up and kicking ass to prevent such an atrocity. But to be in the California political bubble that we are in translates to a nearly complete lack of context of what people in much of the country are dealing with. That’s consequence #1.
Consequence #2 is that our actions became completely reactive rather than proactive. If liberals could have better understood the needs of ordinary Americans desperate for something to be done about their jobs, their wellbeing, and their beliefs, then I think that we could have prevented Trump’s tiny hands from grabbing power.
Consequence #3 is that Californians became complacent. Surrounded by opinions that mirror ours, with a Democrat-controlled assembly, senate, governor, court, everything, with a liberal, African American, youthful president, we got comfortable with our political landscape without taking into account the rest of the country’s political direction, which, apparently, wasn’t as liberally blue as we had thought.
Regardless of Big Money in politics, Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression, and the everyday hard-nosed conservative voter, it was our comfort, our complacency, and our lack of willingness to understand our enemy that created the monstrosity that is Donald Trump (Ouch. Yeah that hurt me too). We, the liberal-leaning voters, are just as responsible. Our stubbornness and complacency has kept us from reaching across the aisle to conservatives and finding common ground.
“But there is no common ground to be had with a Trump voter.”
Hey, you might be right . . . Wait. I don’t think I’m supposed to say that.
I do happen to believe that what excites the majority of conservative voters is not outright racism, bigotry, and sexism (though they must own that this is what they voted for regardless); rather, what makes a Trump voter is fear and consistent frustration. They fear for their jobs, their beliefs, and their families, and are angry that government isn’t taking in their concerns. Mind you, this requires you to not envision a Trump voter with the inherently evil strawman caricature that we are used to. It’s a challenge, I know. Nevertheless it’s necessary to foster understanding.
Mind you, this is not a message telling you to stop fighting. This isn’t a call for inaction or passiveness in any sense. Rather, I’m asking us to engage in a battle on multiple fronts.
There’s a reason why the same people that voted for Obama voted for Trump this election season. There’s a reason why counties and states that Obama carried TWICE succumbed to the grips of Trump. And it wasn’t because Hillary was black.
I implore you to listen. Not just argue, or open a debate then grudgingly listen only to reply. Listen to understand. Wear their shoes. I’m not inviting you to like the person, hell I’m not even inviting you to agree with them. I am only inviting you to listen to understand, and see where your own positions have fallen short for a collective America, then see what can be done to change things.
It is hard to move forward without certainty in the first step. Nevertheless it must be taken. Let us liberals be the vanguard to healing, and do what needs to be done to save our democracy.
Bragging rights are always nice anyway.


Dominick Williams Dominick Williams is a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the Local Legislative Affairs Manager for the Associated Students University of California and is a current Cal-in-Sacramento fellow. He enjoys a board games with friends, especially Monopoly because he feels it’s a great way of testing those friendships while also having fun. “A ‘two-for-one’-er,” he says.
 
 


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