On bringing both sides together.

In news that I’m sure will come as a surprise to no one, I’m really disappointing and terrified by the outcome of this election.  At the moment, I’m mostly just a twisted knot of emotion and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog anything insightful, but there’s one thing that keeps coming up in people’s responses that gives me pause – that we as a nation are more divided than ever, and we need to bring the two sides together.

So the first part is undeniable true – Pew has reported it, Colbert has done a monologue about it, and Adam Ruins Everything has confirmed it, and that’s basically how reality is formed now.  However, I would really like to argue the second part of the claim, that both sides are equally at fault for creating this division, and both sides need to take steps forward until we all meet in the middle.  In fact, I would argue that that claim, which is itself a plea for liberalism and the free and open exchange of ideas, is part of how we ended up here.

Last night, we elected a man whose only major media endorsement was the national paper of the Klu Klux Klan.  Whatever you may think of Hillary, media groups around the country, the people who live and breath current events, who routinely report on stories in cities and in rural communities and everywhere in between, looked at these two candidates, and the only one who said “this one is the best option for our nation” is the one published by the leading purveyors of racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Catholicism for the last 150 years (and are now branching out into Islamophobia).  Even media organizations that didn’t endorse Hillary still made a point of publicly not endorsing Donald Trump.

Now, the media is by no means an exact representation of the distributions of ideologies in this country, but at least up until the last decade, it was generally seen as a decent parallel, and in this particular case, I think it’s as good a model as we need.  The only support Trump had was the extreme far right.  That’s who the rest of us are being told we need to embrace.  Not Conservatives.  Not traditionalists.  The Klan.  The actual, real-life, motherf*cking, white-sheet wearing, cross burning, human-being-lynching KKK.

There are two sides in this country, and they are afraid of the other being in power, but those fears are not equal.  The far right is afraid of creeping Sharia, that Democrats will open our borders and make the whole country Communist, and put an end to the white race, things that no one on the left has actually talked about doing.  Meanwhile, the rest of us are afraid that our President-elect will deport everyone of Latino heritage or who practices Islam, that he’ll encourage the expansion of the world-wide nuclear arsenal, and that he’ll encourage violence against minorities within the US, all things he’s already said and done.  

The reality is that we can’t find middle ground because to do so, we (as the left) would need to be able to agree to negotiate and compromise, but we can’t compromise on things we were never doing in the first place.  I can promise until I’m blue in the face (and have tried) that I’m not trying to force Americans to convert to Islam or help a secret jihadist mission in the US by writing and speaking out against Islamophobia, but I can never give evidence to show how much less of that I’m doing now because I was never doing it in the first place (in the words of the Mad Hatter, “‘You mean you can’t take less. It’s very easy to take more than nothing.”)

I’ve talked before about how terrorism is essentially abuse, but against a community rather than an individual, and it’s hard not to be afraid that that’s what we have to expect from the next four years.  An ideology that cycles between threatening people with violence for imagined faults and claiming to want to work together if only we (the victims) would get off our high horses and compromise sounds a lot like an abuse cycle.

And yet, even I still have a voice in my head saying, “but these people are your countrymen – no matter how much you disagree with them, you should try to work with them.”  But then I remember something Tony McAleer from Life After Hate said at RNA in September, about how he used to write propaganda for the extreme far right.  He described his job as tugging on the end of a string – if you just pull and pull and pull, the other side will pull back, and everything stays where it is.  Instead, his job was to get the other side to come closer, even if just by inches, by framing extreme far right arguments in ways that sounded sort of okay.  As he put it, each time he could get the other side to inch closer, he moved the center mark slightly more to the right, and with enough inches forward, what was the right becomes the center, and suddenly he and his people could pull even farther to the right without seeming that extreme, because for all appearances, they’re as far from center as they ever were.

That’s the cost of saying we all have to come together, and treating the fears on each side as the same.  The division in this country isn’t about differences in opinion – one side of the divide is afraid of imagined outcomes, the other is afraid of violence that has actively and continually been threatened against them.  There’s no equality there, and without equality, we can’t have a fair compromise.

Unfortunately, I have no other ideas on how to address the problem.  I’ve been working for years to try to educate Americans about non-Christian religions, Islam in particular, and to fight against Islamophobia, and it feels like I just got thrown back to where we were a decade ago.  And if I’m being honest, right now, I just feel so tired and so worn down, it’s hard to want to get up again.  Maybe it’s time for more coffee… Anyone for a Dunk’s run?

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About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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