What’s the Point of Protesting? #womensmarch

Image result for women's marchAfter the shudder and wretch inducing inauguration, the incredibly successful Women’s March on Saturday was balm for a lot of our souls. A reminder that Trump does not have the support of the American people. Which is all well and fine,  but what good does protesting actually do? Especially when the aims of the protest are so nebulous and ill defined? Even if we have the numbers, the bad guys have the power. Does all this marching and protesting actually matter? Are we just yelling to the wind as some critics have charged?

Well, I would argue that protests – especially large, noisy, hard to ignore protests do matter and will make a difference. And this is true even when there’s no specific policy goal or demands being made. Heck, the Republicans have spent the last 8 years (or longer) demonstrating that protest works, even when no one actually agrees with what you are trying to do.

The reason that protests work and are worthwhile has to do with the way that most people think about politics and the political process. Which is to say that they really don’t. Most Americans are what are referred to as “low information voters“, meaning that they aren’t keeping up with all the ins and outs of what’s going on in the political and policy world. And let’s face it, with the complexities and competing narratives surrounding politics, a lot of people are going to struggle to make sense of what’s going on even if they did paying attention. So what most people rely instead when forming their opinions are called heuristics, or rules of thumb, in evaluating the political sphere.

One of the important heuristics which people use when deciding whether a president (or party, but mainly the president) is doing well or not is the presence of open conflict. If there’s open conflict, that sends a signal to voters that the president is not doing his job well. If there’s relative quiet and things are getting done – even if they are things that voters don’t necessarily agree with – that sends a signal to voters that the president is doing a good enough job. This is a well documented phenomena which has strongly influenced which party holds power in the legislative branch for the last 30 years.

Typically, the conflict is created by the politicians from each party on capital hill. But given the Democrats’ demonstrable inability and unwillingness to provoke and sustain conflict, the work of creating conflict has fallen to the American people. While conservatives have been busy having a meltdown over the protests which basically amounts to screeching “shut up stupid women” over and over, this massive show of discontent and opposition sends a powerful signal to the average low information voter that there’s a problem. And when there’s a problem, it’s the president and his party which gets blamed.

Of course, one protest isn’t going to change things, popular though narratives about “protests that changed the course of history” are. In order to bring about change, there needs to be sustained efforts, protests and confrontations which keep the conflict front and center in the public’s eye. At this point it seems likely that those of us who oppose Trump aren’t going to settle quietly back into normal life. The election of Trump has already radicalized a significant number of people. And Trump appears determined to do his part to keep the movement motivated and active.

The problem we face is that Trump and the GOP are authoritarians who don’t much care what the public thinks or wants. And the GOP has managed to gerrymander and essentially cheat their way into a permanent grip on power. Which just makes it all the more important that we continue to engage in frequent, highly visible displays of opposition. While our opposition may not move Trump or lawmakers, the public has the expectation that the president will create peace, not turmoil. Really, there’s nothing that the average Joe blow wants less than a breakdown of social order and the ongoing presence of this conflict will send a powerful signal to them that the president is failing in his most basic tasks and duties.

The danger of pursuing a course of action which maximizes conflict is that Trump’s authoritarian impulses will lead him and/or his supporters to respond with a show of force meant to shut down opposition. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the kinds of state violence which we observed against Standing Rock water protectors will become common place throughout the country.

However, a president who essentially goes to war against his own people will be signing his own resignation papers. Americans value peace and order (at least within our own borders), but at the very core of our identity is that we are a free people. We can be manipulated, but we’re damn hard to exert control over. No president who openly turns on masses of his own people will long endure. And when that president seems to be going out of his way to be as divisive and unpleasant as humanly possible, people are not likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I mention the possibility of provoking a dangerous, repressive response because we need to be honest with ourselves about what we’re dealing with. However, I don’t think it will come to that. While it’s been criticized by the “give cheeto Mussolini a chance” brigade, the fact that there is such intense opposition right out the gate will work to our advantage so long as we maintain it going forward. Donald Trump is a thin skinned, vengeful billionaire who isn’t used to engaging in fights that he can’t just buy his way out of. He’s also a megalomaniac who has to bring his own cheering section with him where ever he goes. Either he’s going to start trying to placate us (getting rid of his appointees and advisers who have ties to white nationalists would be a great place to start). Or he’s going to continue to misstep badly. Either way works to our advantage.

Never forget: both reality and the will of the American people are on our side. So protest away! It’s going to make all the difference.

Let’s Talk About Name Calling: Special Snowflake Edition

Snowflake EdgeOne of the favorite rhetorical strategies of the radical right is name calling. Like, they have a whole set of names that they’ve created in order to wage rhetorical war against the rest of us: Libraturd, Feminazi, Thug, Cuck, Special Snowflake, Hysterical, Unhinged, etc, etc, etc. It’s apparently one of their favorite things.

The left may not be much more respectful towards the far right, but making up names to call people isn’t particularly their thing. Nor should it be. There’s a time and a place for everything and some well placed, creative name calling towards someone in a dominant position can be a legitimate part of fighting back from a position of weakness. But I think it’s a good thing that liberals don’t have a nasty name for conservatives that acts as the equivalent to “libraturd”. And I’m certainly not going to suggest that anyone come up with one. But, as I pointed out earlier today, if we want to start defending ourselves against the radical right, turning their own tactics against them is as good a way as any for the average person to start.

As with most radical right rhetoric the name calling they engage in is, more often than not, projection. Which means that they are very vulnerable to having their own language turned against them. So once someone has demonstrated that they are simply being belligerent and have no real interest in engaging in actual dialogue I’ll use any expression of outrage or protest as an excuse to call them a special snowflake. Radical right aren’t used to being on the receiving end of that and typically don’t like it.

If they object to being called a special snowflake, I’ll follow up by asking if they’re triggered and need a safe space. When they accuse you of being a jerk, you can simply respond that you thought that they didn’t go for that politically correct bullshit, but if they’re going to come unhinged and start policing your tone, you can just end the conversation there. Then end it. Walk away, block, ignore, continue calling them special snowflakes or move on to some other favorite radical right term until they get pissed off and disgusted enough to leave.

Now, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t start treating any old conservative like this. If someone is able and willing to engage in actual discourse and you have time, it’s probably best to attempt discourse. But at the point that you realize someone is using discourse and language as a weapon of domination, this kind of tactic can be a good way of pushing back and disengaging before you stress yourself out or waste any more time.

Remember: discourse with someone who is only interested in establishing their dominance is pointless. You are not obligated to play your assigned role in their little game. And don’t worry that you’re going to hurt the person you’re talking to. They aren’t actually listening to a damn thing you say anyways. Besides they are (presumably) grown adults who need to develop the ability to absorb a blow without melting down (something that the people who they typically accuse of being “special snowflakes” do all the time with grace, btw). This is their game and turn about’s fair play after all. If they don’t like the way that works for them, they are always welcome to reform their ways and begin engaging with people in legitimate discourse which seeks to understand rather than dominate.

Now, a couple of cautions for anyone who wants to try turning the language of the radical right back on them. First, these people have come up with some really nasty insults. They’re not just rude, but are often racist, sexist and punching down. We are better than that and should avoid using language which is, in and of itself, insulting or demeaning to people who are vulnerable to abuse or oppression. You’ll notice that I use the libraturd to exemplify the rude, immature name calling that the right engages in. There are many variations on the term, including the popular “libratard”. Which I will not use because it’s built on the word retard which is an insult to people with learning  and developmental issues. I also refrain from using insults that refer to an immutable trait of the person such as race, sexual orientation, weight or attractiveness. My goal is to shock them with my poor behavior and demonstrate an unwillingness to play my part in their game, not actually wound. Just because we’re engaged in a fight doesn’t mean that we’re free to throw our values out the window. Be judicious.

Also, do feel free to throw the abusive language of the radical right in their face. Refer to yourself as a libraturd before they have the chance. Put a face to the abusive language that they throw around unthinkingly. I will often mention the fact that people in the Steve Bannon branch of the radical right refer to my children as mongrels. Point out when they are ridiculing the weak and the vulnerable with their language. Don’t be afraid to be provocative. A lot of these people will play nice in public, but all you have to do is scratch their ego and all kinds of nastiness comes pouring out. That shit needs to be brought out into the open where everyone can see it and they can’t deny it.

Again, the point of all of this from our perspective isn’t to “win” or dominate. It’s to make it so the rhetorical game doesn’t work for them anymore. To make what has heretofore been a strength and an effective tactic into a weakness that blows up in their faces instead. My personal goal is to make every radical right winger who encounters me curse the jackass who came up with the phrase “special snowflake” and regret handing me this nasty language to use against them. I want to make it an albatross around their neck that must be reckoned with before we move forward (hopefully together). They aren’t going to stop with the name calling because we ask or because they have an attack of conscience. But if they decide that such behavior no longer works for them and is relentlessly turned against them they may well decide to discipline themselves to behave better.