The Republican-enabled Trump administration has cost this nation hundreds of thousands of lives and counting. We don’t owe them our consolation.
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You may have heard that those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden have been called upon to reach out to and comfort those who voted for outgoing President Donald Trump. As I’m a kind soul with a generous spirit, I will spare you any unnecessary suspense: The answer is no.
My list of reasons is as long as your arm and American history, but I’m going to start with your plans for next week.
“My plans?” you ask, not unreasonably, but yes, your plans. Yours, mine, and everyone else’s. What are your plans for Thanksgiving?
If they’re not “same as always” but rather some agonized collection of anxieties, cancellations, and heated conversations about Zoom and the quality of air circulation in your Nana’s living room, you can address your thank-you’s to Trump, the Republicans enabling his sadistic incompetence, and the benighted voters who support them all.
We’re on the leading edge of what’s sure to be the worst stage of a pandemic that’s already stolen nearly a quarter of a million American lives—as if the entire city of Buffalo, New York had been wiped from the map. COVID-19 would’ve cut a grievous swath through this nation no matter who’d been in power when it first appeared, but the fact that a virus we learned of on Valentine’s Day is raging unchecked and uncontrolled on Thanksgiving can be laid directly at the feet of a national leadership as feckless as it is cruel. So you will excuse me, Civility Police, but I am not yet ready to “reach out” to the people who hoped to see Trump re-elected even as we were burying an entire city’s worth of our own.
As it happens, though, refusing to let Trump and his fellow travelers off the hook for untold American deaths is not just a reasonable response to national grief and the fact that you’ll be eating a single-serving frozen turkey entrée next Thursday, it’s also a sound approach to politics.
It’s a simple and profound truth that the personal is the political. Hate-filled rhetoric and policies of dehumanization don’t exist in a vacuum; they lead directly to the suffering of millions. When Republicans chose, for instance, to busy themselves with the appointment of right-wing extremist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court rather than provide any relief to a people reeling not just from a mass casualty event but also job loss, home loss, and hunger, it was a political choice. That Americans are hungry doesn’t make it any less so.
The list of cruelties produced by this president and his party goes on: Children who may never again see their parents; families trapped in poverty by predatory payday loans; the ill and the elderly waiting days or even weeks for medications. These horror stories are the direct result of political decisions made over the last four years by a Republican Party that also found time to shore up white supremacy, dismantle workplace safety regulations, and, oh yes, lick the boots of an admitted sexual abuser. Biden supporters can be forgiven for thinking that the politicians and voters who sought to extend these very personal injuries might at least acknowledge the damage they’ve done before we offer forgiveness, carte blanche.
Indeed, any number of faith traditions and 12-step programs will tell you that forgiveness cannot come in the absence of genuine repentance; that repentance, in turn, requires changed behavior; and that bad behavior has consequences, no matter how much you might wish it otherwise. I would argue that perhaps the biggest reason Democrats shouldn’t start extending unearned olive branches is because America has a history of skimping on the whole “consequences” thing, and honestly, it’s a big part of why 2020 has been such an unremitting dumpster fire.
When he took office in 2009, Barack Obama chose to “look forward” instead of prosecuting those involved in George W. Bush’s torture program; Trump appointed one of that program’s central figures to run the CIA and consulted with another on his administration’s use of executive orders to circumvent federal law. In 1974, Gerald Ford granted a “full, free, and absolute” pardon to Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in the White House, a precedent that has not gone unnoticed by a president whose crimes long ago outstripped Watergate. In 1865, the Confederates lost a war they’d launched in order to dissolve the union and keep enslaving people; in 2020, Trump and the GOP are trying their very best to save Confederate statues from the trash heap. Civility Police, I’d like to lodge a complaint!
Maybe if we began letting those responsible for evil sit with what they’ve done, possibly in a prison cell—or, at the very least, far from the halls of government where they have so manifestly failed in their jobs—we wouldn’t find ourselves with wanna-be mob bosses flying around on Air Force One spreading death. Maybe if Republican voters begin to understand that what they do on Election Day actually ruins the lives of actual people, they might be a little less whiny when Democrats don’t send sympathy cards.
Biden will be president of all Americans, not just the ones who voted for him. And he’ll have to try to work with the people who so bitterly opposed his election. But I want to remind the president-elect and everyone else in the Democratic Party of another simple truth: Politics is for power.
Social justice is not won with gentle commiseration. Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall were uprisings intended to wrest power from the hands of oppressors. I did not vote for a party that moves right for Republicans; I voted for a party that will fight to undo Republican damage.
Republicans know politics is for power. It’s why they blocked Obama’s nominations to the Supreme Court and pushed through their own; it’s why they continue to try to gut the Affordable Care Act and overturn Roe v. Wade despite the popularity of both. And it’s why, mark my words, absent a solid win by Georgia Democrats in that state’s Senate run-off elections in January, Biden’s inevitable efforts to reach across the aisle will fail. If Democrats want to enact the kind of change that so many Americans so desperately need, we must stop molly-coddlying the people wholly dedicated to preventing us from doing so.
And finally, while every individual must make their own choices about the people in their lives, I want to say very clearly that you are not required to offer a hand to people who have denied your humanity. Your life is precious, your spirit and your mind are precious. Those who deny it are not deserving of your comfort.
I will offer my comfort to those who have lost loved ones to the virus from which Trump and his party couldn’t be bothered to try to save us; to Black Americans forced to exercise their most sacred of democratic rights in the face of voter suppression as nefarious as it was targeted; to the dozens of women who accused Trump of sexual assault only to see, day in, day out, just how little the ruling party cared about their pain.
Our country is on fire, and you want me to make nice with the people who not only set it ablaze but showed up on Election Day with gasoline.
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