Archive for January, 2017

Commitments on Inauguration Day

Well, here we are. On this day of making commitments and looking forward, I want to share what I’ve been thinking about this week—what I plan to do. The summary comes first, then I’ll break down each element. Here’s what I’m committing to:

  1. I won’t just get over it.
  2. I will remember.
  3. I’ll strive for accuracy.
  4. I’ll listen.
  5. I’ll support advocacy.
  6. I will not use tools of oppression.

1. I won’t just get over it. One of the impressive sentiments shared in the past two and a half months went (repeatedly) something like this: “Democrats lost because they failed to show enough empathy for others, so they should stop whining about being losers and just accept it already!” It’s impressive that people can pull off a pivot like that without straining a hamstring or something. Sometimes, our understanding of empathy seems to be limited to “something other people should show more of toward me.”

The point being, it might be useful to understand why people are more upset about this election than other elections. Get some understanding of people who are worried about losing and freedoms and safeties that, in many cases, were not too secure to begin with. Those sorts of worries do not just disappear when people tell you to just stop whining and get over it. Because we know what happened in the campaign. We know what was said. We didn’t forget. Which brings us nicely to point two:

2. I will remember. Words matter. I’m not just going to forget what was said in the campaign. We got a blueprint for how to break the nation (dividing people, exploding the deficit, alienating allies, and on and on), vague ideas that don’t count as plans, and lots of broken promises. It’ll take action to fix that. All that stuff doesn’t just get forgotten because the calendar turns. I’m not going to forget the broken promises, the racist sentiments, the sexism, and on and on and on. I have no interest in normalizing that behavior by pretending it didn’t exist.

3. I’ll strive for accuracy. Yeah, the value of facts has plummeted. They’re trading pretty weak against the dollar these days. I can be darkly amused that the party who has railed for so long against “moral relativity” is now led by a man who is more blithe in his lies than any candidate I’ve ever seen who is not named “Nixon.” He might be more blithe, even, because he seems to derive more enjoyment from lying than Nixon did. Nixon didn’t have much fun. Doesn’t Nixon seem like the kind of guy who would scowl at a puppy bearing a bowl of ice cream on its back on a perfect summer day? But I digress.

So yeah, I went through my dark moment after the election of despairing that facts don’t matter, but in the end I can’t leave them. Maybe it’s foolish to believe that accuracy matters, maybe no one cares, maybe no one will be convinced, but I’d rather go down swinging in this battle than concede it. I’m gong to keep pretending that things that actually happen matter, and we’re better off using facts than not.

And when I have to address an issue? I’ll address that issue, instead of looking for a time when the person who said something critical did a thing I didn’t like, or when one party did something that if you squint hard might look like something the other party is doing. I’ll work to address what’s in front of me, instead of trying to deflect it to some issue where I’m more comfortable.

4. I’ll listen. I am absolutely positive there will be many times in the next four years (and of course the rest of my life) when I need to shut up and listen. I’m going to need plenty of ideas that aren’t mine, and I look forward to hearing them. I’m also going to need to learn who is suffering most and what I can best do to be useful.

5. I’ll support advocacy. When I make charitable gifts, I’m going to look at organizations who don’t just do good things but who fight for change. I know a fair amount about how the nonprofit field works, and how charitable foundations work, and I can say this with absolute certainty: They cannot replace the services government offers. They are nowhere near big enough. If they’re going to be starved—and it seems like odds are good that they are—there will not be a large enough flood of private donations that will replace what is lost. That means I need to support organizations that can make the case for why their work is important, that can hold government’s feet to the fire, and can work for broad change.

6. I will not use tools of oppression. When I first heard of Paulo Freire’s concept that oppressed people tend to adopt the mindset of their oppressors, I had trouble with it. If you’re oppressed, you’re seeing firsthand what oppression does. Why would you adopt that mindset? One of the early comparisons that helped it make more sense was fraternities, where you suffer through hazing to get in, then turn around and eagerly participate in the hazing of future members. It goes beyond that, though. Sometimes it’s a matter of environment—when you are surrounded by certain ways of thinking (like, say, being in a culture that supports clear-cut gender roles), it can be tough to break out of them, to understand that what is happening around you is not the only thing that can happen. On top of that, the tools of oppression can look appealing because they get results. Propaganda, dividing people based on fears of the other, assigning the faults of individuals to an entire group—we’ve seen them all work. We’ve seen them win. So if we want to win, shouldn’t we use those tools? How about attacks on the families of people we don’t like, or doxxing them so they and their families are opened up to threats and harassment? It’s not nice, but it sure generates fear, and fear leads to change. And of course, it’s okay if we do it against them. Because they are the bad guys.

The arguments of certain types of extremists mirror each other. We get to torture them, attack them, open them up to organized harassment, etc., because we are right and they are wrong. In these arguments, virtue comes in thinking the right things, not doing the right things.

I don’t have much interest in that kind of virtue. If you have to employ the tools of oppression to win, then I’ll lose. If you need an argument why it’s not great for one group to be in charge of labeling who deserves to be oppressed, then think about the arguments you’d make for why the people you don’t like shouldn’t do it. Then apply them to yourself.


That’s my list. That’s what I want to do. I’m sharing this for a simple reason: accountability. This is here, and it’s public. If I don’t live up to it, call me on it. Tell me I should be better. And I’ll try.


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