getting past the filter



I’ve been reading right-wing media – not all the time, because the point of the exercise is understanding and past a point it just breeds exhaustion. But my impression is that the way right-wing media interprets the protests and the outrage and the fear and anger at Trump’s presidency is something like this:

The left won a lot of battles in a row, and they got used to winning every fight they got into, so they picked fights that they couldn’t possibly really care about, just to grind our faces in the dirt. And then they lost! And we won! And they are handling this with immature hysteria and obstructionism and riots, and we basically have to wade through them to put the country back on the rails, and where we fail it’s their fault and where we succeed it proves that they’re ineffectual and intellectually bankrupt and have no tactics beyond crying and complaining and calling people racist. And they’re complaining about things they were fine with under Obama so they’re not actually sincere anyway. And they still have a stranglehold nearly everywhere, but maybe now people’ll start to see through them and we’ll have a chance to roll it back.)

(Some examples of fights we ‘couldn’t possibly really care about’: making employers cover health care plans that included contraception coverage, making bakers bake wedding cakes for gay people, letting trans people use restrooms of their choice.)

And the presence of the narrative imposes a sort of filter, where things you do that make sense within it, or reinforce it, don’t get seen by half the country. Sometimes that doesn’t matter. But sometimes it really does; sometimes I want to be able to talk to the people who voted for Trump and be heard and be understood to be saying what I’m actually saying and not just ‘blah blah liberals won and won and won and can’t handle losing and are going to call you racist no matter what racist racist racist’.

So, obviously, I think this narrative is unfair in many, many ways. But what I’m really interested in right now is, what could a person do or say in order to slip past the narrative? Because it’s, well, encompassing – narratives usually are. Peaceful protests fit into the ‘the left is all bluster and whining’ arm of it and violent protests fit into ‘the left is a danger’ arm of it and no protests fit into the ‘we are the silent majority’ arm of it. And there are battles which really are worth fighting but which are trivial and silly to people sufficiently removed from them, like fights over letting trans people use public restrooms. 

But narratives are not all-encompassing – the vocal opposition of Senator McCain to Trump’s conduct doesn’t fit into it at all, the conservative judges overturning Trump’s executive orders doesn’t fit into it very well, the testimony of veterans about why their translators saved their lives and deserve the opportunity to live here which they were promised doesn’t fit into it.

Those are, of course, all examples of conservatives who can challenge the narrative by already having credibility within it. I can’t think of a great way for a liberal to establish that credibility – emphasizing that you understand why they believe the things they believe was tried very loudly during the campaign, and I think it mostly totally failed (both at establishing that, and at going from ‘we understand each other’ to ‘the filter you’re seeing me through isn’t capturing what I want and what I actually want is reasonable and comprehensible and human’.)

I feel like one important project of the next few months is figuring out how to communicate past the filter, how to say things that aren’t easily sorted into the narrative, and how to build from there enough trust that our concerns and fear and anger are heard as concern and fear and anger, instead of being easy to round off as ‘they lost and they’re sore losers’. I want past the filter. I want to be able to make myself understood. And I do still think that there’s some way that can be achieved.

“couldn’t possibly really care about” is an exaggeration, but I do think the first two of those examples, and part of the third, were idiotic prioritization on liberals’ part, in part because what they perceived as gained was much smaller than what conservatives perceived as lost.

Even assuming you think the government should be requiring employers to provide health insurance in the first place: if you think birth control is morally wrong, paying for it feels really really bad, and unless you fell in a very narrow range you had zero alternatives.  And what did we gain?  It forces people to take some of their compensation in the form of birth control, which ends up being a small subsidy from those who don’t use it to those who do.  It didn’t make birth control free even if the president claims it did, which was so economically illiterate as to be insulting.  Covering abortion might have been a fight worth having, because abortions are a sudden requirement for a lot of money, but birth control is a small regular expense. 

So on hand you have “get slight subsidy for thing you want”, and on the other you have “forced to pay for something you find morally abhorrent.”  The only possible justifications for the left’s support of that are economic illiteracy and the symbolism of the victory, which kind of is equivalent to making conservatives eat dirt.

Ditto for cakemakers.  I can see arguments for anti-discrimination laws for things that are requirements of life and needed on short notice (e.g. when no hotel would admit black people, that limited their ability to travel.  Even if there’s one hotel in a city that does, tracking it down is a pain and it might be full).  But cakes? They’re a luxury item, you have a billion months to plan, and who wants to give a shitton of money to people who don’t think you should be allowed to get married.  The worst case scenario is you end up with a grocery store cake- which might suck, and be a reminder of how your community doesn’t accept you, but does not change underlying reality very much.

Conservatives remember when Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status because they banned cross-racial dating.  It is not at all unreasonable for them to look at this stupid cake thing and worry that 20 years from now churches will be required to perform gay weddings.

On trans people in bathrooms: we had to have this fight because trans people have to pee somewhere.  But the left could have compromised on how; unisex single stall bathrooms cover the basics of “person gets to pee in a place that does not negate their gender.”  If you required “people use bathroom of their choice or unisex bathroom available”, most stores probably would have chosen the former because adding bathrooms is expensive.  Not giving them that out was about forcing the recognition of people as their chosen gender rather than assigned sex at birth.  If you think that is incorrect or morally wrong, that feels pretty shitty.

I’ve read so much about how Trump voters were economically disenfranchised, which isn’t even true, but nothing about how awful it must feel to be forced to violate your principles over and over again.

Nor are conservatives wrong that liberals are upset about power grabs they were fine with from Obama (which bothered conservatives even though they were fine with GWB doing the same).  It’s just that the correct response is “great, you’re finally on board, let’s roll these things back.”

The cake was a strategic misstep of colossal scale.

Literally every single time I’ve seen a liberal complain that it’s unethical for Trump to force them to do X, I’ve seen people counter with some variant of “We won, now bake me a cake.”

EDIT: This took me five seconds to find on twitter:

“Alcohol, pets and meat products are not allowed in the house,” an ad reads. “Neither are Trump supporters.”

retweeted by somebody who added:

Someone should sue her and force her to bake the cake… I mean, rent out the extra room.

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