Today, Donald Trump announced (over Twitter, of course) that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. On cue, my Facebook feed filled up with justifiably shocked and outraged responses and reactions from my liberal friends.
To start, I will say Trump’s announcement is disgusting. But we have to remember Trump is just continuing to troll America, the country that unfortunately put him in office. He’s under serious investigation by an independent counsel, his healthcare plan continues to go down in flames despite the fact the GOP controls Congress, and he is under fire for typical brutish remarks to Boy Scouts (is this really shocking though?) So it’s typical that he would rally his base by making such an announcement out of left field—to try to distract by denigrating another minority and throwing them under the bus (kinda like he’s thrown Jeff Sessions under the bus lately).
But I’m tired of all the anger with no solutions. I’m tired of fellow liberals taking the bait and yelling over social media about how angry they are (to be fair, I’m guilty of this too!), and complaining about the outcome of the 2016 election, without strategizing about how we’re actually going to move forward from here.
I am not claiming to have all the answers. But what I do know is that being a “liberal” is not something I’m proud of these days, and the tone of the discourse isn’t going to build any bridges or promote unity in a way we so desperately need.
I’ve found that many of my fellow liberals attack anyone or anything that doesn’t perfectly align with their worldview. It’s true, conservatives are very much guilty of the same (I have a Trump-supporting family member who stopped speaking to me around the time I vocally supported and campaigned for Hillary and views me as “immoral” for my support, so I know better than anyone how closed-minded conservatives can be). But liberals, progressives, left-leaning people, Democrats, or whatever you want to label them (I mean, us?) need to do so much better.
A few recent examples:
I posted on Facebook recently about Jeff Sessions. I worked for him in the summer of 2009 in D.C. When I suggested people can change for the better over time (referring to comments he made several decades before), a liberal friend was quick to post “Was his heart in the right place before or after the 1980s?” Everyone is quick to vilify Sessions as a racist without looking at the entirety of his record, and this frustrates me. Granted, I voiced my concerns about his nomination back in January and never thought he was the right person for the job, and I got a lot of pushback for this from moderate and conservatives alike. But this blanket vilification of people “on the other side” will never move the needle, and will only serve to further alienate people instead of getting back to a place of civil discourse. (To be fair, this friend and I had a very productive discussion following the post–we shared a lot of the same concerns about Sessions then and we continue to do so now. And Sessions’ comments way-back-when were and are fair game for legitimate criticism.)
Also, there’s a huge Facebook group called Girls LOVE Travel (GLT). Obviously, since I am a girl who loves travel, I’ve been a member of the group for quite some time, and it was very helpful and encouraging to me as I was planning my solo backpacking trip around the world last year. I love seeing posts where girls are asking for travel advice, and the amazing stories of girls traveling solo and discovering so much about the world on their adventures.
But this week in particular, there have been a lot of posts about “how to spot the American abroad” and “the fragility of the Western traveler,” among other riveting topics. I get some posts along the lines of the first example may all be made in good fun, and it’s important to talk about how to be a respectful and mindful traveler, but I began noticing so many of the comments were devolving into arguments about “privilege” in a tone that didn’t show respect for others posting.
So today, I posted that I was disappointed in how negative the page was becoming, and that I thought it was supposed to be about travel, not politics. Of course, I was called out for my “privilege” and for not being knowledgeable about the world and the circumstances of others. These people who were calling me out have never met me. I’ve traveled a lot and I understand that I’ll never be able to fully understand or appreciate some of the situations of others, but I don’t need a stranger yelling at me about it on Facebook. This girl loves travel, but she doesn’t love virtue signaling.
I left the group because I really don’t need the negativity. As much as social media can add to our lives (I love seeing pictures of friends on vacations, friends’ babies, reading funny posts and memes etc! And I also think social media is an important means of social activism) it can be extremely dehumanizing, as I think people forget they are talking to someone’s daughter, friend, sister, aunt, mother, or wife when they yell at them over social media about their “privilege.”
I do think we all need to be aware of the various ways we are privileged, and that we all need to work to make society more equitable for all. I’ve talked about privilege until I’m blue in the face, on Facebook with Trump-supporting friends and in person with a variety of people. I protested after Trump’s election. I blogged about travel privilege here, about how colonialism is still an issue here, and about my views on Trump’s America here and here. But I think the term “privilege” is losing its muster–the more angry liberal people yell it at other people without trying to first put themselves in that person’s shoes, the less anyone will listen and the less the term means.
Don’t get me wrong…there are so many who are getting the messaging right, particularly guys like Trae Crowder and crew, and I still think the editorial section of the New York Times is on point these days.
But as a self-identified liberal (probably more moderate these days), I am calling out my people for being a self-righteous bunch. We all need to have a bit more empathy for each other.