An open letter to my moderate liberal challengers
To conflate progressive criticism with right wing attacks is divisive at best, and disables critical dialogue at its worse. It is an authoritarian and patriarchal tool used to silence the much needed examination of neoliberal policies whose hollow rhetoric of caring is corrupted by a close relationship to multinational corporations and their shareholders. It’s a form of political gas lighting, a tactic to avoid deep scrutiny. The irony, of course, is that such analysis is essential to safeguard a democracy against fascism, whereas the conflation merely fosters fear and an “either-or” mentality.
It might be easier for more moderate liberals to see this tactic used within a conservative light. When the rhetoric of war calls upon nationality in accusations such as: “If you don’t support the war, you are throwing the veterans under the bus,” it leaves humane citizens on the defensive trying to demonstrate their care for returning veterans. The ultimate result in response to this sort of shaming is to silence the critique of war’s rationale. In the end, while we are all waving mini flags at parades, people are maimed and killed. The only ones being honored are the military industrial complex shareholders. They continue to accumulate record high profits during the corporately biased reign of either republican or democrat leaderships. These profits are extracted from the blood of war abroad and the destruction of families through economic terrorism at home. The avoidance of criticism condones the destruction of lives. Naomi Klein refers to it as disaster capitalism (Klein, 2007) Levy sees it more as a systemic form of global corporate cannibalism (2013).
Most moderate liberals I know think they are fighting the good fight, and that this justifies the means to an end. In many respects the LBGTQ moral cause on the left and the anti-abortion moral cause on the right (Yes, I personally know good people who believe they are indeed saving babies lives) have promoted lesser evil politicians because these causes have taken on a host of additional riders like fleas. In the end, the ethical morality of the great cause on either side is sucked dry by this infestation designed only for corporate profit, which requires people to vote against their better interests. The corporate bait and switch tricks impassioned people into supporting their causes without scrutiny. The marriage of LBGTQ (and now immigrant) liberation to corporate privatization, in many respects, is the worst kind of conflation. The liberation does not wash the sins of the moderate neoliberal outcomes. It just muddies the water (Harvey, 2016).
These silencing tactics undermine critical thinking. This type of shaming is a most insidious form of bullying because it is often subconscious. I suspect these moderate liberals would be horrified by their role in what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. They are posting all sorts of memes on Facebook denouncing anyone who is questioning whether or not they should vote for Hillary as selfish brats who don’t care about the horrendous possibilities of a Trump presidency. Shame on you! If he gets in, it will be ALL YOUR FAULT and I will cut my wrists! (Yes, I really did see a meme threatening self-destruction.) Really?
According to the work of Dr. Brené Brown, shaming has become epidemic (2012). Because of its visceral and emotionally accusatory nature, shaming is rarely confronted or discussed, except perhaps among oppressed communities who understand what it means to spend their lives navigating around the shaming of the dominant culture. This leaves moderately privileged ones (i.e. mostly white middle and upper class men) ignorant because they lack the experiences necessary to anchor their understanding.
That is where the bridge needs to be built. We need more narratives of dissent; not less, for social change can only occur in a culture that hears the full scope of stories. In a moving Rolling Stone Magazine interview with Jane Sanders she speaks of the people’s stories she heard as she traveled the country. Her astonishment speaks volumes. “How did we not know this? Where is the leadership?” (Stuart, 2016). In order to get an accurate snapshot of reality we must listen to a full range of feedback. Not just the ra-ra rhetoric from the stage of the DNC, but the voices of people who walked out before Hillary spoke. But, of course, in order to hear it, we must first understand that we are living in a bubble with a narrow band of experience and seek a broader perspective from sources outside of the dominant narrative. Lee Ann Bell’s work in Story Telling for Social Justice is a great example of why this is important. We need to hear not only the dominant narrative; we need to hear the concealed stories, the resistance stories and most importantly, the transformative stories of possibility (2010). Bernie Sander’s campaign drew upon every category. In many respects, the magic of the Sander’s campaign is it gives voice to the suppressed needs of a hurting country. We all felt the burn in our everyday life, so feeling the Bern was as natural as drinking a glass of water when thirsty.
The silencing of Bernie Sanders supporters is the exact opposite of what we need right now. We need to hear the concealed stories, the resistance stories, and emerging alternative stories if we ever hope to challenge the dominant narrative. It is our responsibility as citizens to be critical of the forces of neoliberalism. We must interrupt the movement that is driving us off the edge. Our very survival depends upon it, and Bernie Sanders supporters are among the many who have the feedback and wherewithal that democracy craves. Listen to us. What will Hillary Clinton do to combat the forces of neoliberalism? If she can fully respond to that, and demonstrate commitment to undoing neoliberal globalization then we will find solidarity like none other. And, if you are reading this article wondering what the hell is neoliberalism, and then see David Harvey’s essay on what neoliberalism actually is and why it is a significant obstacle to creating the unity we so desperately need. He says it far better than I ever could. And while you’re at it check out Brené Brown’s work. Wagging your fingers is just not doing to any of us any good.
Karen Walasek, MFA, M.Ed., is a doctoral student of Sustainability and Education and a Graduate Assistant at the Writing Center for Prescott College. Her focus has been on the role that narrative and rhetoric play in fostering a more sustainable world.
Bell, L. A. (2010). Storytelling for social justice: Connecting narrative and the arts in antiracist teaching. New York: Routledge.
Brown, B. (2012). The power of vulnerability: Teachings on authenticity, connection, and courage. Sounds True.
Harvey, D. (2016). Neoliberalism is a political project: David Harvey on what neoliberalism actually is — and why the concept matters. Jacobin Magazine, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/david-harvey-neoliberalism-capitalism-labor-crisis-resistance/.
Klein, N. (2007). Shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Levy, P. (2013). Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the curse of evil. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Stuart, T. (2016, July 28). Jane Sanders: Why Bernie voters shouldn’t get over it. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from Rolling Stone : http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/jane-sanders-why-bernie-voters-shouldnt-get-over-it-w431428