Alien: Release … me.
President Whitmore: I know there is much we can learn from each other, if we can negotiate a truce. We can find a way to co-exist. Can there be a peace between us?
Alien: Peace? No peace…
Whitmore: What is it you want us to do?
Alien: Die… Die…
-- Independence Day, 20th Century Fox, 1996
Let’s nuke the bastards.
It’s the movie’s pivotal scene, right?
President Whitmore starts out a liberal peacenik. He’s a nice guy, kind of a young Jimmy Carter type. He’d served in the military once upon a time, flew fighter jets, but as a Fox News commentator says in the background of one scene “Americans thought they were getting a warrior, instead they elected a wimp!”
Then aliens invade the earth.
Whitmore comes face to face with the monster in a bunker under Area 51, the tentacles of its armored suit squeezed about Doctor Okun’s throat, working Okun’s brain telepathically like a broken puppet. We can co-exist, Whitmore pleads, we can have peace. No. No peace, says the alien. Die! Die! And then tries to invade Whitmore’s mind via telepathic assault. The soldiers in the room shoot the alien monster down in a spray of bullets and as it lays dying on the floor, Whitmore turns to the generals and says,
I saw its thoughts. I saw what they're planning to do. They're like locusts. They're moving from planet to planet, their whole civilization. After they've consumed every natural resource they move on. And we're next. Nuke 'em. Let's nuke the bastards.
Let’s nuke the bastards.
No compromise. No way to co-exist. No peace between us. Die. Die.
That’s a great scene, isn’t it? I love that scene.
What brings this up?
That’s where we’re at, right?
Well, isn’t it?
That’s what you’re telling me. We see what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving across the country now, consuming every natural resource, and we’re next. No peace. No compromise. Let’s nuke the bastards.
Sure, that’s it.
I’ve written two essays since the election, Bug Hunt and Red Sea, in which I suggested liberals and progressives are going to have to start compromising with conservatives.
I said Democrats are going to have to win over at least some of those red areas in the middle of the country.
I mean, it seems like it should be easy.
Or if not easy, at least not an insurmountable task.
Look at all that red.
Look at it.
Red is Republican. Blue is Democrat. But the people who live there are conservative – even the liberals in those areas are comparatively conservative. The people in charge of those counties are conservatives. The voters in those counties send conservative senators and representatives to their conservative state congresses. Those conservative state governments in turn appoint the conservative electors who select the president. And that president now has a willing Congress of his own, made up in the majority of … conservatives.
But here’s the thing: A lot of those conservatives really hate what’s happened to modern conservatism.
They’re no fans of the de facto conservative party, i.e. the GOP, Republicans.
And yet – and yet – many of them voted for the people who appointed the electors who selected Donald Trump and even though they can’t stand the guy, they voted for him because they’d much rather have him than a Democrat.
They would rather have a guy that they can’t stand, than a Democrat.
Think about that. They would rather have Trump than a “liberal.”
Well that is the question, isn’t it?
As I noted in both Bug Hunt and in Red Sea, they’re afraid.
Now I’m sure I’ll get angry denials. We’re not afraid! The messages will say.
But they are.
Sure they are.
We’re all afraid of something. There’s no shame in admitting that. Liberals, progressives, the Left, they have their own exhaustive list of things they’re afraid of, things they fear will come from this administration.
But we’re talking about those red areas in the middle of the country and there? There, as I noted in the previous essay, conservatives are afraid transgender people will assault their daughters in public restrooms.
Yes, they are. That’s exactly what they’re afraid of, don’t take my word for it, go read any newspaper in North Carolina and see for yourself.
They don’t know any transgender people. They don’t understand transgender. Hell, to be perfectly candid, it’s hard for me to understand because I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin. But I’m at least trying to understand. They aren’t. They don’t want to. They look at Caitlyn Jenner and they see a creepy dude in a skirt. A tranny from Pornhub. It’s the joke from their childhood, Flip Wilson as Geraldine. They think transgender is a hairy-knuckled pedophile in a dress, some creeper who wants to sneak into the girls bathroom and molest their daughters.
And they think liberals would rather side with, hell enable, a sexual predator than protect their kids.
Now, that’s not what transgender is. You know it and I know it, but Democrats haven’t done a damned thing to dissuade conservatives of their fear.
They’re afraid gay people want to get married in their churches.
They mostly don’t give a damn if gay people get married, or at least they’ve resigned themselves to same sex marriage. But they’re afraid the next step is the Big Gay Agenda being forced into their churches, just like their restrooms and locker rooms. They’re honestly afraid that a liberal in power will force their religion to not only accept LGBT people, but make the church actively promote “The Gay Lifestyle” (whatever the hell that is) from the pulpit.
And Democrats haven’t done a damned thing to dissuade them of this idea.
They’re afraid foreigners with strange accents and religions and ideas will come to take over their towns.
Now, sure, this isn’t anything new. Every settled culture is afraid it will be replaced. And no, no, the people who still speak with a Dutch accent in Western Michigan or a Norwegian one in Minnesota, the people down at the local small town pizza parlor, or the folks cheering on the local St. Paddy’s Day parade, or enjoying a meal in San Francisco’s Chinatown or Chicago’s Little Italy or grabbing lunch from a taco truck, no, no they don’t see the irony. So, yes, the same people who enjoy a good falafel or some shawarma from their local kebob shop, or think nothing of hopping into a cab driven by a guy from Pakistan, or buy a sixer of Bud Light from some brown skinned Muslim down at the local minimart, can still be terrified that those people are somehow stealing their culture.
(note: that last example is from personal experience. I stopped in a very rural liquor store. I couldn’t find what I wanted. So I asked the brown-skinned Middle Eastern looking woman behind the counter. Her English was passible but not extensive so she called her husband from the back. He’d never heard of the brand I was looking for either. So they had me spell it out. They carefully wrote it down and asked detailed questions since, they explained, as Muslims neither of them could consume alcohol themselves and thus had no direct experience. And they kindly promised to carry the brand should I happen by again).
Despite the fact that we are a nation of immigrants or maybe because of it and therefore know how mass immigration can change a culture, many Americans are terrified of how immigrants will impact our way of life – even though ironically the things many of us enjoy most about our culture are those very traditions imported from elsewhere via our immigrant forbearers.
For many, the words “immigrant” and “refugee” and “illegal alien” and “criminal” are all interchangeable.
And because of that, they’re afraid illegal aliens who slipped into America across unprotected borders will come to take their jobs. They’re afraid terrorists who slipped unvetted into America disguised as refugees will murder them in their places of worship or their shopping malls or their businesses. They’re afraid gangs of criminals, foreigners who have no loyalty to America and no desire to assimilated into our culture, will come from the cities to kick in their doors.
And Democrats haven’t done a damned thing to dissuade people of this fear.
They’re afraid liberal teachers are going to turn their children against them and away from their heritage.
In truth, this is something all parents fear to some degree.
But many conservatives are afraid liberal teachers are brainwashing their kids into hating America, into hating white people, into hating “our” history and religion and culture.
Many of these people have been tricked into believing any criticism, any unblinking look at our mistakes, anything but unquestioning loyalty, is embarrassing and unpatriotic and treasonous. Worse, a foundation of critical thought often leads children to question the world around them, to challenge sacred beliefs, and seek deeper truths in areas many adults – many Americans – would just as soon remain out of sight and out of mind. It’s damned hard to talk honestly about Manifest Destiny or slavery or WWII internment camps or previous waves of immigration without pain, without guilt, without uncomfortable truths.
When a kid asks a parent why we were attacked on September 11th, 2001, the answer is simple: because the terrorists hate us for our Freedom, that’s why.
Because they hate us for our freedom.
That’s a kid’s answer. That’s an America Oorah! answer. Simple. Easy to understand. They hate us because they ain’t us.
But when a kid asks a teacher, well, the answer is anything but simple and easy.
When a kid asks a teacher why the US was attacked by Muslims on 9-11, the answer is complicated and involves a hundred years of failed foreign policy and wars of colonialism and conquest and oil and money and ideology and religions and has nothing whatsoever to do with our supposed freedoms. They hate us because we blew up their country, because we killed their families, because we sided with their enemies, because we came to their land seeking riches and power and we don’t really give a damn about them so long as we get what we need for our civilization.
You disagree? You violently disagree? You’re instantly pissed off? You think what I said about the causal effects of 9-11 make it sound like we somehow deserved it? Like it was our fault?
Well, that’s my point exactly. No, not that America – or any country – deserves terrorism and mass murder, but rather your reaction. Your outrage at my phrasing. We can’t look at history dispassionately and without taking it as a personal affront.
Which is why we keep making the same mistakes over and over. But I digress.
Let me use a different example: Nowhere is the difference between how Americans see their history more stark than the issue of slavery.
It seems to me that slavery is the one thing we can all agree on. I mean, it should be, right?
Sure, there were many reasons for slavery. There were a thousand reasons people used to justify slavery as an institution. Certainly slavery helped build this country and shaped its culture and traditions and prejudices and outlooks and civil rights and its impact is still being felt today. But even though slavery was once acceptable – even the norm – it no longer is. We’ve advanced as a civilization and it should be the one thing we can all agree on without reservation. Slavery is evil. Slavery is wrong. Slavery is terrible. We should all be able to agree on that, black, white, left, right, conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican, all of us should be able to agree that slavery is a horrible blot on our history.
But we don’t.
As soon as it comes up, a certain segment of Americans reflexively become slavery apologists.
Sure, slavery was bad, they rationalize, but hey, look at all the good things that … and I’m left standing there, mouth agape, boggling at anyone who feels somehow that they must rationalize this horrible thing solely because discussing it honestly within the context of our modern enlightenment is just too goddamned painful and embarrassing and guilt inducing.
People of strength and moral character acknowledge unpleasant truths with unflinching determination and use it to make a better future, one where they don’t hate us because they ain’t us.
But many see that unflattering truth as an attempt to paint America as a villain and they just can’t get beyond it, they’re afraid that if our children are taught that unvarnished truth, then they’ll somehow hate their own country, their own culture, their own traditions and people and parents.
And Democrats haven’t done a damned thing to dissuade people of that fear.
They’re afraid the government is coming to take their guns, their freedom, their rights.
And democrats really haven’t done a damned thing at all to dissuade conservatives of those fears. Not really.
Most of all, the people in that sea of red are afraid that their voices are being ignored in Washington.
And Democrat politicians can’t dissuade conservatives of that fear because it’s true.
Their voices are being ignored.
And so are ours.
That’s not my interpretation, that’s their words, their fears, nearly verbatim. They said so. They continue to say so, in every man-on-the-street interview. At every Trump rally. On Facebook. On Twitter. On Instagram. On Fox & Friends. On Breitbart. In the Wall Street Journal. On the signs in their front yards.
And, yes, some of those conservatives are pretty damned deplorable. They are, no doubt.
But not all.
Not even a majority.
Many, many conservatives are just as disgusted with Trump, with the Republican Party, with the Democratic Party, with the country, as liberals are.
To be honest, many conservatives didn’t really believe Trump would be as horrible as he’s turning out to be.
You remember, right?
Sure, they were the ones telling the rest of us, it’ll be okay, you’ll see, he’ll pivot once the election is over, he’ll be more presidential, he’ll stop the bombast and the tweets and the pussy grabbing. You’ll see.
Of course that was wishful thinking.
Of course that didn’t happen.
Of course it didn’t.
And sure, there’s certainly some schadenfreude to be had here. Ha ha, told you so. Absolutely. But if you can see past that, well, you’ll realize those conservatives are just as disgusted as you are, and maybe even more so since they were the ones who got suckered.
But they continue to vote for Republicans because the alternative, so they believe, is worse.
So it seems to me it should be easy.
Or at least if not easy then not insurmountable.
It seems Democrats have a historic opportunity, a moment when moderate conservatives could be given a choice other than dogmatic partisanship, if the left can pull together, can reach out, can compromise, and can but convince them that their guns and their bibles will be safe. If Democrats can address those fears up above in an honest manner and put them firmly to rest, then now, this moment right here, is an opportunity to prove that the alternative is better.
But here’s the kicker: that’s the easy part.
The problem isn’t conservatives.
Or at least not just conservatives.
You see, in those previous two essays and up above the word I used was compromise.
I know there is much we can learn from each other, if we can negotiate a truce. We can find a way to co-exist. Can there be a peace between us?
And the overwhelming response was … no.
No. Not from conservatives. But from liberals.
- I don’t think you know what compromise means!
- When you talk about compromising with the GOP, as it currently exists, what does that mean for you personally? What do you see yourself sacrificing as an individual? You don't have a uterus. You are not black, brown, Muslim, or LGBT […]
- […]What do YOU risk, Wright? Nothing! But nice job mansplaining, condescending prick […]
- […]I agree with you in principle about compromising, but in practice I'm finding this a little difficult. Almost anything we give up is going to hurt somebody. Who do we abandon, or throw to the wolves? It's all too easy to say, well, that issue isn't a big deal, if it doesn't affect us personally. It's a different story when it does.
- I don't expect this comment to get posted, I just want to communicate with you: Wow, Jim, I'm really disappointed with you for the first time. This essay reminds me of a boss who used to yell at us in our weekly team meeting about not showing up at the weekly team meeting. Hel-lo? Why are you yelling at us? *WE'RE* the ones who DO show up. And I, for one, am tired of being lectured about this when I have never missed *ANY* election since the time I was eligible to vote. I'm also tired of the endless apologia for poor white Trump voters. I live in one of the most affluent counties of America, and the McMansions and estates were positively lousy with Trump campaign signs. The only thing these people were frightened of was that some dark-skinned person might possibly get a nickel more than they "deserved" as a dark-skinned person. It is they, more than the types of Trump voters you cite, who are the problem.
- You can’t compromise with evil!
- And what's your's Jim. I like most of what you write, but too often on this topic you just revert to centrist pablum. As others have said; it's not compromise when only one side is compromising.
- I agree with some of this, but I have a problem with the argument that we are all the same. Statistics show the real gung-ho Trump supporters are white men without a college degree. I think education and diversity of experiences plays a huge part in how we are different. I come from a very rural, impoverished part of Michigan, and I know people who get stuck in that cycle of poverty and lack of education. I'm not like them. There's a fundamental difference in world view. Studies show we don't enjoy the same sorts of entertainment, and so on. Perhaps this is my go to cause for problems with almost everything, but it's a lack of education that's at the root of it.
- Okay, so what do we say to those who view politics as theater, fear mongering as amusement, who chuckle when liberals and independents concerns are played out by Mr Trump? What do we say to the farmers who thought Mr Trump wouldn't follow through on his threat to deport en masse the illegals and the unwanted? And further, what do we do when the fear is irrational, that belief has replaced facts, and that dismissive rhetoric is considered a good enough explanation for ridiculous policies? Compromise is a two way street, Mr Wright, and when one party demands the other yield...That's not an invitation for compromise, that's a demand for surrender.
- These people have let Republicans lie to them to their faces for decades. They see the terrible results of right wing policies over long periods of time, especially in the South. And they still vote for the bullshit every single time. There is no reasoning and no compromise with this single minded stupidity.
- Pretending you can get people to turn from their tribalism by being reasonable is what got us in this mess in the first place.
- Time to play hardball.
It’s not us. It’s them.
We’re the good ones, they’re the bad ones.
You can’t compromise unless you’re going to lose something too.
If fact, you can’t compromise unless all sides lose equally and all sides gain equally, we have to keep score.
You can’t compromise with single minded stupidity. You can’t compromise with evil. You can’t compromise if somebody gets hurt. You can’t compromise with people who won’t compromise. You can’t compromise if you’re too centrist – because that’s somehow bad. We can’t compromise with people who got suckered because really fuck those people. We can’t compromise with people who aren’t the same as us. We can’t compromise because the other side is stupid and evil and unAmerican and horrible hunchbacked stinking black-eyed oily-skinned trolls who eat babies and worship Satan and who are against everything we believe in Goddamnit! We can’t compromise! No way, no how, and fuck you. No. Hell no. Time to play hardball. No compromise. No peace! No peace! Nuke ‘em! Let’s nuke the bastards! Die! Die!
And so where does that leave us?
No middle ground.
Where does that leave us?
No really, look at that map and tell me, what does that leave?
You won't compromise. You can’t.
Because you don't believe there are any rational conservatives left to compromise with.
That sea of red, that’s the enemy. You’ve written them off. That’s the evil. You can’t compromise with evil. If they’re afraid, if they voted for Trump, fuck ‘em they deserve no sympathy, no attempt at understanding. No peace. Die.
And so where does that leave you?
Where does it leave you if you regard half the country as The Enemy?
If you don’t believe the system can be salvaged?
If, hell, you don’t believe the system is worth salvaging, it’s rotten and corrupt and can’t be fixed?
If you believe the game is rigged and you don’t believe you can win via legal means?
If you believe the opposition is illegitimate and therefore not worthy of consideration or any respect?
They hate you and you hate them and there can be no peace between you.
You will not compromise.
They will not compromise.
So what's your plan? Where does that leave us? Where do we go next? What options do we have?
Do you march on Washington with your guns and tri-corner hats?
Do you rise up in violent revolution?
Secession and civil war?
A coup d'état?
Do you find yourself a disgraced scientist and a daredevil pilot to fly a stolen alien craft loaded with nuclear weapons straight into the mothership in a mad suicide mission, one last desperate gamble, and winner take all in the radioactive ruins? And when you succeed, assuming that you do, and you seize power, what then? What comes then? What do you do with the people you can’t compromise with? Purges? Genocide? Ghettos? Reeducation camps? Mass deportation? Imposition of your ideals via the muzzle of a gun? How will your force those conquered people who you cannot compromise with to comply?
How long do you think you can hold it, assuming you are able to seize the reins of power in the first place?
How stable do you think such a country would be? How productive? How innovative? How free?
Or are these more of those unpleasant truths we don’t want to face?
I used the word compromise on purpose.
I used it deliberately and with malice aforethought.
I used it knowing what would happen, how you’d react.
I used it because I knew, I knew, that it would provoke a visceral reaction. I used it because it’s as much a trigger for many of you as it is for those you despise. You hear compromise and instantly your teeth are bared and your fists are clenched. No. No compromise. It’s not up to us to compromise, it’s up to them! No. No compromise. No peace. Die!
But, you see, in those paragraphs describing civil war and reeducation camps up above, the partisan you isn’t identified and as such those statements could apply equally well to the other side – and do.
I said I wasn’t asking you to compromise with hate, but with fear.
You’re just playing with semantics, you yelled back. How do you compromise with those who won’t compromise? How?
How? Well, of course, you don’t.
How do you compromise with hate and unreason?
Nowhere did I suggest that any of us should compromise with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, with haters and bigots, and gun waving fanatics or dimwitted goons.
Nowhere did I suggest you should give up your civil rights, your freedom, or your integrity.
But that’s exactly what a number of people thought as soon as they heard the word compromise. Because just like conservatives, liberals hear the word compromise and they’ll be damned if they’ll budge.
Folks, I submit to you that there are far, far more reasonable people, on both sides, standing closer to the middle than to the edges and the only thing which really divides those people one from the other is … fear.
And yes, it’s true that hate cannot be reasoned with.
It can be burned down, shot, bombed from the sky, plowed under, locked up, marginalized until it starves to death, but it can not be reasoned with.
Fear, however, can.
And so perhaps compromise was the wrong word even though it served my purpose.
Regardless of what words I use, we – all of us – must find a way to address that fear. The fear that is tearing our country, our people, our civilization apart.
Not dismiss, not mollify, but address honestly and in good faith no matter how painful and unpleasant.
You know, it’s funny. I came from the Heartland, the Midwest. I spent my life in the ultimate bastion of conservatism, the military. I lived in Alaska, the reddest of the Red States. I live now in the Panhandle of Florida among conservatives. I talk to these people. I eat with these people. I drink with these people. I’m related to these people. Those things up above? Many reasonable conservatives don’t really give a damn about those things. Not really. They want the same things you do, peace, security, safety, good paying jobs, decent schools and decent neighbors, bridges that don’t fall down, clean water, clean air, safe food, affordable healthcare, respect, pride, and it’s likely that we, left and right, have more in common than we don’t.
Look out there. What do you see?
Republican politicians can’t even talk to their own people.
Republican politicians are afraid, terrified, to face their own people in a town hall.
Doesn’t that suggest to you an opportunity?
When I talk to conservatives, the reasonable ones, it seems their ideals and the things that are important to them – really important -- are far closer to that of the Democratic or Independent parties than to the platform of the GOP. But they all say the same thing: I can’t vote for a Democrat. I can’t vote for a liberal.
Because of all those fears, it’s being labelled a liberal they fear the most.
Change that …
… and you change the map.
David Levinson: You really think you can fly that thing?
Captain Steven Hiller: You really think you can do all that bullshit you just said?
-- Independence Day
Yes I do.