It’s time to stop blaming Trump supporters.

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

I consider myself progressive politically, but I have a bone to pick with some people on the left.    Unlike the modern GOP and their wealthy backers,  we’re supposed to care about the “little people” — the poor, disenfranchised and otherwise vulnerable.   Understandably, we are angered by the millions of working class red state voters who will be hurt by Trump’s draconian policies and cruel budget but voted for him anyway, because we will all suffer as a result of their ignorance too.      Those of us who aren’t swayed by Fox News and right-wing radio and are able to think critically have a hard time understanding why so many poor and working class whites would vote against their own interests and doggedly continue to support a man who is dead set on taking away the little they have.

I understand the anger.   It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around their ignorance — maybe even their willful ignorance.  But I’m seeing so many comments lately from people who consider themselves progressive, yet who not only blame working class Trump voters for the mess we’re in, but who seem to take pleasure in the prospect of seeing them suffer as a result of their folly.   They say things like, “They deserve to lose their healthcare for voting for a monster,” or “let them taste their own medicine,” or “I’ll laugh in their faces when they lose their healthcare and food stamps.”

It’s natural to be angry and even feel a bit of schadenfreude (even though we’re being hit too), but this attitude seems as heartless as the cruel budget and healthcare bill the GOP has unleashed.    How far a leap is it from “she made her bed, now she should lie in it” to the far-right refrain “if she had made better life choices, she wouldn’t be poor, sick, etc.”    Not much, if you ask me.

The country is deeply divided.  Things that were unthinkable in the past have become our new normal.   Mudslinging, namecalling, and even violence abounds on all sides.  This isn’t a left vs. right, GOP vs. Democrat issue.  It’s an all out war and it’s not normal.  Trump supporters hate “libruls” as much as they hate Muslim immigrants and Black Lives Matter — maybe more so.   They are encouraged at Trump rallies to physically attack and intimidate those who oppose them.   Reporters, in particular, are fair game.   But it’s not just on the Republican side we are seeing aggression and hatred.   Democrats who voted for Hillary hate hardcore Bernie supporters (“Berniebots”) who they blame for helping Trump win by refusing to vote for Hillary.   In turn, Hillary-hating Bernie supporters (in some cases they hate her even more than they hate Trump) blame the neoliberal “corporate shills” of the DNC who foisted such a terrible candidate on the nation.  Some even voted for Trump as a vote against Hillary.    I have seen them talk about violent revolution, even homegrown militias to overthrow the government.   Both the far left and traditional liberal Democrats blame working class Trump voters for what’s coming to them, even reveling in the prospect of seeing them suffer or even die when it happens.

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This isn’t an uncommon sentiment on the left.

Like the far right who blame the poor and immigrants for all the nation’s ills, when it’s really social Darwinist policies that target the vulnerable and reward the super-wealthy that are to blame (and create even more poverty in doing so),  some people on the left are just as guilty of blaming the victim.   I’m annoyed and tired of far left ideologues who say, “they made their bed, let them lie in it.”   No one deserves to suffer because they made a mistake — even if they still stick by their mistake.

Granted, some Trump supporters are racist, homophobic, intolerant, full of hate, and admire authoritarian leaders and a “strongman” approach to governing.  Some of them really are terrible people.   But not all of them are.  Most are just ignorant.  They’re not bad people and might even be kind and caring toward others in their daily lives, but they know no better.  Their minds can’t be changed because they have been lied to all their lives and their only point of reference is Fox News and whatever their churches and equally uninformed neighbors and families tell them.  Many lack the education and critical thinking skills to realize they have been misled and lied to.

In Trump, working class red state voters saw an anti-establishment,  colorful character who refused to be politically correct and who shared their their anger at the “liberal corporate elite” — well heeled granola crunching opera-attending types who drive foreign SUVs and seem to care more about Mexicans, Muslims, and blacks more than they care about them, and who look down their noses at their way of life and lack of education.     They heard Trump’s promises of  “healthcare for everybody” and “the Mexicans will pay for the wall” and “we are going to eradicate terror once and for all” and saw someone who would make their lives safer and more prosperous.  Finally, someone who seemed to care more about the white working class (and appealed to their religiosity even though Trump himself doesn’t seem to care much about God) than about immigrants, abortion rights,  and urban gays.

Trump is a swindler and a conman who promised them an easier life and assured them they would not be forgotten.  He played right into their fear and paranoia, and their anger at the corporate elite, who they understandably saw as the enemy.   Without the critical thinking skills or education to know better, how were they supposed to know they were being lied to?  It’s human nature to resolve cognitive dissonance by making excuses for an abuser who blatantly lies to you and is now targeting you.    It’s easier to say, “he doesn’t really mean it” or blame the “fake news” than to say “I was wrong,” especially when you were never trained to think critically about anything or were raised in a subculture that encourages or even celebrates authoritarianism.   Call it willful ignorance if you want, but it’s still ignorance.   As Jesus said in Luke 23: 34, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

It’s not fair to place all the blame on the shoulders of ignorant Trump supporters because there were other factors at play in his winning the election.  These voters are a minority of Americans.   Trump did not win the popular vote, just the electoral college vote, but that’s the one that determines the outcome of our national elections.    We had the same problem in the 2000 election of George W. Bush, who also did not win the popular vote.    The electoral college is obsolete, even destructive, and needs to go.   Are Trump supporters to blame for an outdated and unfair system of counting votes?  No, they are not.

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Another factor — and it’s the one most in the news right now — is Russia’s infiltration into the election.   The far right media loves to target all the stories about Russian interference as fake news,  but there’s just too much evidence for anyone with a working brain to not see that Russia had a lot to do with why Trump won.   Are Trump supporters to blame for Russian interference?  No, of course they aren’t.

There’s also the propaganda pushed by right wing media outlets like Fox News.   People who don’t have much money who pay for cable usually will pick the most basic cable package.   Unfortunately, these bare bones packages often don’t include progressive or even centrist news channels.   So the only news they have access to, besides the local news (which is often conservative) is Fox News, which is included in every basic cable package.   Fox’s selling point is “fair and balanced” and Fox News watchers see (now fallen) pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as one of them.    Both O’Reilly and Hannity (as well as Rush Limbaugh from right wing radio) have a blue collar image and seem able to relate to their concerns and lifestyles better than a Rhodes scholar like Rachel Maddow ever could.    Is it working class Trump supporters’ fault that they are never exposed to the facts or more progressive viewpoints?  Is it their fault the left makes no effort to relate to their concerns, and seems to care more about immigrants and people of color (who they see as the enemy) more than them?    Is it their fault that well to do liberals very often blame them for their lot and look down on them as much or even more than Republicans do?  No, it isn’t.

Finally, there are the churches, especially the evangelical or fundamentalist variety so common in red states, especially the South. Organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is notorious for mixing far right politics into religion, goes as far as warning their parishioners they will displease God if they do not support Trump.   These churches use talking points such as abortion or homosexuality, knowing their followers will vote based on these issues, regardless of where the candidate stands on other issues.  Because they cannot think critically or see the bigger picture, they can’t see that the “pro-life” candidate may actually not be pro-life at all, just pro-birth.   People who can think critically can see how out of touch and easily swayed they are, but to a less-educated person who has been programmed all their lives to believe whatever their pastor tells them and is accustomed to appeals to their primitive emotions rather than their intellect, can we really blame them for supporting he candidate their pastor tells them is “opening the door to Christ’s kingdom?”  Is it their fault they have been brainwashed into believing if they vote for anyone other than Donald Trump, they will make God mad and go to hell?   Again, no, it really isn’t.

It’s time to stop blaming poor and working class Trump supporters and start placing the blame on the real problem:  our broken political system where neither of the major parties addresses the needs and concerns of the average American and thus led to the rise of someone like Trump.

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“The War on Unhappiness” (Harper’s Magazine/PDF)

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Meme with a victim-blaming (gaslighting) sentiment typical of the “war on unhappiness” movement.

Following is a PDF file of an excellent (and long) article from the September 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine tracing the rise of the positive thinking movement, and how it’s been taken to ridiculous and heartbreaking extremes, leading to the victim-blaming mentality and society-wide narcissism so pervasive today.   This attitude that we can all be our own gods and have everything we want if we’re just “happy enough” even infiltrates its way into churches, where “Christian” preachers like Joel Osteen are basically telling their flocks that if they only plaster on a winning smile and just be happy all the time, all their problems will evaporate.

Just like magic!  Magical thinking saves the day!

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Besides being a blatant lie (your problems are NOT just going to go away, but you might be able to delude yourself they don’t exist), the nasty flip side of this is that if you are a victim of any misfortune — illness, financial problems, loss of a job, a divorce, mental illness, any other losses of any kind — that it’s your own fault because you weren’t positive or “happy” enough.

Even worse, such victim-blaming tactics turn even darker: they allow a person to not have to take any responsibility for the way you feel.  If they say or did something that hurt you, they don’t have to say they’re sorry, because after all, saying you’re sorry is admitting guilt, and guilt is a Very Bad Thing.  No, so instead, they GASLIGHT you by telling you it’s YOUR problem that what they said or did upset you.  “I’m not responsible for the way you feel,” they say. “That’s YOUR problem.”  Case closed.   Door slammed in your face.

My parents, especially my mother, was notorious for projecting blame back onto me,  but both of them did it long before it became a thing. And of course, no emotions except happiness were allowed. The sad irony is that no one in our family was happy — we were all fucking miserable. But showing misery was verboten because in a narcissistic family, well, you just don’t show your feelings because no one wants to deal with them!

Now don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking, of course.  It’s a great skill to develop and will make your life a whole lot better than wallowing in a cesspool of self pity and marinating in a stew of misery all the time.   But taken to extremes, anything good can become bad.    This is a perfect example of another of those excesses Americans are so famous (and infamous) for.

The War On Unhappiness: Goodbye Freud, Hello Positive Thinking
By Gary Greenberg

http://www.garygreenbergonline.com/media/harpers.pdf

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Further reading:
How Positive Thinking “Nazis” Jettison Responsibility
Where I Stand on Positive Thinking

Victim-shaming and blaming.

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Credit: Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD

So tired of the poor being blamed for their “bad choices.”

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I just read an article that isn’t really news. It was about how SNAP (food stamp) recipients tend to eat as many calories as higher income people, but those calories tend to come from prepackaged, prepared, and less healthy food that’s high in sugar and starch.

I think most people already know this to be the case. That doesn’t mean poor people don’t want to or try to eat better. Sometimes it simply isn’t possible. There are several reasons why a poor person may not opt for fresh meats, fruits and veggies and go for the Ramen noodles and Kraft macaroni and cheese instead:

1. Fresh food is generally more expensive. A few areas have “community gardens” where free fresh produce can be had for an hour or so’s worth of work in the garden, but only a few.
2. Fresh food cannot be stored for long. Many poor people don’t have access to reliable transportation and are forced to do all their shopping at once, whenever they can. If they don’t know when is the next time they can get to a store, they will tend to stock up on foods that keep well.
3. If you live in a “food desert” (an area where the only place to buy food is the local convenience store), your choices for healthy eating are few, especially if you are without a vehicle and must rely on public transportation or walking.
4. Less time for cooking and food preparation. Many of the working poor work more than one job, and in between jobs must spend time waiting for buses, etc. They may not get home until very late, and have little time or inclination to prepare a meal from scratch, especially if they are working parents who want to spend some time with their kids.
5. Lack of education about good food choices and how to prepare them. Maybe the SNAP program should include classes in how to prepare healthy, cheap meals from scratch.
6. Many of the working poor are simply too exhausted at the end of a grueling day at their minumum wage job(s) to be motivated to cook a healthy meal from scratch.

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But the point of this post isn’t really the difficulty the poor sometimes have obtaining or preparing fresh food. It’s the condescending and sanctimonious comments that followed the article, such as:

1. The poor are poor because of their bad choices, so how is making bad food choices surprising? (If you’ve never been poor, you wouldn’t understand that poverty is never a “choice”)
2. If they’d stop spending money on lottery tickets, cigarettes, and drugs, they’d have more money for food. (Please. I am so tired of this lame stereotype, straight out of Reagan’s fictional “welfare queen driving a Cadillac” argument for cutting benefits to the poor)
3. Why do most of them have Internet? (Hello, access to the Internet is necessary to find a job these days)
4. The poor are too lazy and stupid to get a better education or a better job. (Absolutely not true, and a good education costs money, you dipshit).

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You get the idea. I’m so tired of this victim-blaming mentality that’s been brainwashed into so many Americans today. It’s a pervasive us-vs.-them attitude, regarding “the poor” as somehow another, lesser species of human, undeserving of anything better due to their crappy life choices. Being pretty low-income myself (although I’m not on SNAP), this patronizing, superior attitude makes me want to go break things. Usually, people who judge the poor so harshly have never been poor themselves, and don’t understand how exhausting, painful and debilitating such a life can be. If some poor people lack the motivation to “better themselves” (a phrase I detest) maybe it’s because they’re depressed. I don’t doubt mental illness is probably higher among poor people, but is it not possible their depression and other mental problems may stem from lacking the things that make life a little easier and more bearable?

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I’d like to end this post with this well written comment, written by a poor woman living on disability, in response to all the sheeple who cant get their noses out of the air long enough to see reality.

I get so tired of the sanctimonious attitude of some people who feel that poverty is limited to lazy, fat, irresponsible, stupid people. The truth is that poverty is a condition that is consistent with every society mankind has ever been a part of. Poverty cannot be overcome, food insecurity however can be. Before I continue understand that yes I am obese, yes I am poor, yes I am on food stamps, but, I am tired of being ashamed and embarrassed about any of those conditions. First I am not uneducated. I am a college graduate and worked most of my life in addition to caring for and raising my family. I became ill about 12 years ago and now am permanently disabled. I lost almost everything due to my illness and my husband’s illness and subsequent death. Those expenses wiped out every bit of savings obliterating me financially and now I live on disability alone. I am obese due to many contributing factors. First is medical, second is poverty, and third is mental. The mental issues I mentioned are simple. It is very difficult to make good choices when options are so unbelievably limited. I live in a small town (about 30,000) that does not have much to offer as far as grocery options. Walmart and Albertsons are about it. The food stamps I receive total $16 per month, I budget $80 a month for food. I have difficulty physically in preparing food so many of my options include simple foods like sandwiches. I have meat maybe once a week, and vegetables are like gold. When I have access to them I tend to gorge on them. I love vegetables but rarely get enough. I try to keep frozen veggies that I can microwave but fresh fruit and produce is a luxury. Years ago I started a large community garden that raises vegetables for our church food pantry, but that produce is only available at certain times of the year. I am not a drain on society, I volunteer when able and give back when ever I can. So before you make simplistic judgments about the poor, remember, you could be here too.

 

Where I stand on “positive thinking.”

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Positive thinking taken to extremes is deluded thinking.

I’ve seen several blog posts about the problem of forced positive thinking lately, and since this is an issue that has concerned me for a long time, I thought I’d add my own take on it.

In recent years, there’s been an increased societal pressure toward “positive thinking.” I think two factors have led to this trend–the New Age philosophy that we can “be as gods ourselves,” and the continued glorification of the Reaganistic optimism of the 1980s. The signs are everywhere, in self-help and pop psychology books, in countless popular slogans and memes that appear on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, on motivational posters, on calendars, on the political campaign trail, and all over social media such as Facebook. The forced positive thinking brigade has even infiltrated churches. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” like Joel Osteen have gotten rich by telling us that if we only think positive thoughts, our entire lives will change for the better. They tell us if we let go of negative thought patterns, we can become happy, successful, healthy, and wealthy.

This is all fine and good, and personally I see nothing wrong with positive thinking for its own sake. Even if the outer trappings of your life rival those of someone living in a Third World nation, it’s certainly better for you if you can scare up a little optimism and hopefulness, and it’s definitely bad for you to dwell in hopelessness, depression and negativity. At the very least, seeing the glass as always half-full will make you more accepting of your sorry lot and therefore happier. That said, it’s incredibly difficult to see the glass as half full when there is barely a drop in your glass. That would be deluded, not positive, thinking.

For all its advantages to our psychological well-being, there’s a dark side to the positive thinking movement too, which goes hand in hand with the current societal glorification of narcissism and the nasty belief that selfishness and lack of compassion are virtues. While telling people that thinking positive thoughts is not a bad thing itself (because there is truth to the idea that negativity tends to draw in negative things–I have seen this dynamic for myself), the positive thinking movement has been taken to disturbing extremes. It’s led to victim-blaming and an overall lack of empathy for the less fortunate. The poor are blamed for their own poverty, regardless of the circumstances that might have led to it or keep them trapped there. They are told they are “not positive enough” or “made bad choices.” Even worse, some churches of the “prosperity gospel” ilk tell them they must have some moral failing or God would be rewarding them with material blessings. They are made to feel shame and guilt for their sorry financial condition. The chronically ill and disabled are likewise blamed for “not taking care of themselves” or “choosing bad habits.” It’s easy enough for someone who has never had to struggle with poverty or serious illness to thumb their noses at those who have and tell them it’s all their own fault.

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Is this the way Jesus would have acted? No, of course it isn’t. In fact, most of Jesus’ followers and disciples were the most financially and physically vulnerable members of his society. Jesus himself was humble carpenter and certainly not rich. He didn’t condemn these unfortunates or shame them for failing to be positive enough, or making the “wrong choices.” In fact, he seemed to love these vulnerable people most of all. Whatever happened to the “social gospel” of the late 19th and early 20th century? Oh, that’s right–it became “communism.” Somewhere along the way, compassion for the less fortunate and the culture of charity got twisted into “weakness” and “enabling.” The enormous popularity of Ayn Rand, who believed the greatest human evil was altruism, is disturbing, especially since her philosophy of “objectivism” has infected the minds of powerful politicians of a certain political persuasion, including many “Christians.”

While I don’t subscribe to some Christian fundamentalists’ idea that Satan is behind all this worship of greed and self-love and the denigration and victim-blaming of the less fortunate, I do think it’s a very destructive turn in the way our culture thinks, and it’s psychopathic in nature. Lately I’ve been seeing more blog articles criticizing this trend, and that seems like a good sign that at least a few people (usually victims of narcissistic abuse themselves) are finally realizing our society has become woefully empathy-deprived. Hopefully their message can break out of the blogosphere it’s currently confined to and begin to touch the hearts of The Powers That Be who are not yet completely brainwashed by the Cult of John Galt.

It’s absolutely fine (and desirable) to be a positive thinker, because positive thinking does tend to have its rewards, but blaming the misfortunes of others on their negative thinking or worse, their moral failings is just a form of societal gaslighting and is utterly evil itself. It’s also rife with hypocrisy– the Positive Thinking Powers That Be denigrate the emotions of guilt and shame for themselves, but they make sure those who haven’t been blessed the way they have feel plenty of guilt and shame for not having been “enough.” They never stop to think how impossible it is for someone who is struggling every day just to have enough to eat or with severe pain or illness to think in a positive way. It’s much easier for the already privileged and healthy to be able to say “life is good” and mean it. The well heeled Positive Thinking bots never stop to think of this–or they just don’t care, which is most likely the case, because those who haven’t been “blessed” with wealth or good health MUST have done something wrong to deserve it.

Any society that is empathy-starved is eventually going to self destruct.

For further reading, check out this article from The New York Times and also this one about empathy being a choice.