A few days ago my friend Gina Luttrell wrote, “Anecdotally, I am finding that optimism about Trump’s presidency correlates pretty well to the amount of privilege one has + the ignorance/denial of others’ lack thereof. That sucks.”
I find this observation both fair and unhelpful. Or, I guess I should say probably pretty accurate and also mostly needlessly divisive.
If you’re interested in a task that is not just thankless, but will cause people to actually try to cause you harm, hold up a mirror. Almost no one wants to see who they truly are.
It did cause me to take a moment to think about my own optimism about Trump’s presidency. Am I on-net optimistic? No. But I am optimistic about several things Trump has done and has proposed.
I’m excited that the Trump team’s budget blueprint would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years. I’m excited that Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) is Trump’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget. He and I were on a Bitcoin and the Federal Reserve Panel at CPAC 2014 and he seems serious about cutting spending.
I’m beyond pumped about Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education. She is probably a religious nutjob. But I’ll take that over an education insider who supports the immoral status quo every day forever. I went to public schools K-12 and let me tell you from direct experience that they are moral travesties. We should be ashamed.
I’m excited (yet also trepidatious) about repealing and replacing Obamacare.
There’s way, way more that I’m very, very afraid of. I’m afraid of trade war. I’m afraid of more whistleblower prosecutions. I’m afraid of more hostility to free speech. I’m afraid of Muslim registries. I’m afraid of E-Verify. I’m afraid of kleptocracy. These are always possibilities. But with Trump they are no longer remote, but very, very real threats.
I, for one, take Trump at his word. I take him literally AND seriously. I could never have it on my conscience that I voted for someone who promised to prosecute journalists. No, “But he didn’t mean it,” rationalization could make that okay for me.
Back to the question at hand. How does my privilege play into my optimism? Everything I am optimistic about helps people with less privilege than I have, often more than it helps me. The research is very clear that international trade benefits low-income Americans on net by keeping prices for goods low. School choice disproportionately benefits low-income families. An actual market for healthcare will help people like this guy who is facing bankruptcy and possibly death despite his Obamacare “coverage.”
Now, this is what people do when you call them out. They get defensive.
But because I’m better than most people, I’m also capable of self-reflection. Am I particularly worried about LGBT rights under Mike Pence? In the abstract, sure. But as a cishet female, I’m not particularly fluent on the actual threat Mike Pence poses.
I’m also not particularly aware of the nuances of the threat Trump’s presidency poses to black Americans. I know that the Eric Holder Justice Department has done a phenomenal job of bringing a little bit of transparency to police departments that are particularly egregiously abusing citizens. It seems doubtful to me that the Trump DOJ will continue these kinds of investigations. Which sucks.
But, like, yeah. I’m more up-to-date and informed on trade policy, national debt, and regulations than I am LGBT rights, etc. because those topics feel like they affect me more.
I think it would be great for more people to feel more afraid for other people. For example, I feel afraid for Muslims and immigrants under Trump.
At the same time, I don’t co-sign castigating someone for optimism.
The most pernicious thing you could do with your privilege or lack thereof is give up. Optimism is required for activity.
In case you were curious about the extent to which Market-Based Management(TM) has infected every aspect of my thinking, I’m about to quote from the, I am not shitting you, Market-Based Management Institute Blog. Which, tbh I did not realize existed until I started Googling to find Ludwig von Mises’ Prerequisites of Human Action. Anyway, the idea is that for a human to be moved to action there must be (in no particular order):
2. A vision of a better state
3. The belief that one’s behavior can lead to a better state
That’s optimism, folks. It’s not just the purview of the privileged. It’s the prerequisite for change.
I cannot change that I’m a beautiful, brilliant, heterosexual, cisgendered, middle-class, moderately educated, youngish person. And, frankly, given the chance, I would not.
What I can do, what I am required to do to be a decent person, at least by my own dubious ethical code, is have a good attitude. A good attitude doesn’t say that Muslim registries are actually okay because X, Y, or Z. A good attitude says that the Trump presidency will be a mixed bag, just as all presidencies are. That the likelihood of lots of shit going very, very sideways sure seems like it’s much higher than usual. But the likelihood of a few things getting fixed that could not have been fixed by a sane person is also higher than usual.
I think if you’re ignoring all the threats that Trump poses to women and minorities in your desire to burn the fucking system to the ground, that’s a dick move. I also want to burn it to the ground. Trust me. But I’m not willing to use black and trans bodies as kindling. So I think that’s what Gina is saying. And I agree with her.
But if you’re optimistic about certain aspects of a Trump presidency, I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s necessary.
I’m fucking depressed. Some of my friends want to witness parts of the inauguration out of curiosity and I guess I understand that. It’s historic. It’s interesting. But the thing about doing politics full-time, or watching America inaugurate an openly bigoted sexual predator who actively disdains civil liberties and free markets, is that it requires a dispositional remove. You need a certain amount of apathy, an emotional firewall, and a strong sense of irony to be able to do it without burning out. I don’t have any of that. I am painfully earnest and emotionally invested in these issues. Trump hurts my feelings. His supporters genuinely scare me.
I’ve recently realized that I don’t like watching people be mean to each other. Which is a huge part of why I stopped doing punditry full-time and is part of why I’m leaving D.C.
But I keep writing. I continue to write about politics for the same reason I couldn’t have voted for Trump. I can’t have inactivity in the face of oppression on my conscience either. So for me, optimism is a challenge. It’s a little seedling that I have to constantly water. I’m growing the seeds of dissent in my choice to believe that my behavior can lead to a better state (or no state, waddup).
I’m scared but I’m writing. I don’t do irony. So optimism is all I’ve got.