ground rules for primary season
ALRIGHT PEOPLE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. PRIMARY SEASON HAS BEGUN.
Prepare to see this, everywhere, all the time:
With Bernie Sanders’ announcement that he will be running in 2020, shit is getting real in political Twitter and in the media. All morning I found myself embroiled in the same old time-sucking non-discussions with people who will never convince me and whom I will never convince, and you know what?
No. Mm mm. Not doing it this year. DO YOU HEAR ME, BERNIE BROS? I AM NOT DOING IT.
So I am setting some ground rules for how I plan to navigate the primary season.
Please note that these are my personal ground rules. Take what you like. Leave what you hate. You all should know right off the bat that most of these ground rules exist because of rampant abuse by white male Bernie stans. If you don’t like that lived reality for this woman in the internet, well, read Ground Rule #1 below:
You do not owe anyone your time. While discourse is valuable when it’s initiated in good faith, screaming at people who will never, ever agree with you is a waste of time and blood pressure medication. Listen to people who disagree with you and ask them questions. Be curious about what attracted them or repelled them to this candidate or issue. Take it in. Take deep breaths. Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to learn something new. Most importantly, be willing to walk away whenever the fuck you want to, for no fucking reason but that you’re done, because you don’t owe anyone a goddamn thing. If you don’t think you can continue to engage on a substantive level, go live your life, girl! Run with the wild stallions and frolic in a mountain vale!
Do not mistake volume for persuasion. Yelling at people who disagree with you about why they’re wrong and need to support your candidate will not make them agree with you. Yelling at them makes you an asshole, associates your candidate with bullying, and will get you swiftly blocked.
The art of persuasion is delicate and almost never, in my experience, includes patronizing, insulting, name-calling, racist-or-sexist-trope-employing (“Are you crazy?” “So you’ll only vote for a woman, is that it?” “Calm down!”), negging, or mocking. Now, I’m not saying that there’s no room in online discourse for mockery — lo, reader, gaze upon the hallowed Twitter feed of the dictionary for top-shelf mockery — but I am saying that if your go-to stance is mockery and condescension, then you’ve just shown me that you’re not interested in debate, you’re interested in bullying. I’m not in 5th grade anymore and neither are you. Grow up. Learn how to have a discussion.
Immediately block anyone who attempts to “Man in the High Castle” the 2016 election with hypothetical, unprovable fantasies of Bernie’s America. If I see “IF BERNIE HAD WON THE NOMINATION TRUMP WOULD HAVE LOST AND WE WOULD ALL HAVE FREE INVISALIGN BY NOW” I will cut you out of my life, I swear to God.
I’m not interested in hypothetical, ahistorical outcomes in which your values are finally vindicated by the general public. It didn’t happen. Journal about it if you have shit you need to process (that’s what I do), but when you’re done come back into the actual world. I know it’s not the most appealing spot right now, but it’s where we actually are. It wasn’t a bad dream: 2016 happened. 2017 happened. 2018 happened. We’re here now. The only context in which I am willing to reexamine that election is FACTUALLY, and through the lens of understanding how it affects 2020. Deal in realities.
When people show you who they are, believe them. Don’t doubt your perceptions. If you’re wondering, “Wait, was what he just said fucked up?” It was almost definitely fucked up. If someone is 100% sober, what are the chances you’re going to be like, “Are you wasted right now?” SLIM. Slim to nil. So trust your gut, because when you hear a dog whistle that means THE DOGS ARE ON THE WAY.
Debate issues, not personalities. Perceptions of personality are heavily impacted by largely unconscious, culturally-assigned attitudes about a person’s appearance, age, religion, race, and sex. Recognize human weakness when it comes to bias. Recognize that you’re not a social justice X-Man, possessing mutant levels of wokeness that make you somehow immune to the biases that you can so clearly see in others. You’ve got shit, too. And the best way to make sure you’re not voting with your shit is to vote on issues, not personalities.
If you struggle to find a candidate’s position on an issue that supports your gut reaction to that candidate’s personality, then you might have a bias you need to interrogate.
You think Kamala Harris is too emotional? Find a position on issues that demonstrates how that personality trait impacts her choices as an elected official. (Good luck with that.) You think Elizabeth Warren is too shrill? Find a position in which her shrillness impacts her position on issues, if you can, and you can’t, because shrill isn’t an issue, it’s code for opinionated and female.
We are looking down the barrel of a primary in which age, race, and sex will play a key role in how candidates are treated by media and voters. It’s going to be ugly. Do not be ugly with it.
Do not fucking come at me with likability or temperament or frugality or any other thinly-veiled misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, or ageist dog whistle. Debate issues, not personalities. If someone’s personality is a deal-breaker, then you should be able to muster a fucking example of how that personality trait impacted their positions on issues.
For example, Trump’s personality is “greedy bigot,” and his greedy bigotry has impacted his position on issues like immigration, social safety nets, trans rights, women’s health freedoms, and more.
For another example, I disagree with Bernie’s position that it’s not fair to apply the word “racist” to white voters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Andrew Gillum because they were uncomfortable with his race.
But I’m not against Bernie because “he’s rude” or “he’s out-of-touch,” and I refuse to engage with people who make the argument about his personality. I’m against him because an unsophisticated understanding of what oppression looks like impacts his ability to prioritize the needs of his marginalized constituents, which is a deal-breaker for me.
Sometimes people are going to express negative opinions about a candidate you like, or strong positive opinions about a candidate you dislike. That is not your cue to stampede into the conversation and pick a fight so you can feel alive. That is your cue to do one of the following things:
- Ask questions and listen to the answers so that you can learn why people have strong opinions that are different from your own. Genuinely learn.
- Keep scrolling.
- Eat a snack.
- Check your email.
- Do literally anything else but stampede into the conversation.
Nobody is watching the online debate, searching for the next great speechwriter. You won’t get famous and you won’t win hearts or minds, and you definitely won’t positively impact the election by volunteering to fight with people on a platform where tone is inscrutable and the appearance of winning is more important than understanding or even honesty.
Disagreeing with someone about their deeply-held values by telling them why YOUR values are better is just… it’s hard to describe what a colossal waste of time it is. Cool, you don’t care about the things I care about. Have a good life, I guess? Thank u, next.
Let people disagree with you. It’s cool. In fact, it’s all of our jobs. Do you have any idea how many threads I scroll past that are squeeing about Bernie’s run in 2020? Keep scrolling. EXCEPT…
Never stop disagreeing with bigotry. Bigotry is not an opinion. When you speak up you give other people permission to do the same. Especially if you have some measure of social power in the interaction (men, white folks, talking to you here). When it comes to online conversations, remember that the goal isn’t to “win over” the person you’re arguing with - the goal is to create a document for the untold numbers of people reading the conversation: this is what bigotry looks like, and this is what challenging bigotry looks like.
You know what else isn’t an opinion? FACTS. You know what else isn’t an opinion? LIES. You know what else isn’t an opinion? STEREOTYPES. You know what else isn’t an opinion? WHO GETS TO MAKE CHOICES ON BEHALF OF THIS UTERUS? LET’S HAVE A SHOW OF HANDS! Seriously, so many things are not opinions. Triscuit crackers! Water slides! Hemorrhoids! Literally anything that isn’t a personally held view widely known to be unrelated to factual accuracy and beholden only to the judgment of the holder, is NOT AN OPINION.
You know what is an opinion? I love oranges. It can’t be proven, but it doesn’t need to be proven. The only data an opinion needs is the conviction of the holder of said opinion, and I fucking love oranges, people. That’s my opinion. Throwing an orange in someone’s face is not an opinion. “That banana is trash, Madison, why don’t you just eat glass” is not an opinion. “Oranges are a superfood with 79 grams of plant-based protein per serving, and will extend your life for 6 months for every segment you eat,” is not an opinion.
“I love oranges.” That’s an opinion. Got it?
People are welcome to their opinions. Facts, lies, stereotypes, violence, hate speech, and corporeal hegemony are not opinions. Some shit is true and some shit came out the sassy end of the bull and at the end of the day only one of those things passes the sniff test.
Disagreement is only divisive if your idea of unity is conformity to the most powerful voice in the room. This election is about the changing face of American politics. We are all going to be challenged to expand our ideas of what leaders look and sound like. Many of the issues at stake will need to address the deeply-held prejudices that are as much a part of American history as bluegrass and manifest destiny.
Many of our candidates (and I would argue the only candidate worth supporting) must, first, name these issues. Do not be the dilettante who never read the Emperor’s New Clothes. The person who points out the issue is not the person who invented the issue. Acknowledging systemic oppression does not create divisions between people; in fact, refusing to acknowledge systemic oppression deepens those divisions because the people refusing to acknowledge oppression are often the very people who have the ability to end the oppression.
“Identity politics” isn’t an insult. It’s a reality. I will stop “playing identity politics” when you have stopped politicizing my identity. Legislating oppression is cool with you but organizing resistance to legislative oppression is somehow poor form? Shut up.
Fight for at least as often as you fight against. There are two ways to support a candidate: First, by supporting that person. Second, by attempting to annihilate everyone else. Remember that after the primary is over these people are all going to go back to working in the same building together, meeting for coffee and danish to horse trade over legislation about which we will, at that point, have zero shits to give. Fight for what you believe at least as often as you fight against what you reject.
You don’t owe anyone your time.
Volume isn’t persuasion.
Deal in realities, not hypotheticals.
Debate issues, not personalities.
Don’t be ugly; interrogate your biases.
Let people have other opinions without murdering them in your imagination…
… but facts, lies, violence, and bigotry are not opinions. Disagree HARD with bigotry.
Unity without equity is just oppression with fresh lipstick; “identity politics” is not a fucking bad thing.
Fight for, in addition to against.
I’m sure these ground rules will expand and evolve as the primary season proceeds, like the villain in a sci fi movie.
I’m sure I’ll add a prescription pill matrix at some point.
But for now, that’s how I plan to move through this primary season.