|Posted on May 20, 2017 at 8:40 PM|
By Dennis Stone
I’m damn tired of beginning articles with the disclaimer that I’m a lifelong progressive, that I strongly supported both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and that I think Donald Trump is woefully unprepared and unsuited for the presidency. But I’m equally damn tired of being dumbfounded by the anti-intellectual irrationality and counterproductive writings and actions of my left-wing compatriots.
The latest example of what the right calls the “lunatic left,” a description that I’m chagrined to say is not altogether unfounded, comes from the overheated pen of Michelangelo Signorile. He is a gay activist, a veteran of the venerable ACT UP movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and currently the editor of Huffington Post’s “Queer Voices” section. In a piece published on May 10 he calls for a popular uprising of “raising hell,” one that would “escalate the expression of our outrage and our anger in a massive way.” What he means by that is that Republican officials should be “hounded by protesters everywhere, especially in public,” but also at their homes. Whenever they go to and from their cars, eat in restaurants, etc., they should be met with angry denunciations, yelled questions and challenges, chanting, etc. Signorile wants to apply the methods of the ACT UP movement to the current situation.
ACT UP, of course, was our movement’s response to the horrors of AIDS, to the literally hundreds of thousands of deaths, and to the government’s woeful response to the crisis. So what is the horrific nature of today’s world that requires a similar response? The only specific thing Signorile mentions is Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. He posits that act as an indicator of Trump moving our country toward fascism. Beyond that it’s just an amorphous hatred for everything Trump stands for. He alludes in a backhanded way to the new Republican health care bill, but otherwise does not offer any specific sins that mandate our noisy outrage.
Signorile’s piece is one of the most absurd pieces I’ve ever read, betraying a woeful lack of understanding of what’s actually going on in our country. And I say that as an ardent Trump foe and a devotee of anti-fascist dystopian novels from George Orwell on.
There is literally no chance that Trump could ever produce anything approaching fascism or authoritarianism. As much as Signorile hates Republicans (and my own distaste is reflected in my prior insistence on eliminating the capital “R” in the word), they overwhelmingly oppose anything smacking of actual authoritarianism. They worship the constitution and the freedom it represents. Republicans from John McCain in the Senate to powerful Jason Chaffetz in the House have expressed strong misgivings about anything approaching abuse of power. Many supported the idea of a special prosecutor or congressional investigations, and many have begun speculating about impeachment. When it comes to authoritarianism, to usurping power he constitutionally doesn’t have, Trump’s leash is very short.
Beyond those general terms, it’s ridiculous to assert that the firing of Comey is an “authoritarian power grab.” The president has full legal power to fire the FBI director. There is widespread speculation that Hillary Clinton would have fired him had she won. If Trump fired Comey to overtly impede an investigation - and that is not proven at this point - it would be obstruction of justice. And then legal and congressional remedies would be pursued, and Trump would be as susceptible to them as Nixon was in Watergate. But to see the firing as a precursor to fascism is silly and betrays a serious lack of understanding of both fascism and how our government works.
Further, the bureau is currently being run by Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, a Clinton appointee, and it is staffed by large numbers of agents of long tenure who supported Comey. McCabe testified last week that there has been no effort to obstruct the agency’s work. A new director will be nominated shortly, and any nominee would have to give assurances to Congress of independence of the White House before being confirmed.
Most importantly, a “Special Counsel” has now been appointed by the Assistant Attorney General to investigate all issues surrounding Russian election meddling and possible collusion with people in the Trump campaign. Robert Mueller was the man chosen, and he was FBI director for twelve years, including under President Obama. He is recognized by everyone who has worked with him as a man of high integrity. The Russian investigation will go forward with even more vigor than before, and the Comey firing will not matter.
This is how the system works. We are no closer to fascism today than we have ever been, and yet people like Signorile continue to ignorantly raise that fear.
Not only does Signorile not understand fascism or the governmental process, but he doesn’t understand why ACT UP tactics won’t be as successful this time around. ACT UP changed hearts and minds, and changed the governmental reaction to AIDS, because the goal was so transparently worthy to good-hearted people all along the political spectrum. Over 300,000 people died. Think about that. The death and trauma affected people of all parties and philosophies. As the deaths piled up, as famous people began to fall, it became increasingly possible to pull people together to fight the disease. What was needed was visibility and understanding, and ACT UP was an integral part of providing that.
In today’s world there is no clear obtainable goal that can be achieved through harassment and outrage. Signorile appears to think that if we apply ACT UP techniques to Republicans they will buckle to our will and defeat Trump’s policies, and then impeach him. That simply won’t happen. ACT UP tactics won’t turn conservatives into liberals, and they won’t get them to see fascism where it doesn’t exist.
What’s really going on here is that Signorile simply doesn’t like conservative policies, and he’s upset with a government currently dominated by conservatives. That’s well and good; I don’t like conservative policies either. But the actions Signorile is espousing are arrogant and anti-democratic. He doesn’t want to discuss differences of opinion, or to try to work through the different worldviews of conservatives and progressives. He wants mindless chanting and slogans rather than legitimate discussion and debate. He doesn’t believe in respect for opposing points of view because he doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of opposing points of view. And so mindless chanting and harassment seem like legitimate methodologies.
Signorile previously published a distressing piece in which he described how he unfriended and totally cut out of his life a childhood friend who had voted for Trump. This was a woman who had supported his coming out in an earlier, much less gay-friendly time, and who supported marriage equality. Someone who had never been less than supportive and friendly. Someone who sent him a message of moral support following the Pulse massacre. But he “discovered” when he looked through her Facebook page that she had posted a couple of videos from a commentator who made the case for supporting Trump despite his flaws. And that was enough for Signorile. They could no longer be friends.
He didn’t contact her to explain his reasoning, but rather unfriended and then blocked her on Facebook. If she were to reach out with a phone call or text he would not return it. Instead of contacting her personally he wrote an open letter on Huffington Post. At least he was able to turn the ending of a lifelong friendship into a political act of “resistance.”
I find his jettisoning of his friend to be incredibly sad. In his one-dimensional, intolerant world there is no freedom to hold an opinion at odds with his own. There is no argument that could be made for supporting Trump over Clinton, no matter how one might feel about taxes or the size of government or entitlements or any other issue. There is only one acceptable way to think. He says it’s not about rejecting someone over “politics.” Rather, “it’s about putting our entire democracy in danger of transforming into an autocracy, and legitimizing and making alliances with our worst adversaries, whose goal is to dominate us.” What a pile of steaming bullshit.
I have friends and relatives who supported Trump, almost exclusively because they opposed Clinton and what they thought she stood for. We’ve had discussions that have been mutually respectful. I think they understand why I so strongly oppose Trump, and I understand why they felt they had no choice themselves. In other words, we acted like mature adults with an understanding of the need to allow people the freedom of their own consciences. A maturity Signorile lacks.
The worst aspect of the attitudes that Signorile holds and espouses is that they are so self-righteous, so intolerant of alternate viewpoints, and so logically overblown that they make the vast middle and the open-minded conservatives think we on the left are more dangerous than Trump and the conservatives who support him. They perceive a totalitarian, Orwellian aspect that threatens them if they don’t get in line with the “approved” viewpoints. And those fears are not unfounded. Orwell was a socialist who nonetheless saw the dangers of “1984” and “Animal Farm” coming from the left. When we jettison friends for not thinking like we think they should, when we “escalate the expression of our outrage and our anger in a massive way” and apply it to anyone who doesn’t oppose everything Trump does and says, we stoke the fears of “regular” folks. We seem more dangerous than Trump, as difficult to believe as that might be.
In all of this we are kicking ourselves in the teeth. The “regular” folks hold the keys to elections in this country, especially national elections. I read the comments on Huffington Post following both of Signorile’s articles. I was aghast at how absurd and anti-intellectual they were. Inchoate rage with no reasoning beyond “Trump is bad.” Cries of “resist” and “take to the streets” and “rage” without a cogent expression of what they were trying to accomplish. The writers are quintessential “bubble dwellers” who think they represent a great popular movement because they are surrounded by people who think the same way. The problem is that they are actually a small minority. Having a disapproval of Trump’s performance emphatically does not equate to the “raising hell” mentality of Signorile and HuffPost commenters.
Today in my local paper there was a story of a school board meeting disrupted by chanting and yelling by a group called “The Social Justice Education Movement.” This is in a liberal city, but the overwhelming response of commenters on the story was to be appalled by the tactics of the group. Said one: “SO SICK of these so-called ‘social justice’ bullies who think they can yell, push, threaten and cajole everyone else around. Enough is enough. Get a job, go to work, pull your weight, and quit trying to tell the rest of us how to think and live our lives.” Regular folks are open to our ideas and our criticisms of Trump, but they are not open to the sort of actions that Signorile is endorsing.
The bottom line is that mainstream America does not want what Signorile is selling. It has the potential to backfire spectacularly. Trump’s performance is setting us up to take back both the House and the Senate in 2018, and the presidency in 2020. But as much as people are frightened and disturbed by Trump’s presidency, they are even more disturbed - and offended - by tactics on the left that attempt to bully people into thinking in a prescribed way; tactics that don’t allow for reasoned discussion between opposing points of view; tactics that attempt to shame people for their viewpoints, and seek to destroy lifelong relationships because of differences of opinion.
The sad irony is that our country is in a place ripe for the victory of progressive ideals. Most people want social justice, believe in diversity, support marriage equality, and want more economic opportunity for all. Most want sensible gun control, abortion rights, protections of the social safety net, etc. But the inflexible self-righteousness of people like Michelangelo Signorile, the excessive restrictions of political correctness (no, that’s not just a right-wing shibboleth), and the perception that there is only one approved way to think are converting our potential allies into enemies.
Michelangelo Signorile fears fascism. I fear waking up the morning after the elections in 2018 and 2020 and discovering that our arrogance and our self-righteousness have led once again to Republican victories.