We Are All Tomi Lahren Preaching to the Choir, and We Have to Stop
White Rage Machine Tomi Lahren returned to The Blaze this week to deliver another one of her “Final Thought” monologues, this one on the subject of her appearance on The Daily Show, where Trevor Noah thoughtfully and politely dismantled her arguments. After a few days of contemplation — and dozens of think pieces heralding Trevor Noah’s approach to the interview — one might think that Lahren would return slightly more humbled and perhaps even willing to see it from another perspective.
You would be wrong.
You can watch the video or not. It’s probably going to give you a rage stroke either way. Much of it sees Lahren pat herself on the back and call herself “fearless” for having the “guts to walk into the lion’s den” and burst the liberal bubble. “I had the balls to walk into that situation and didn’t flinch,” she said. “Trevor Noah is a nice guy, but he likened me to a racist uncle before I even stepped on the stage. Thanks, bud.”
Among the points she makes in the video:
— She accuses the left of misspelled tweets.
— She accuses the left of characterizing the “passion” of conservatives as “anger”
— She suggests that people on the left reduce her to a “dumb blonde whose achievements are undeserved or ignored.”
— She suggests that people on the left refer to Black conservatives as “coons” and “Uncle Toms.”
— She suggests that the LIBERALS came up with the term “alt-right,” which we have used as a weapon to shame the opposition
— She suggested that liberals “stay in their bubbles and talk to each other about how great and morally elite they are.”
All right. A couple of things: 1) A so-called “social justice warrior” (a label the right uses to shame us) would never refer to Lahren as a “dumb blonde” because our fellow “social justice warriors” would rake us over the coals for reducing any woman (even Tomi Lahren) to her hair color.
2) Where it concerns “passion” and “anger,” the right does the exact same thing to the left. Ask a Black person. Any Black person.
3) Where has a liberal ever called a Black conservative a “coon” or an “Uncle Tom”? Show me! Because I don’t believe that person exists, and if so, that person is a bigot, and we want nothing to do with them.
4) Wait, she’s accusing the left of misspelled tweets?
It’s that last point where I fully recognized what’s going on here. Lahren is doing to the left exactly what I see is being done to the right on Twitter. Too many of us equate the “other” side to the worst of what we see on social media.
Maybe that’s not fair.
Lahren is right about me in at least one respect: I live in a liberal bubble. I live in a progressive town. I read a lot of progressive publications. For years, I was one of only a handful of liberals in communities made up almost entirely of conservatives, but now? I don’t know how it happened, but I don’t think I have a single, close real-life conservative friend anymore. Not one. I’m estranged from my family, in part, because I’d rather avoid them than talk about politics. I have a mother-in-law who is conservative, but we have silently agreed to never discuss politics, although I have argued with her a thousand times in my mind. Really, the closest thing I experience on a daily basis to conservatism are the libertarian comments of Abell and Quatermain.
All of which is to say, when Lahren pointed out the “misspelled tweets” of the left, I instantly recognized what she was doing: Reducing us to the opinions of our worst representatives on Twitter. How do I know? Because that’s exactly what too many of us do to the right.
Look: Leading up to the election, and in the days after the election, I was — like a lot of liberals — unwilling to concede that anyone who voted for Donald Trump wasn’t a bigot. It’s still a hard pill to swallow, because I feel like anyone who truly understands Donald Trump’s positions is, at best, apathetic about the rights of women, people of color, or queer people.
Right or wrong, that’s not a helpful way to approach Trump voters. It’s reductive. It’s Tomi Lahren without the unctuousness (hopefully). None of us want to be the Tomi Lahren of the left, and we probably all have at least a few passing acquaintances or family members who voted for Trump who aren’t complete and total garbage fires. Maybe instead of reducing 60 million people to Pepe the Frog Twitter avatars or Twitter handles with the word “deplorable” in it, we should try to equate conservatism to those passing acquaintances who aren’t complete and total garbage fires.
Why? Because shaming someone has never in the history of the world changed someone’s opinion. Not fucking once.
Steven Wilson sent this incredible email a few weeks ago, and really, everyone should read it at some point (post it, Steven!) where he suggested that the best way to move ahead is not by shouting down the other side, but by embracing them with a better narrative. That’s exactly what Obama did, and why he won his elections so decisively. People are looking for hope. Obama offered them that. Bill offered them that. We’re in a post-truth America, people! Nobody gives a shit about policies or moral failings or ethical morasses or facts! Those are just weapons we use against the other side once we’ve already made up our minds.
When I say “embrace” the other side, however, I’m not in any way suggesting we accept bigotry. What I’m saying is: Give them a reason not to be bigots. Remind them, not through shame, but by example, of the ideals and the good people we represent. Not every Trump voter is screaming, “White men won! Now we can finally say Merry Christmas!” and painting swastikas on government buildings. There are presumably some decent people out there who voted for Trump; we need to offer them a better alternative.
My mother-in-law once said to me that she was voting for a Republican, because she wants to leave the world in a better place for my children, her grandchildren. My first thought was, “GOOD GOD WOMAN. THE AUDACITY. GET OUT OF MY FUCKING HOUSE.” And then she had the nerve to suggest to me that she worried that people like Obama or Clinton would let in terrorists, who might hurt my children.
My brain had a full-on three second meltdown before I could gain my composure. My natural response might have been, “Are you fucking kidding me?! We are a nation of immigrants. Don’t hide your racist beliefs behind unfounded fears of terrorism. That’s bullshit. GET OUT OF MY FUCKING HOUSE.”
But when you’re dealing with people you know — people who are in your lives — that response is going to create the exact kind of toxic political environment we live in now, only it will be in our homes and in our workplaces. And it’s not going to change anyone’s mind.
The way to change minds is to at least try to offer a different, more compelling narrative.
“I raise my children to be kind. Kindness is the quality that we stress the most in our home. ‘Is it more important to be right or to be kind?’ we ask our kids a dozen times a week. We want our children — your grandchildren — to embrace strangers with that kindness. To be welcoming to others, and we want them to grow up in a country that treats others similarly. Is there a risk in that? Sure, and we’d want to talk to — or vet — any strangers before we let our children interact with them, but there is a lot more to be gained by kindness than by fear. We are not god-fearing folks, but we do believe it is important to love thy neighbor, even if — especially if — that neighbor is a Syrian or Somali refugee in the most desperate need of our kindness.”
Now, that’s an argument that’s hard to refute. It’s also an argument that I happen to believe in. Would it change my mother-in-law’s mind about our immigration policies? Maybe, but probably not. But at least she’ll understand and maybe respect why we feel the way we do. It’s a better narrative, and it’s much more productive than, “Fuck you, you racist POS.”
I am not saying we should empathize or accommodate their perspective. We should never accommodate bigotry. You can’t compromise with racism, and I would never concede a point to my mother-in-law’s views. But we can show them a better alternative to bigotry.
Look: We don’t have to reach everyone. Most on the far right can get fucked. We just have to peel off those who held their nose and voted for Trump despite their misgivings, because they believed he offered the possibility of change — any change — to their circumstances. This is not even about running the right candidate. It’s about opening up our tent and welcoming in others by illustrating that our views are better. We want others to buy into our political beliefs, then we have to sell them something better than shame and outrage. We need to show them the value of kindness and inclusion. It’s a political calculation that just so happens to dovetail with our actual beliefs. We can’t do that if we continue to equate every conservative to Tomi Lahren or the worst of social media, and we can’t be liberal Tomi Lahrens if we ever expect anyone who disagrees with us to listen.
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