The Last Call: Solidarity with conservatives, not platforming fascists

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The Last Call: Solidarity with conservatives, not platforming fascists

Graphic by Katherine Irving '22 and Amanda Wong '23.

Graphic by Katherine Irving '22 and Amanda Wong '23.

Graphic by Katherine Irving '22 and Amanda Wong '23.

Graphic by Katherine Irving '22 and Amanda Wong '23.

Anni Clark, Columnist

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The day after Donald Trump’s election, one of my high school’s resident fascists accosted me. He came to school draped in the U.S. flag with his InfoWars “Hillary for Prison” shirt on and told me that now he was free to shoot me and other tr*nnies like me.

He was known for flying a Confederate flag off the back of the truck he drove every day to my Central New York high school, for “building a wall” of textbooks around his desk in social studies classes and for not wanting to change in front of gay students for gym class because they would lust after him and he would get AIDS. He was also just 17 years old and came from a family that had lived in a rich suburb of a very poor city for generations. I don’t know what became of him after graduation, but I hope that he left home and went somewhere where he could meet people who aren’t exactly like him. I hope, for the sake of everyone involved, that he learns to live beyond fear and hatred.

It would be easy to completely write this kid and people like him off as hopeless cases of ignorant future fascists, but we cannot allow this to be the case. There is no doubt that fascism and right-wing extremism pose an imminent and existential threat to so many of us, but reacting defensively to everyone we imagine might be part of it and isolating ourselves in progressive bubbles is just as bad as them hiding out in the country with their guns and Bibles.

If temperatures continue to rise, we must learn to de-escalate. If we want to get out of this political movement as a whole nation with any hope for a future, we must understand how people become radicalized. We need to learn to hear the concerns of regular Republicans and react to them not with anger but with patience, solidarity and a willingness to work together where possible.

This is not to say that we must befriend Trump supporters who wish many of us dead and is also not to say that we must support or platform groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer or other right-wing militias and neo-fascist groups. We do not need to indulge fascist pundits with their version of polite discussions, which so often lead to moderates and Democrats giving them a passive platform for their trolling and hate-mongering. None of these people need to be platformed or debated. They need to be ignored. We must not be civil with white nationalists. We do, however, need to talk to our fellow regular people who are going through the same tumultuous times we are, and who are just as confused and scared as we are, even if that confusion and fear manifests differently. These are the people with whom we must build solidarity.

According to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, the notion of solidarity is rooted in the idea that human beings are not isolated inside themselves. Rather, they are part of a totality within society, which lives and operates in them and represents the best aspect of their own nature.

Solidarity is not about ignoring difference or compromising with white nationalists, but about recognizing that there are so many people with whom we can align in some way. This is the heart we need to reach. Once we start talking, we will inevitably see that we all have more in common than we thought we did and can begin to tackle the issues we all see.

These solidarity-building conversations likely won’t come in the context of some of our most emotionally-wrenching policy debates on issues like reproductive rights. However, a common fear certainly exists in some of the tragedies that tend to fall behind the forefront of our minds.

Take, for example, the far-reaching tendrils of the opioid crisis and how it intersects with increasing regulations and ending the billionaire class. There is a fantastic two-part series in the podcast “Behind the Bastards” on the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty behind Oxycontin.

This corporate family found ways to take advantage of for-profit medicine and desperate people experiencing chronic pain in order to get a large part of the country addicted to painkillers that they never should have been prescribed in the first place. Then, the Sacklers sat back and watched as their wealth grew to $14 billion, large sums of which they donate to Islamophobic groups and far-right campaigns. All the while, prescription drug overdoses wipe out entire towns.

Appealing to this type of universal boogeyman quickly reveals that despite the supposition that conservatives and liberals have completely disparate circles of concern is wrong. According to conflict journalist Robert Evans who reports on American fascism, a healthy majority of Americans on both sides of the political aisle — 76 percent — say that they want the rich to pay more in taxes, while 61 percent favor the kind of wealth tax proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). These kinds of political similarities appear more readily when they’re coming from a place of solidarity than from debate.

Fascism arrives when we isolate ourselves from each other and when we let fear of the unknown mutate into hatred. I do not need to allow my high school Nazis to spew their bigotry at me, but I do need to recognize that many of them have never been friends with a trans person, that they feel directionless and threatened.

As much for my own self-preservation as theirs, I need to retain compassion and openness to similarities and solidarity. The only other option is to collapse into ever-shrinking safe, but insular communities that perpetuate fear and mutual rejection of the other.

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