What does it mean to be someone’s equal? For the brave men and women of the Civil Rights era, the answer was simple: the right to one’s own body, freedom from the tyranny of corrupt law officials and racist systems of governance and the right to live free of mistreatment based on something as superficial as race. For the LGBT rights movement that began in and helped characterize 1960s America, and continues today, the goal was the same — the right to be free, to be an American as all other Americans are, unburdened by the institutionalization of hatred.

We live in a time and place today in which societal change is happening more rapidly than possibly any other in human history. As we examine our own behavior as well as our role in the larger human collective, the lines become blurred as to what constitutes mistreatment, inequality and injustice.

To put in context the complex and contradictory nature of our current predicament as a human race, consider the plight of women around the world. What would constitute gross mistreatment of women in much of the West would be considered the rightful order of gender relations in places like Saudi Arabia or Malaysia. Chief among our American values is the belief that all human beings, regardless of their gender identities, deserve to live free of discrimination based upon said identities.

Yet, when the topic of gender violence beyond our borders is brought to the table, the issue quickly spirals into a quandary of Western awkwardness over our historical policing of the third world, and inevitably leads to accusations of ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism. Thus, the rights of women are perpetually stymied in the Earth’s major third world population centers, while Westerners continue to venture deeper into the realm of identity politics, guaranteeing the rights of the gender non-binary and gender nonconforming while women in the third world continue to suffer real, tangible and often physical violence.

How is it that, despite the clown of a Republican president in the White House churning out a new scandal every day, the Democrats still struggle to capture the interest and attention of so much of the country? Is the issue simply that those who would call themselves far-righters politically are also far-lefters on the American IQ bell curve? Or are the “good guys” simply failing to convince one of the largest American demographics of their political ideology’s practical merit?

With a foil so Darth Vader-esque as Donald Trump, one would imagine that the fiscal conservatives and in-betweeners would have no choice but to align themselves with the American political left, yet somehow the Democrats pioneer new and exciting ways to lose, or almost lose, every single time they’re called upon. Maybe the disconnect lies in that contradiction I talked about earlier. We live in an age of social media, where ISIS decapitation videos flood our brains with a brand of dread and societal outrage pacified only by the input of cat videos and Onion articles, all of which can be found, one after the other and in quick succession on the screens of teenagers and Baby Boomers alike.

The world order is fractured into a million tiny pieces, none of us really understanding where we want to go, but knowing in our hearts that we can’t stay here. How do we explain occurrences like the rise of Trump? Is he a speed bump on the way to a better, more accepting world, or is he the side effect of a general population confused and angered by the uneven pace of social change taking place around them without their consent? One can fault Trump voters for many, many things. We can call them hicks, misguided Bible thumpers and even straight up Nazis, and in many cases, we wouldn’t be wrong, but until we diagnose the condition that drove them to Trumpism, we’ll never stamp out the source.

Maybe, just maybe, this is partially our fault. The infighting, pearl-clutching and superiority complex that has come to characterize the Democrats are nothing in comparison to the gloriously incompetent brand of evil championed by the Trumpsters. But it is an ugly reality of our time. What used to be considered a brief lapse in social etiquette is now considered an all-out assault on identity. One off-color joke can land a comedian in hot water for the full 24-hour news cycle before the court of public opinion moves on to some other grandiose act of intolerance perpetrated by a 14-year-old on the internet. The issue with today’s progressives is not that they care about others, it’s that the movements that they champion often seem petty and insignificant in contrast to the real life tragedy we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. Right-wingers don’t respect left-wingers because they view them as snooty, out of touch wingdings who care more about appearing noble than actually getting anything done. Let’s stop proving them right.

matsonrm@miamioh.edu

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