Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn
I don’t remember much from my Introduction to Sociology class that I took from Dr. Stellway 30 years ago, but a comment he made stuck with me all these years – “Sociologically speaking, a conservative is someone who has something to conserve.” That is, people who benefit from the status quo do not want the status quo to change. By implication, a progressive is someone who has nothing to conserve, or, someone who is not benefiting from the way things are and wants the status quo to change.
Those labels have become increasingly ironic in the past week as politically “liberal” folks are panicking about losing the cultural gains that they have made over the last eight years. The “liberals” have become “conservatives”
On the other side, the populous impulse that has seemed to propel our new president into office was a deep seeded desire from a minority of our country to destroy the entire system. As Alfred Pennyworth explains to Batman Bruce Wayne, “…some men just want to watch the world burn.” The “conservatives” have become the “progressives” in a very strange turn of events.
White House Staffers as President Obama introduces the President-Elect
I live in what may be the reddest state in the U.S., so I am very aware of the older, white, male, Evangelical’s frustrations. I hear it all the time. And the language I often hear bantered around is “revolution.” One doesn’t have to look very hard at history to observe that revolutionaries don’t usually make good statesmen. It is easy to understand why – it is a lot easier to tear something down than to build something up. Watching the world burn is easy. Finding common ground and working through minutia of policy detail is difficult.
Moreover, the hyperbole and rhetoric of a revolutionary movement does not translate well to governing. After 18 months of demonizing individuals and people groups in order to coalesce around vague promises, it is very difficult to pivot to a cooperative stance with Lucifer and Beelzebub. (I imagine I wasn’t the only one whose head nearly exploded during the President-Elect’s acceptance speech in which he praised Hillary Clinton for her many years of public service.)
During the heat of the primaries, I drove with my African-American daughter through the town where she attends middle school. We pulled up to a stop light and to my horror, the pickup truck in front of us had a bumper sticker that referred to our current president with the “N” word. I did my best to distract my daughter so that she wouldn’t look up and read it. My heart was pounding in my chest and I thought, “I never thought I would have to have these kinds of conversations with my daughter in 2016. It sucks so bad that she has a white dad who can’t guide her from first-hand experience.”
As the demographic breakdowns from Tuesday roll in, it is clear that this was not as much an election of rich vs. poor, old vs. young, male vs. female, educated vs. uneducated, or blue collar vs. white collar. The biggest indicator as to whether or not you voted for a particular candidate was the color of your skin. The phrase, “make America great again” was a not-so-subtle bait for those who elected our next president. As a result, today we are witnesses to the people who have been emboldened to their perceived entitlement to privilege, continuing to use revolutionary language to watch it all burn.
The so called “Liberal Elite” in recent days has been lamenting that we need to hear the cries of our white working class brothers and sisters. And it is true, we need to hear their stories. But whites are not the majority of working class people in our country: Hispanics and African Americans outnumber them. And they have suffered disproportionately more than their white counterparts with our shrinking middle class. What about their stories?
Can I propose something else as a Red-State dweller – our Red brothers and sisters need to get out too. When the only Muslim, African American, or an LGBT person one has ever seen is on TV, one’s view of the world is all fun-house mirrors. I know a fair number of folks who have never left this state in their lives. Traveling isn’t everything but at the very least it allows you to see the world from another vantage point. Another insight I remember from Dr. Stellway’s sociology class is this, “People define reality in terms of their own existence.” If we don’t figure out this compassion thing and learn how to enter into another person’s reality, we are going to kill each other. And that is not Trump hyperbole.