Lena Dunham: Putting things into perspective (two articles to be read, back to back)

2016/11/15 § Leave a comment

I cannot believe what I’m reading.

Lena Dunham (creator, writer, and actor of Girls fame) has written a brief retrospective on the election results. In it she explores her thoughts and excitement leading up to the event, of one very big foregone conclusion. Her excitement was uncontainable: “I had dreamed about it every night for the last two weeks” and she was certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Hillary Clinton would be voted into office, because “as horrifying as I found Donald Trump’s rhetoric, as hideous as I found his racism and xenophobia, as threatening to basic decency as I found his demagogue persona, I never truly believed he could win.” As she put it:

I’d been traveling the country for the last few weeks, in swing states like North Carolina and Colorado. While I’d dealt with a few irritating email questions (those fucking emails, as if they were a worthy corollary to fraud and sexual assault), the resolve and passion of students, many of whom had made their way over from the Bernie Sanders campaign, gave me a sense of hope that got me downright high. I didn’t see how with faces this bright, diverse, wise, and passionate anything but the best — the only — result could prevail.

Dunham goes on to describe the shock – as well as the horror – she felt upon realizing that Donald Trump had won the election. She asked her boyfriend if they could leave, adding that “I could tell he was having trouble breathing, and I could feel my chin breaking into hives.” After leaving the convention center, they stopped into a diner, noting that “No one was speaking as they ate, no one in the whole place.”

Imagine that: an entire city basking in sadness, mourning the loss of truth prevailing. As one who lives in Portland, Oregon (a city that prides itself in its progressive character), I can imagine what this would have looked like. At this very moment, our city is going through a sort of liberal mourning. Protests are being had, property is being broken. And especially, on social media and in venues where individuals may quickly and efficiently articulate a point, the disaster of the present election is being shouted from the rooftops. People say they feel unsafe and that their livelihoods are at stake, as well as their personal freedoms. I can sympathize with their suffering. The racial and hateful lashing out is real. But in no uncertain terms, this is not all that is happening. And this is part of the problem with Dunham’s narrative: it is not completely reflective of what is actually going on, as a whole.

Frank Bruni reflects on this in The New York Times and engages in some deep soul searching:

From the presidential race on down, Democrats adopted a strategy of inclusiveness that excluded a hefty share of Americans and consigned many to a “basket of deplorables” who aren’t all deplorable. Some are hurt. Some are confused.
Liberals miss this by being illiberal. They shame not just the racists and sexists who deserve it but all who disagree. A 64-year-old Southern woman not onboard with marriage equality finds herself characterized as a hateful boob. Never mind that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton weren’t themselves onboard just five short years ago.
Political correctness has morphed into a moral purity that may feel exhilarating but isn’t remotely tactical. It’s a handmaiden to smugness and sanctimony, undermining its own goals.
[…]Donald Trump’s victory and some of the, yes, deplorable chants that accompanied it do not mean that a majority of Americans are irredeemable bigots (though too many indeed are). Plenty of Trump voters chose him, reluctantly, to be an agent of disruption, which they craved keenly enough to overlook the rest of him.

This is the sort of reflection that strikes me as sensible. Furthermore, Dunham’s article makes it sound as if she is taking part in some sort of martyrdom, which is completely false. But she and those around her, they know what is actually going on, and they will not give up because, after all, Donald Trump only won the election.

But we kept going, thinking these were the dying moans of the dragon known as the patriarchy being stabbed again and again in the stomach. We believed that on November 9, they’d be licking their wounds while we celebrated. It is painful on a cellular level knowing those men got what they wanted, just as it’s painful to know you are hated for daring to ask for what is yours. It’s painful to know that white women, so unable to see the unity of female identity, so unable to look past their violent privilege, and so inoculated with hate for themselves, showed up to the polls for him, too. My voice was literally lost when I woke up, squeaky and raw, and I ached in the places that make me a woman, the places where I’ve been grabbed so carelessly, the places we are struggling to call our own.

[…] Now, more than ever, our power is in numbers and in our refusal to accept the idea that our leaders intrinsically know what’s best for us, better than the people we meet every day. In the last few days I have watched a little girl cry, wondering if her mother would be deported. I have listened to a black man ask how to explain this to his sons. “You tell them, over and over again, not to be a bully or a bigot, to respect women, to be kind, that’s how you get ahead. And now a bully is the president. How do you explain that?” I see two teenage girls, one Latina, one white, in belly shirts holding hands as they pretend to go the wrong way on an escalator. They’re laughing and smiling and I wonder if they know that together they’re a tiny revolution.


Glamour via Her Campus

In a promising moment of hopefulness, Dunham points out that many people have been hard at work, trying to understand just how Trump won (who voted for him, why they voted for him, what the role of the media was in all of this, what were the failures of the democratic party, etc.), and then accentuates this task and its value with a simple “maybe.” But ultimately, she abandons the notion that understanding may provide something beneficial to us, and that we ought to simply “leave that to the strategists, to the men in offices who need to run the numbers.” She continues:

It should not be the job of women, of people of color, of queer and trans Americans, to understand who does not consider them human and why, just as it’s not the job of the abused to understand their abuser. It’s quite enough work to know about and bear the hatred of so many. It’s quite enough work to go on living.

Now I see. She thinks that Trump supporters do not consider any of those listed above as human. They’re just hate-filled racists and bigots, working to destroy everything that is good and pure in our world.

The problem with this narrative is that it completely ignores the real and diverse reasons people voted for Trump. In fact, Dunham doesn’t once mention any reason anyone voted for Trump. Her appeal is completely built on a straw man argument. It is logically fallacious.

More than this, by not interacting or searching out the reasons for which voters supported Trump, Dunham is reinforcing the misery of others by keeping it hidden.

It probably has nothing to do with these voters feeling unrepresented, or these policies being written in Washington without taking into account anything remotely similar to what they experience everyday of their lives. Or perhaps Trump supporters disagree with the urban elites who represent them, fundamentally, on the basis of worldview; that something is morally wrong and is backwards; or that the alternative candidate to Trump is a liar and cannot be trusted. Does this not seem like a possibility?

But this passage was perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve read, particularly, as it came from someone working on Clinton’s campaign:

It’s hard to feel it this week. It may be hard to feel it next week. But the work of this election, the promise of Bernie Sanders’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, the dream of changing the face of the White House, is only just beginning.

Sorry, what now?

Surely Dunham knows that Sanders’ campaign was nothing more than a red herring, laid by the Democratic National Committee, in order to secure the position for Clinton. Right? Surely she knows that. After all, it’s an indisputable fact at this point. Why, then, would she say this? What makes her think that Sanders wants the same thing as Clinton? It seems to me that she’s just obliterating the distinctions for the sake of her argument, in order to reconcile those irreconcilable differences that exist within the democratic party, literally at the heart of Clinton’s loss only a few days ago.

And “the dream of changing the face of the White House?” What is she talking about? Clinton doesn’t want to change the way the system works. Not like Bernie suggested. In fact, I would imagine Clinton and Trump have more in common in this respect than Clinton and Sanders.

Dunham wraps up her article by making a call to arms:

So no, the work isn’t done. It is only beginning. We will stun ourselves with what we are capable of. We will laugh with surprise like kids who finally threw a punch back at the schoolyard bully. We will watch our friends in awe as they step forward and demand more, as they recognize and wield their politicized identities. We will not be governed by fear. We will show our children a different way. We will go home like shooting stars.

In conclusion, and in conjunction with Dunham’s piece, you ought to read this article. Hang on to your hat.

My coworker* rightfully suggested that Dunham’s article reads like a piece of satire (and this comment comes from a democrat). For all of its positive content, it is deeply ironic in that Dunham claims to know what Trump supporters care about, but knows nothing of what they are.

*Credit given to my coworker, Anthony, for sending these two articles to me and suggesting they be read back-to-back.


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