Recently I had a pretty unproductive conversation with a Republican friend following the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march and the inevitable violence that followed. When I expressed annoyance at the reluctance from the GOP in condemning the nature and action of white supremacy, several members of my family said the same thing:
It was also said to me directly after the election. And when Obamacare was almost repealed sans replacement.
“Well, not all Republicans…”
“We aren’t all like that. Just because we disagree on X doesn’t mean Y.”
“This person’s heart is in the right place, so cut him/her some slack.”
What is the response to this (other than a hearty roll of the eyes)?
Here it is: No.
No, I will not stop generalizing. The fact of the matter is that some are more responsible than others, and should be dealt with accordingly. But more than that, let’s all recognize that this is an ineffective means of argument.
Example 1: Germans in WWII were complicit in genocide against Jews, Roma and Sinti people, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ folks. Can you imagine someone responding to this with, “NOT ALL GERMANS! SOME OF THEM WERE JUST HARDWORKING PEOPLE WHO STAYED OUT OF IT.”
Example 2: Colonists committed atrocities against indigenous people in North America in an effort to steal their land. Response: “NOT ALL COLONISTS. SOME OF THEM WERE ESCAPING PERSECUTION FOR THEIR RELIGION.”
Example 3: Republican lawmakers in office are at best complicit and at worst directly responsible for the rise and empowerment of the radical right, a group consisting of the KKK, neo-Nazis and others. The empowerment of these groups endangers countless people, including: black people, Jews, LGBTQ+ folks, undocumented people, etc.
See what I’m getting at here? Claiming “not all X” serves a singular purpose: to derail an argument or conversation. What you’re saying has no purpose — we know. We know not all Germans were out in the streets hunting down Jews. We know not all men are rapists. We know not all Republicans are in bed with the alt-right and Trump.
So why do people respond this way?
Defensiveness. When people feel they are being attacked, they become defensive. We’ve all seen this happen a million times. But, did you ever stop to think that if something doesn’t apply to you personally, then it maybe just does not apply to you?
Example: I say, “The pseudo-morality of the religious anti-abortion movement endangers the lives of millions of women.” You respond, “Well, I am a practicing Catholic and I am pro-choice.”
Okay? Then I wasn’t talking to you?? Why are you telling me this???
Both of the statements are true. The anti-abortion movement is dominated by religious groups and their efforts do endanger the lives of women. AT THE SAME TIME, there are people who exist that are very religious, and are still pro-choice.
Still following me? Then let’s get to the next part:
Why Does This Matter?
This matters to me because of my views on the Republican Party, whom I believe are responsible for the resurgence of hate groups and the empowerment of neo-Nazis and the like. Yes. Republicans are responsible. Why?
Engaging in rhetoric that others women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color, specifically black and undocumented folks.
How many times have were heard a Republican lawmaker use the term “illegals” or aliens?” How about “migrant?” What about “thug?” What about arguments of “taking our country back?” Yet they never take the next logical step: back from whom? This language serves to other people not seen as the prototypical American: white, male, heterosexual, and middle-class. It’s a subtle way of saying: “These people are not like us. These people are different. These people behave in ways we don’t understand.”
And we always fear what we don’t understand.
Take the transgender bathroom debate as an example. Much of the rhetoric used to defend keeping trans people from using the bathroom in which they feel comfortable was centered around protecting women from predators. Trans people were framed as sinister rapists and pedophiles. Yet, fascinatingly, when the Republican candidate for president in 2016 freely admitted to sexually assaulting women, Republicans continued to stand behind him. What we have here is a simple bait and switch: they imply that trans people and predators and virtue-signal to convince us their motives are pure. Then, when a real predator emerges, he is excused because he is a rich, white man.
Another example: Planned Parenthood. Carly Fiorina famously claimed that Planned Parenthood harvested and sold organs from live babies on national television. Republicans across the county gathered their torches and pitchforks and attempted to shut down Planned Parenthood for good. Then, a white man entered a Planned Parenthood with a gun, killing three people and injuring more. The man claimed to be a “warrior for the babies.”
Suddenly, crickets were chirping throughout the GOP on the topic of Planned Parenthood. A whole lot of people had a whole lot of nothing to say.
The Limits of Sympathy
Edmund Burke once said the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil was for good men to do nothing. I have reached my limit of sympathy for the Republican party.
Do you feel attacked because people are blaming you for the hellish mess our country is in? Too bad.
Want to prove you’re not part of the problem? Loudly condemn white supremacy, far right violence, and work to end it. This means donating money to groups that contend with the consequences of systemic racism on a daily basis. This means showing up to vigils, and rallies, and putting yourself between people who are being terrorized and their attackers. This means standing up to the president. And yes, this means standing up to your party. It is not enough to release a statement. It is not enough to write a Facebook post, or a Tweet, reassuring us that Not All Republicans Are Like That. Or that you are Not A White Supremacist. Prove it.
Republicans control all three houses of government. They have all the power right now. They can choose to govern with a conscience, or without. They can go down in history for defending the free press, and squashing the radical right, or they can sit quietly and hope nobody notices that their campaign is funded by white nationalists. Or when they donate to white nationalists.
I want Republicans to do what is right, and to prioritize justice and equal rights over power. But I am not holding my breath.
And I am out of sympathy.