In 1990, my father decided to move to the Hillside Terrace housing projects, a move that repulsed the last of the friends he had before he became a drug addict. He had people in his life that-if not willing to give him a safety net-wanted to provide him with housing considerably safer than that dangerous strip of land in the late 80’s. In his addiction and relapses, he kept going back to that place, not just for drugs but also a spot where he could get away with unspeakable acts.
What they didn’t understand was that he was much addicted to self-pity as he was cocaine. He had palpable agonies in his life, but in the end, he cherished them more than any personal relationship. He quit college because he couldn’t integrate northwest radio, even though black radio stations were beating down his door. He turned to cocaine to escape the racism he faced doing the landscaping for the El Toro marine base, even though he had a wife who loved him, children, and a two story house. He had to work to alienate his alma mater and friends who propped him up to do the grounds keeping for UPS.
That toxic sense of self, the using the obstacles of one’s life as a card to not be held responsible for anything and the bottomless well of cruelty that came from it, was the glue that held “scumbags row”, the strip of land between Ash Street and Tacoma Avenue. Men could do whatever they want to women or young people, gangs could terrorize whoever they wanted, and drug dealers of every economic stripe could run menacing throughout the area because “of the history of oppression”. It did not matter that there were real people they had brutalized and it did not matter that they had brutalized them in worse ways than their oppressors did to them. Their pain was their card to get out of life.
The only way that scumbag’s row was aggressively muted was when the Hilltop Action Coalition made aggressive inroads to make my community safer. For 25 years they established good faith networks with activists, members of the police department and people who lived in the block to change hilltop from being one of the most dangerous places to live in America. They didn’t want to retaliate against the people who were hurting them, and could go toe to toe with anyone over their experiences and scars with racism. They just wanted control of their lives and the agony that they and their loved ones had to go through to stop. Scumbag’s row was their community too, and they didn’t want it to be “it” anymore.
I know there has been a lot of handwringing about what the left needs to do now, and agony that the white working class has felt for a long time. I am not an absolutist on this issue: I have spoken exhaustively about how the left never again needs to have a campaign manager say that “white working class voters aren’t worth getting”. Every poll showed the white working class going that voted voting for Hillary by 10-12 points, they just showed that they didn’t go. As much as I find a great deal of Barack Obama’s presidency admirable, even he would attest to the gutting of the grassroots networks of the OFA as the most crippling mistake of his presidency. I do have space in my heart to invest in a broader conversation about liberalism, one that isn’t run by white-woke fiefdom (Robby Mook), one that gives support to liberals who know their soil to appeal to the voters that didn’t show up.
I have also seen the violent, vicious, first month of the Trump presidency combined with the steadfast fervor of his supporters. I’ve seen Muslim bans, Massive roundups, threats to allies, threats to end NATO, a staff filled with nazi’s, a twee nazi demagogue who doxxes immigrants and leads to people getting shot, and the dire warnings of the spy community; and i’ve seen them be met with the breadbasket formed delusion of a white base that still thinks he’s an honest man who will drain the swamp. And as I take all this in, echoes of hillside terrace dance in my head. Only now, almost everything about this country will be badly damaged because of it.
What do I think liberals should do in 2018? Establish that tent as big as humanly ( and as humanistic) as possible. Broaden what the gorgeous mosaic means beyond smarmy social media woke offs. Try to reach as many people as they within it by giving them reasons as to why they should vote for them. And if that tent draws disillusioned Trump supporters, god bless them for coming in.
What I can’t do, however, is have space in my heart for the people who look at the damage Donald trump is doing in this country and think it’s a good, measured response to black lives matter. I can’t have space for people who still can’t be bothered to know how much of a sociopath the president is even though his pathology is taking apart some of the best aspects of this nation. I can’t engage with people so base, so tribal, so entrenched in their own self-pity, that they can’t criticize a member with the same skin color because of the bad hands they have been dealt in life.
I am for fighting to maintain what’s best in this country, and extending a hand to people who want to fight (or are willing to be persuaded to fight as well). I don’t believe the Trump vote is a scarlet letter, and I am willing to play a role to elevate the rhetoric of the left to make it a space more tenable for liberals to go to in the future. But I will not pretend that the Trump vote has no meaning on the character or the soul. Quite frankly, I’ve heard it all before. And if Trump supporters never lose their faith in him no matter what he does, I ( and we) will be haunted by “it” for the rest of my life.