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MAGA vs. The Hashtags


The midterm elections are 4 weeks from today. The battle lines have been drawn. The spectacle around the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is just the latest factor that will force Americans to choose sides on November 6th.

One one side of the aisle are the Republicans and their mercurial populist President who is fighting to “Make America Great Again” and on the other side are the Democrats who are now marching to the beat of an anti-Trump, anti-populism platform of #SocialJustice spurred on by individual movements (the hashtags) — #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #DACA, etc.

These seemingly polar opposite movements actually have more in common than you would think. Because the meaning of MAGA and #SocialJustice is really in the eye of the beholder, there may be some fertile common ground in the middle that could be explored for the benefit of the country as a whole.

Unfortunately, that middle ground is being forfeited by both parties who have a vested interest in forcing people to make a binary choice of Democrat vs. Republican, Right vs. Left, Red State vs. Blue State or MAGA vs. The Hashtags.

The Eye of the Beholder

The last word in the MAGA slogan lets us know that its followers have either personally experienced or know someone who experienced an America that was greater that it is currently. The movement is seemingly more about recapturing the past for some than moving the country forward for all.

The question that begs around that greatness is — for whom?

That greatness is in the eye of the beholder, but much of the prevailing narrative around that greatness has to do with an American past that was mired in discrimination, segregation and in the most extreme case — slavery.

For sure, there is a contingent of this country that buys into this narrative, hook, line and sinker and are glad to have a Commander in Chief who actively gives words and actions to their collective thoughts.

But there is also a contingent that longs for the days of yore when the jobs were as plentiful as the picket fences that welcomed them home from a double shift. There’s also a contingent who feel that the country is going too far in exacting a public pound of flesh without any real proof.

The problem for them is that it’s not possible to embrace their view of MAGA without also at least tacitly endorsing the discriminatory view as well.

So it is not politically expedient for them to buy into their MAGA mantra publicly.

Lucky for them voting is a secret process.

Conversely, the #SocialJustice movement is not about looking backward, but moving the country forward, particularly for the historically disenfranchised. The movement in many ways is about affirmation for these groups.

However, to be clear, the coalescing factor for the midterm elections is not necessarily the affirmation or promise of #SocialJustice for these groups. It’s about the eradication of Trump and MAGA.

#SocialJustice is also in the eye of the beholder as evidenced by the many hashtag movements that have cropped up over the years under the all-encompassing banner.

A black person who has been harassed by the police (#blacklivesmatter), a woman who is making $0.85 on the dollar compared to her male counterpart (#equalpay) and a Dreamer who is potentially facing deportation (#DACA) are all facing real issues of inequality and inequity. However, their problems can’t all be solved collectively, especially by government.

The uphill battle for the the left and the #SocialJustice movement is not winning the house and/or senate, but what to do if they are successful.

#SocialJustice on its face requires sacrifice especially from those who are not suffering from the injustice. This requires leadership.

Does the left have the leadership to galvanize the electorate to swing some seats in the house and/or the senate in the midterms — probably.

Do they have the leadership to bring together the multiple hashtag movements under the #SocialJustice banner to develop a prioritized agenda that brings about collective sacrifice and compromise for the good of all — doubtful.

Why am I so pessimistic — because of the cost of true sacrifice for our country and the unwillingness of self-interested Americans to deny themselves for the greater good.

The biggest gains from the Civil Rights Movement did not require true sacrifice.

Cheap Change

Dr. Martin Luther King said this himself in his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates. There are no expenses, and no taxes are required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels and other facilities with whites. Even the psychological adjustment is far from formidable. Having exaggerated the emotional difficulties for decades, when demands for new conduct became inescapable, white Southerners may have trembled under the strain but they did not collapse. Even the more significant changes involved in voter registration required neither large monetary nor psychological sacrifice. Spectacular and turbulent events that dramatized the demand created an erroneous impression that a heavy burden was involved.

Universal Sacrifice

True #SocialJustice will only come when everyone contributes to the cost at a price that is a true sacrifice for all. I believe that we are too preoccupied with our own self-interests to be willing to sacrifice for something that we don’t directly benefit from.

This type of self-interest even within the individual hashtags of the #SocialJustice movement can be detrimental to the overall cause. King experienced this first hand.

In his momentous Beyond Vietnam speech in 1967, King broke his silence and spoke out about the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Immediately following the speech many in the Civil Rights Movement were critical and even turned their backs on him because they felt like he had somehow watered down the Movement by brining Vietnam into his platform.

As with most things in life a battle is not waged and won in the extremes but in the middle.

Unfortunately, the current political climate forces the citizenry into a binary choice without much regard for the nuance that sits in the middle of these opposing poles.

There is an imperfect version of America that sits somewhere in between the non-discriminatory eye of the beholder version of MAGA and the non-self-interested versions of the hashtags.

The problem for America today is that the middle is eroding like the polar ice caps and because there is no longer a safe place to stand in the middle, we are forced to pick a side.

And those two icebergs are moving further apart each day.

About the author

Andre Kimo Stone Guess
Andre Kimo Stone Guess

Andre Kimo Stone Guess is a writer and cultural critic from the Smoketown neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. He was VP and Producer for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and CEO of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh. He now runs GuessWorks, Inc. with his wife Cheryl.

Educated Guesses A Blog Full of Guesses