Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Barbecue, Hold the Politics

An old friend, a musician, came in from out of town. His band was playing a barbecue festival in south KC, so I went. It was a thing I would never have gone to otherwise; in fact, I had never heard of the event before.

It was something like 77 teams of barbecuers; the band was hosted by one of them and the dressing room was that team's RV (the teams tend to travel to different events, and they stay on the grounds in RVs; non-team members have to be off the grounds by midnight).

These were totally nice guys, in the circumstances. They were very concerned with our comfort, and were generous with their food and their booze. They were guys who like their comforts. They really enjoyed the music and we all had a good time.

While we were sitting in the trailer before the set, two of the guys got to talking about the Roger Waters show at the Sprint Center the previous Friday night. Waters had really reamed out Trump. Tim Finn, the rock writer at the Star, had posted on his Facebook page something to the effect that, “If you went to Waters' show and left because of the politics, you obviously never really listened to Pink Floyd.” So these guys were talking, and they said, “The music was great, but he really dumped on Trump,” and then they turned to my friend and said, “I hope you're going to stay away from politics.” To which he answered, “Of course!”

That's when I realized I was probably surrounded by Trump voters. White guys, probably in the beginnings of middle age, used to having America be for them. I didn't ask them, but if they're mad about Roger Waters' politics they probably weren't wearing pussy hats in January.

Of course, most people don't think or talk about politics in the obsessive way that my friends and I do. These guys are just happy to be driving around in RVs, cooking up huge hunks of meat, drinking bourbon and listening to rock music. Life is good; they don't want to be bothered by politics.

My friend actually has progressive politics, but one thing you learn playing frat parties and such is that you give the people what they want. (The band played the Dead's “New Speedway Boogie,” which I pointed out later is actually pretty political, not that anyone would notice.)

One of the most significant conversations coming out of the election has been about the necessity of reaching across cultural lines (to say it that way) to people who feel themselves being left behind in contemporary America, and who had found comfort, or a weapon, in Trump. This has been Bernie Sanders' approach. Of course, the presumption is that this “reaching out” only has to be to white folks. The other side of the argument (often, but not always, coming from African Americans) is that this is kowtowing to the dark racist underbelly of the American electorate. I'm of the dedicated opinion that racial justice and economic justice are deeply intertwined, and also that you can't win an election in the US, even on the state level, without white votes. If white non-progressives are going to be written off from the political equation, there are going to be a lot more Donald Trumps in our future.

So that's it, really. I didn't talk politics with these guys and my friend and I left right after the show. I didn't ask them why Hillary didn't appeal to them or what it would take to make a Left message do so. I didn't ask them what they thought about Trump pulling out the Paris agreement. (Truth be told, I'm assuming their politics based on a random comment.) But those are conversations that I need to have, and with people exactly like them, in order to be effective in my job.

But I also know that the expectation that “we shouldn't talk about politics” (which I've come across plenty in the Jewish community as well) is a luxury that not everyone can afford – in fact, it is itself an indicator of privilege, and as such, must always be questioned. Except at private parties, I guess.