Like everyone else in the western world, I’ve been thinking a lot about the US presidential election and about Donald Trump specifically. I didn’t want to sit down and write the same kind of political analysis that has been everywhere else. I’m not a pundit. I’m more interested in trying to conceptualize the election in a way that makes sense to me on a human level.
What’s funny is that for very different reasons, the issues of veganism and animal rights have come up in my thought exercises trying to understand the left and right reactions to Trump’s election.
On the left, the refrain that I keep hearing from my friends is that of ‘community.’ People constantly talk about the need to stand together, to support one another and build a ‘community.’ There is an irony to all of this that has kept me from attending any of the marches or protests, which is that the community that everyone is advertising isn’t real. To a person, everyone I know who has taken to the internet talking about community recently are the kind of exclusionary, cliquish assholes whose entire identity is based on making other people feel unwelcome. The irony couldn’t be greater if it were Regina George and Gretchen Weiners organizing these marches. Of course I didn’t support Donald Trump, and if these marches were intended to produce an actual result, I would attend. But a march that serves no purpose other than a group hug with a bunch of the least friendly people in Richmond, I can’t be bothered.
I started thinking about the phenomenon of caring about community while not caring about individual people and I realized that I should withhold some of my moral superiority because it is the same approach I take to veganism. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not an animal person: I don’t like to play with animals, I don’t have any pets, and narratives about the abuse/neglect of individual animals are the least emotionally resonant for me when I think about animal rights as a broader movement. This sets me apart from most vegans who were brought into the animal rights fold as a result of an emotional connection with individual animals. I take the same attitude toward animals that my left-leaning friends take to their community: namely that they feel no empathy for individual people, but are greatly concerned with the broader welfare of large populations. Of course that’s giving them the benefit of the doubt, but it helped me to make sense of their position.
Trump’s supporters have been classified as racist, sexist, xenophobic rednecks since the beginning of the election, and it is obviously true for a large swath of his base. But obviously this isn’t the case for all Trump voters. There are people in my life who voted for Trump, not because of his racist and sexist remarks, but in spite of them. Much was made in the news of people who voted for Obama twice and then voted for Trump. How do you explain that voter? Some people obviously thought that Trump was right about big enough issues that they overshadowed his problematic views on other issues.
Putting aside his repugnant personality, I disagree with Donald Trump on nearly all of the policy issues on which he has stated a position. So it was hard for me to imagine agreeing with him on anything so strongly that I would be able to overlook the fact that he is a rapist and a racist. Once again, I spent some time feeling morally superior and ideologically pure. I would never vote for anyone who would say such disgusting things about women, no matter how right they might be on other issues.
I tried thinking of any issue important enough to me that I would overlook horrific remarks about rape. Then I thought about Gary Yourofsky. Yourofsky is an animal rights activist who has been arrested for direct action and who has made a career giving lectures about veganism. Some of his videos on YouTube have millions of views; he has probably converted more people to veganism than any other single activist. Yourofsky is a favourite of new vegans, but many in the AR community have distanced themselves from him because of a few cringe-worthy remarks about wishing that people who support animal abuse would endure those same abuses themselves. He infamously said that he wishes women who wear fur coats would endure a rape horrific enough to scar them. He’s spent over a decade dealing with that remark. He’s done everything except say that it was a mistake and apologize for it.
Gary Yourofsky isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t send his videos to people and when I’m looking for a AR leader to follow, he isn’t the one I fall in line behind. But if there was going to be a vegan running for president, it would probably be Yourofsky or someone like him. His personality isn’t that unlike Trump’s, even if he is a much better public speaker. He’s got enough ego for ten people and he is convinced that he is the only person with the right answers.
So what if Gary Yourofsky ran for president on a vegan-centric platform? What if he was as viable of a candidate as Donald Trump was in late October? Yeah it’s a laughably improbable scenario, but what would I do? Would I vote for a quasi-misogynist like Yourofsky because he had the right ideas about bigger issues? Honestly I would. If we don’t end animal agriculture, there won’t be any misogynists or women for them to hate because the human race is going to become extinct. So I guess I do understand the position of some of the reluctant Trump supporters. Obviously all of this is just an irrelevant thought exercise because just because people believe Trump might be right about important issues doesn’t actually mean he is. But it doesn’t make me feel a little bit better about the people in my life who voted for him that I don’t want to believe are bigots.
I don’t really have any answers or any conclusions to draw. I was just trying to make sense of human behaviour that I found baffling three weeks ago. And I guess, to some degree I have.