Ever try to talk to somebody who doesn't speak your language?
In a foreign nation or with a visitor to your own country?
Trying to get directions, maybe, or give directions. Order a meal. Find the nearest restroom. That sort of thing.
Even simple concepts can be difficult, let alone an actual conversation, or an exchange of ideas, or seeing each other as equals, as human, or reaching an actual understanding.
There are several ways to go about it.
First, you can make an actual effort.
You can use what few words you both do have in common, along with gestures and body language like the tourist’s version of charades, to achieve some form of mutual understanding, typically with varying degrees of success depending on how far apart your disparate cultures are. In the Spanish region of Andalusia for example, they make a kind of palms-down finger-waving gesture when they want you to come closer, to an American it looks like they’re giving you the brush-off. On the streets of Seville and Cadiz, Spaniards greet each other in passing by saying “adios!” (goodbye). It can be confusing, and Spanish and American cultures aren’t all that far apart. I’ve been to places in Africa and Asia where I wasn’t sure if I was ordering lunch or agreeing to participate in a revolution against the local despot. And I once spent two days driving across New South Wales with a guy who looked like an extra from The Road Warrior, he talked nonstop and supposedly spoke English and to this day I have no idea what the hell he was saying – but I got to see parts of Australia that the tourists never see and left with a deep seated respect and admiration for the people who live there.
Even without a common language and culture, understanding is possible, if you put enough sincere effort into it.
Or maybe you can find somebody who speaks both languages, understands both cultures and can act as a bridge, a translator, and thus you can come to a mutual understanding. As a Navy intelligence officer, I once boarded an ancient rusting freighter in the Persian Gulf, a smuggling vessel crewed by a ragged bunch of cutthroats. The vessel’s master was right out of Corsair mythology, a tall thin man with weathered skin like hammered leather, long braided hair and beard, an enormous hooked beak of a nose, and the most piercing black eyes I’ve ever seen – all he lacked was a scimitar and a brace of black powder pistols. My enlisted Navy translator was born to Iranian parents who’d fled to New York just ahead of Khomeini’s revolution, they’d raised their children in the languages and cultures of both lands and it wasn’t long before the smuggler captain was offering us thick sweet coffee brewed in the Arab fashion and telling me how he hoped we Americans would get rid of Saddam so that his daughters could grow up free to choose their own destinies like Western women. He was a hard eyed Marsh Arab pirate, an Iraqi, a Muslim … and a softhearted doting father who believed in the promise of freedom and equality between the sexes – and a more fascinating conversation I’ve never had.
Increasingly technology fills this role, the bridge between cultures and viewpoints, my Android tablet coupled to the Internet speaks a dozen languages, maybe not perfectly, but certainly better than I do, enough for an understanding. With these tools, human or machine, understanding is possible – but you have to work at it, you have to want to meet the other guy halfway.
Or you can just shout louder.
That’s right, you can be the cliché, the boneheaded jerk who refuses to learn even a few words of the other guy’s language, who instead just keeps repeating the same sentence over and over – as if the other guy will finally come around if you just say it loud enough. You can be the obnoxious jackass who demands that everybody else speak your language with your accent, the guy who does nothing but complain because people from other viewpoints have the unmitigated effrontery to act as if their way, their beliefs, their society, their religion, their culture, their lives and loves and interests, are just as valid as yours. You can be the guy who manages to be perpetually offended by the very idea of different cultures and beliefs and religions, and who believes that because you’re not allowed to discriminate against them that they are somehow depriving you of your god-given rights just by existing.
Yes, you can certainly be that guy.
It doesn’t take much effort, to be that guy, the bigoted self-righteous ass who just doesn’t get it. Who doesn’t want to get it. The one that just keeps shouting louder and louder, the one who gets mad because others refuse to live their lives in a certain way, your way, your culture’s way, your prophet’s way. You can be the guy who clings to outmoded ideas, to old biases and hatreds, and a cloistered and selfish worldview.
You can be the guy who just doesn’t get that the problem isn’t them – it’s you.
It’s certainly easier to be a bigot.
A number of your wrote to ask why I hadn’t yet commented on this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
I was waiting.
I wanted to give conservatives plenty of time to finish talking, to make sure they’d had time to rebut the criticism, I wanted to examine the CPAC message in context and see how they interpreted it first.
And, most especially, I first wanted to read the Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” report, the “most comprehensive post-election review” ever undertaken by party leaders, which was released on Monday. It’s a hundred page analysis detailing why Republicans think they lost so badly in the last election cycle, not just the White House but across the board.
I wrote about this topic right after the election, It’s The Racism, Stupid, and I wondered if the RNC would come to the same conclusion I did. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I sure wasn’t disappointed – or rather I was, but you know what I mean.
“Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement…”
So says RNC Chairman, Reince Priebus (and seriously here, Conservatives think “Barack Obama” is a funny foreign sounding name? But I digress).
It’s always a hopeful sign when the patient starts out by admitting that they have a problem.
Except, of course, that’s not exactly what’s happening here.
Because Priebus followed up his first statement by saying in essence that his party’s platform and policies are “fundamentally sound” but, see, it’s the minorities who just aren’t listening.
Maybe if republicans speak louder…
Priebus went on to say:
“There’s no one solution, there’s a long list of them.”
And first on the list is “more extensive outreach to women, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and gay voters” – which is pretty damned funny when you think about it, because the RNC Chairman basically just admitted that the GOP really is the party of rich old white guys.
And how, exactly, does the GOP plan on reaching out to women, non-whites, and gays?
Not by changing their actual platform, of course, oh no, not that. Instead they’re going to spend $10 million to more clearly explain to bitches, homos, and brown people why they should be happy as second class citizens.
Oh, what? Did you actually think the Republican party was suddenly going to let women manage their own bodies? Did you really think that they were suddenly going to stop trying to shove their evangelical version of God up our collective asses? Or that they were going to let gay people get married (Hell they can’t even say “gay” – let alone LGBT). Or that they were going to purge their ranks of the bigots and the racists and embrace diversity and multiculturalism?
Really? You thought that’s what Priebus was saying?
You’re so darned cute.
The basic gist of Priebus’ “autopsy” is this: We’re not going to learn your language, we’re not going to respect your culture or beliefs. We have no intention of seeing things from your viewpoint, we’re damned well not going to meet you halfway. It’s not us, it’s you. We don’t need to change, we just need to talk louder. And we’re going to keep talking louder until you unAmerican idiots understand. We’re going to learn how to use the internet and that twitter thing you liberals love, we’re going to find us some dynamic candidates, a 21st Century version of Reagan, who can convince you silly women, you stupid brown people, and you damned queers to vote for a political party who won’t even let you in the front door.
In other words, we’re not changing a damned thing, we’re just going to say it louder.
The RNC looked at the last election and figured democrats won not because their platform and message resonated to a greater degree with a greater percentage of the population, but rather because democrats had better candidates, were better at social media, were better at debating, and were better at speaking without putting their foot in their mouth. The idea here being that a significant fraction of conservatives believe that Democrats won because they got a large percentage of the minority vote, and they got that vote because minorities are stupid and gullible and easily bribed with promises of “free stuff” and “government giveaways.” And conservatives haven’t exactly been shy about saying exactly that in public – starting with Mitt Romney.
Now, conservatives want the same people they’ve been calling stupid and shiftless and lazy to vote for conservatives.
And the RNC figures that minorities will vote for conservative candidates if Republicans just polish a few turds and pretend they are diamonds.
They don’t have to change, they just have to shout louder.
Which brings us to a case in point: CPAC.
Ask yourself something: Who didn’t get invited to CPAC?
Who didn’t get invited to CPAC and why?
At the exact same moment the RNC chairman was talking about reaching out to the other side, the most well known and most outspoken conservatives firmly and publicly uninvited Governor Chris Christie, popular with both Left and Right, from their little convention.
And why? Why was Christie snubbed?
Christie was uninvited specifically because Christie reached out to the other side.
Talk about your classic facepalm moment.
Priebus said that conservatives need to reach out to gay voters.
Meanwhile CPAC specifically and pointedly didn’t invite gay voters who are already republicans – why should the rest of the LGBT community expect they’ll get treated any different under a conservative government run by these same people? Why should LGBT people vote for any of these people? For a party platform that literally makes them second class citizens? (And tell me again why there even are gay republicans in the first place?)
And I don’t suppose we have to mention the percentage of black, brown, or yellow faces in the crowd.
There you go.
And who did get invited to CPAC?
Who will be the face of the new Republican Party?
Who will unite conservatives and lead them to victory in 2016?
Wayne LaPierre? The National Rifle Association got invited to CPAC, but not Chris Christie? Wayne LaPierre, what, they couldn’t find a clown who makes balloon animals?
Sarah Palin? The Grizzly Mama, who continues to nurse a sophomoric grudge against members of her own party, never missing an opportunity to catalog all the insults and hurts that she never, ever, forgets? As always, Palin eschewed any real message and went for the divisive sound bite, demanding that conservatives “furlough the consultants” and send “the architect” back to Texas in an unabashed dig at Karl Rove. The woman just can’t help herself, she’s a spoiled little small town high school prom queen, she’s good at leading a homecoming pep rally but that’s really all she’s got going for her – well that and her “rack” (And seriously, Sarah? “Todd got the rifle, I got the rack?” Nothing like a tit joke to attract the female vote, eh? Can you imagine if Joe Biden had told that exact same joke about Palin? Jesus Christ in a Bullet Bra, what’s she going to do for an encore? Make fun of retards? But I digress).
That said, well, then there’s Karl Rove. This corpulent little slug has been oozing around the dark corners of the GOP since Watergate, whispering in ears and listening at keyholes – though his assessment of Sarah Palin makes me think fondly of slugs. Palin naturally wants to send him back to Texas, which is a whole lot like locking an alcoholic in a liquor store – but she’s right, if for the wrong reasons. The great science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, once penned a truly terrifying tale about an alien invasion called The Puppet Masters. In the novel the aliens, slimy slug-like creatures, secretly attach themselves to human hosts, burrowing into the nervous system and pulling the strings. That’s Karl Rove, malevolent slug-like brain tissue, hiding in the shadows, bending human will to his own alien ends. Reince Priebus can proclaim a new era of conservative outreach, but until the GOP gets rid of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney and the rest of the slimy old guard alien collective, things are unlikely to change very much.
Jeb Bush? He bemoaned the fact that “all too often we’re associated with being anti-everything, anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-gay.” There’s that penetrating insight into the human condition the Bush family is so famous for. Geez, Jeb, you ever stop to wonder why the outfit which refused to invite gay members of its own party to their own conference is associated with being anti-gay? You ever wonder why the party which supports candidates who believe in “legitimate rape” and that rape is part of “God’s plan” can’t seem to attract women? The party of “self-deportation” and “no amnesty” and who wants to build a two thousand mile long wall across Mexico can’t figure out why they’re not attractive to Latinos? Meanwhile, just for fun, at the CPAC breakout session on minority outreach entitled “Trump the Race Card” during a speech by K. Carl Smith of the Fredrick Douglass Republicans, audience member Scott Terry stood up and asked Republicans to endorse races remaining “separate but equal.” Scott then went on to defend slavery by saying that it “gave food and shelter” to blacks – a statement that was greeted with applause and cheers from more than a few members of the audience. The gist of Terry’s comment was that white people have been “systematically disenfranchised” by the federal government at the behest of minorities and that African-Americans should be permanently subservient to whites. When challenged on the history of the Republican party by a female reporter, Terry quipped, “I didn’t know the legacy of the Republican Party included women correcting men in public!” After the breakout session, Smith issued a statement condemning the reporter as “rude.”
There’s a reason why the GOP is associated with being anti-everything, anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-gay, it’s because they’re anti-everything, anti-immigration, anti-woman, and anti-gay.
Listen to their speakers, read their platform, it’s printed right on the label.
Rick Perry? I half expected Perry to break into a rain dance. But instead of bustin’ a move, Perry told conservatives they didn’t need to change. He blamed the media for recent GOP setbacks and said that conservatives didn’t really lose the last election after all, “that might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.” And you’ve really got to admire the logic there, don’t you? We didn’t lose, because we didn’t like our candidates either, so the joke’s on you nyah nyah nyah! On second thought, maybe Perry was dancing after all – it’s hard to tell with old white guys. Perry’s comments are diametrically opposed to the RNC’s own autopsy report and were designed to pander directly to the majority of conservatives who blame weak candidates for their losses and see no need to adjust their party’s platform – a position that is unlikely to attract LBGT voters, women, or people of color in 2016 any more than the same message attracted them in 2008 and 2012.
Speaking of weak candidates: Mitt Romney showed up at CPAC, making his first public appearance since election day. It was like watching one of those robots in Disney’s Hall Of Presidents – the only difference is that Mitt isn’t as lifelike. It’s as if the word “banality” was invented just for Mitt Romney, “I utterly reject pessimism. We may not have carried on November 7th, but we haven’t lost the country we love. And we have not lost our way.” Mitt rejects pessimism? Well, that’s good, I suppose. Conservatives haven’t lost the country they love? Republicans haven’t lost their way? Right, except for that part where the conservative message for the last five years, including Mitt Romney’s own campaign, has been the very definition of pessimism.
And if they haven’t lost “their” country, then why do they feel the need to take it back?
Mitt Romney, still out of touch with everybody – including his own party.
And then there was Donald Trump, who declared that America had a right to "pay ourselves back" for the Iraq war by taking the country's oil – kind of like how a crackhead has a right to your wallet, since he went through the trouble of mugging you.
The 2013 CPAC basically just doubled-down on everything that’s wrong with the GOP in the first place.
These people are the very epitome of the Ugly American stereotype, the obnoxious idiot shouting, “Whatsamatter? Can’t you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”
I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: America needs a better class of conservatives.
Maybe if I said it louder…