Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Hollywood Won't Heal American Divisiveness

Capitol Hill
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When figures like Matthew McConaughey accuse liberals of sowing discord, they minimize the issues "that cause the divisiveness" in the first place, writes the THR columnist.

For a few weeks following President-elect Joe Biden’s invitation for us to forget blue America and red America and just be Americans, there seemed to be a post-election spirit in the air for a New Year’s resolution of reconciliation and bygones. As if the grumpy political Scrooges from both sides have suddenly awakened to a wondrous Christmas morning in which Americans will now take a cup o’ kindness with their former adversaries. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, as demonstrated by Trump supporters violently invading the Capitol building.

Despite all the Sturm and Drang from MAGA-maniacs, there’s a familiar and inevitable blaming of liberals. Actor Matthew McConaughey recently blasted “the far left,” noting that, “There are a lot [of people] on that illiberal left that absolutely condescend, patronize and are arrogant towards that other 50 percent." (For the record: 46.8 percent of the electorate voted for Trump versus 51.3 percent for Biden.) On the sitcom The Connors, Dan (John Goodman) scolded his liberal daughter while waxing poetic about people on all sides of the political spectrum coming together because, politics aside, we’re still friends. As much as I would like us all to put aside petty differences and hug it out toward a greater America, the real arrogance here is in thinking these differences are petty rather than a serious danger to our country.

When McConaughey refers to Trump detractors as “far left” he is using a form of name-calling that many GOP politicians and the conservative news media use when they describe anyone who disagrees with them. McConaughey’s comments also imply that liberals are the only ones describing the other side with derisiveness. On the right, those who criticize Trump are labeled “socialists” or “the radical left” in order to trigger followers into immediately dismissing opponents’ actual arguments. In her losing runoff campaign in Georgia, Sen. Kelly Loeffler described herself as a “firewall” against socialism, warning that without her, Democrats would bring in “radical” changes. And by socialism, does she mean Social Security and Medicare, or federal government-issued COVID-19 stimulus and relief checks? Name-calling is how we avoid actually analyzing and discussing the issues. Recent studies indicate that members of both parties, fueled mostly by the media, vastly overestimate the animosity of the opposing party. Which means they are closer than either side realizes.

McConaughey overlooked another important issue: His “other 50 percent” declared with their vote that racism, misogyny and other forms of marginalization that take the lives, health and futures of millions of people aren’t as important as … what exactly? A wall? Confederate monuments? Athletes not kneeling? Not wanting to wear a mask? Black and Latinx communities suffered a much greater rate of sickness and lost lives from COVID-19 while Trump lied to the country about its severity. And now he prefers playing golf rather than addressing the crisis or fixing a wonky rollout of the vaccines. As if these people are expendable.

I’m aware that most of the 46.8 percent are probably compassionate, kind and loving people to their friends, family and even local community. But their inability to see the bigger picture as it relates to people who don’t look like them, as well as to the integrity of our democracy, makes them an existential threat. These are the people who have given $200 million to Trump in order to fight a legitimate election that has shown no significant fraud. Yet, they continue to fund the erosion of democracy even though the goal is to disenfranchise the votes of minorities and the poor. They may not mean to, but that’s what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, Trump and his convicted-criminal cronies Roger Stone and George Papadopoulos, whom he has pardoned, encouraged masses of people to come to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 to try to bully Congress into overturning the results of the election. “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” Trump tweeted. When the largely maskless mob arrived, he told them to march to the Capitol Building, falsely saying he’d march with them. Violence, looting and death ensued, including four in the mob and one police officer.

Three-quarters of Republicans have stated in polls that they do not trust the results of the presidential election even as these claims have been dismissed, sometimes angrily, by judge after judge — even judges appointed by Trump. These are the people that, not just the “illiberal left,” but all Americans of conscience and patriotism, should denounce. Yes, we should have empathy for the opposition, but understanding doesn’t mean sacrificing the democratic principles that define this country.

McConaughey claims the solution to political divisiveness is being “aggressively centric,” to meet in the middle. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was one such “meeting in the middle” in which Congress decided to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. That was peachy for Maine, but the slaves in Missouri couldn’t appreciate being so “aggressively centric.” Compromise is what allowed slavery to continue in the United States long after it was abolished in most other countries. Meeting in the middle is fine when you’re the one giving up a little, but when you’re the one sacrificing your health, your life, your freedom and your vote, that middle is simply like slightly loosening one’s handcuffs, but leaving them on.

While McConaughey and The Connors may want to heal the wounds of a divisive election, they are minimizing what causes the divisiveness: 74 million didn’t think Black lives mattered enough; that even though everything the scientists predicted about COVID-19 happened, we still shouldn’t listen to them; that despite the fact that 19 women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct, women aren’t important enough to listen to; that not everyone’s vote should be counted, especially if they’re poor or people of color. People’s attitude toward the “other 50 percent” is not arrogance, it’s anger at their priorities. It’s not condescension, it’s confusion that they support someone who has directly done damage to the country. Hollywood is entitled to its opinions, but when they go public with them, they need to be much more informed with a lot less Pollyanna pandering.