I Don’t Know How to Tell You that You’re an Asshole

I Don’t Know How to Tell You that You’re an Asshole

A little more than a year ago, HuffPo published a piece by Kayla Chadwick titled I Don’t Know How to Explain to You That You Should Care About Other People.

As I read it, that piece comes from a place of compassion and empathy.

This one comes from a place of rage.

The Kavanaugh Thing

As I write this, the United States Senate has recently confirmed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court. They have done this not because he is the most qualified and in spite of the fact that as a deliberative body, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee was not given access to the bulk of the paper trail that would have enabled them to make an informed decision.

Plus, you know, the whole thing where multiple people have made credible accusations of sexual assault and attempted rape.

No, Kavanaugh was nominated because he took the position that sitting presidents shouldn’t be investigated let alone charged, and he was confirmed because the political right in America doesn’t want to advance their goals, they just want to win.

This is Not a Game

This isn’t baseball. It isn’t Chutes and Ladders. It isn’t even a “game” the way spin-the-bottle and quarters are games. This is politics. It’s how we as a nation decide how we’re going to handle the issues in front of us. It’s how we decide we’re going to treat our neighbors. It’s how we decide who we think of as people and who we don’t.

The decisions we make with the political process will determine who dies, who lives, and what sort of lives we all lead.

The Bottom Line is Simple

There is a price to be paid for a free society. Well, there’s two, but we’re not going to talk about Mad-Eye Moody style CONSTANT VIGILANCE here. No, we’re going to talk about acceptance. If you want to be accepted in polite society, you have to accept everyone else there.

You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to associate with them. You don’t have to agree with them.

You have to accept that they have a right to be who they are. You have to accept that regardless of who they are, they have a right to enjoy the public square the same way you do.

That Means they have a Right to Live

And because some of them are born with health problems, others will develop health problems during their lifetimes, and everyone lives longer, better lives when they have access to health care, health care is a human right that we, as a society, should make available to everyone.

That means some sort of Universal Health Care implemented at the federal level for every American in the fifty states, DC, and all the other territories and properties of the United States.

If you think otherwise, you should ask yourself why you think some people deserve to live better, longer lives than other people.

If Your Answer is “Personal Responsibility” Then You’re a Monster

I wish. I so very much wish that when I was studying history in high school, my teachers had made it clear that the concept of “rugged individualism” meant “I got mine; you can go screw.”

The notion of personal responsibility is a con. The people who use it want to believe that those who are looking for some sort of help or accommodation from society at large are simply not taking responsibility for their own situation. In doing so, they ignore a rather simple, fundamental reality. We all have different situations.

When a person who uses a wheelchair to get around asks that public transportation be wheelchair-friendly, it’s because they want to live the same mostly-independent lives that the rest of us take for granted.

When a trans person wants to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender, not their body, they just want to pee in a place where they feel a little bit safer.

When a person with chronic pain wants universal health care, it’s because they want access to the painkillers that make life livable without costing them every available penny.

We should be Responsible for our Success, not our Survival

Our worth as people comes from our humanity, not what we can produce. It is simply a fact that some of us will use up more of society’s resources than we will ever be able to produce.

If you think someone should not have health care unless they can work to pay for it, you should ask yourself why you value the work someone can do more than you value the person doing the work. You should ask why having a slightly smaller tax bill is worth more to you than a person’s life.

Because here’s the reality. When people are asking for accommodations from society, they aren’t asking to be handed success, they are asking that obstacles be removed so they can chase success on their own.

We on the political left hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are equal, endowed with unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We believe that as long as we’re putting additional burdens in the way of disabled people, gay people, trans people, brown people, immigrant people, young people, old people—and while we’re at it—women, then we have failed to live up to the ideals espoused in our nation’s founding documents.

America is an Experiment

It is not an experiment in greed. It is an experiment in social engineering. Can a people govern themselves? Can they establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for generations to come?

So far, we have failed.

Sure, we’re the biggest, baddest motherfuckers on the block. Nobody fucks with us—except when they do. And when they do, we make them pay. It may take a while, but we make them pay.


  • There are children in America who will go to bed hungry tonight
  • There are veterans of our armed forces who will be spending the night on a park bench
  • There are people deciding whether to spend their money on medicine, heat, or food
  • There are people who don’t have the money to make that decision
  • There are people whose financial lives have been destroyed by an accident or an illness
  • There are people who can’t get the medication they need because they can’t work because they have medical conditions that they need medication to treat.

We consider ourselves the greatest nation on Earth, but so few of us ever seem to ask what we’re so great at. Sure, we can blow every other nation off the face of the planet several times over. Sure, we have the strongest economy in the world.

Is that all? Is that what winning looks like? Because from where I sit, it looks an awful lot like losing. It looks like some priorities that are so out of what it’s frightening. It looks like we don’t even know what it means to be human anymore. It makes me wonder if we ever did.

Freedom is More than just Financial

Whenever one of us on the left suggests that society should be spending some money on people who need a little help, those who oppose the idea always trot out the word “freedom” as if it were a synonym for money.

It isn’t.

Paying a little more in taxes doesn’t make you any less free.

Providing health care so you can get the prescriptions you need to live makes you free from worry, and free to pursue happiness.

Ensuring that public transportation is accessible doesn’t make the able-bodied less free, but does make disabled people free to be more independent—to do their shopping without help, to get to a job, to go to a movie, to get their damn hair done, just like all the rest of us.

Ensuring that everyone is allowed to marry and adopt doesn’t make heterosexuals less free to get married and adopt.

Ensuring that every child has access to excellent schools doesn’t make your child less free.

Ensuring that every eligible voter is able to register and vote doesn’t make you less free to vote.

Ensuring that our criminal justice system pursues justice instead of criminality doesn’t make you less free or less safe.

Ensuring that all of our public spaces—whether run by the government or not—are accessible to everyone, and willing to serve everyone does not make you less free.

On the Other Hand…

If you think your religion gives you the right to deny other people the right to fully participate in society, you’re an asshole.

If you think other people’s right to live isn’t worth the few dollars a week it would take out of your paycheck, you’re a goddamn monster.

If you think making your store wheelchair-accessible is an unreasonable expense, you’re just vile.

If you think other people’s kids aren’t deserving of the same education yours are, you’re a douchebag, and probably a racist one at that.

If you think black people are inherently lazy then honestly, just go fuck yourself.

If you think trans people are dangerous just because they’re trans, then you’re the one that’s dangerous and you’re the one that’s damaged.

If you think a child deserves to get locked up in a cage because their parents came here seeking asylum, you’ve lost your humanity.

If you think people are freaks because they don’t fit your definitions of gender, you’re a feculent turd-burper.

If you think Science backs up Your Bigotry

You’re almost certainly wrong. The universe is a place of astonishing diversity and even within a single species there is more variation than most of us can imagine. Neither gender nor sexuality are binary. There are people who are neither male nor female and they have all the rights that you do. There are people who are neither homosexual nor heterosexual and their identity is just as valid as yours.

You don’t get to tell people who they are. You can judge them all you want. We all have the right to be an asshole. What you do not have the right to do—and this is the thing so many of you seem to have forgotten—is have the government treat them differently just because they’re different.

We’re all people. Please try to act like one.

The Rancid Privilege of a Life Destroyed

A friend of mine in a private forum recently reminded me of a point I really wanted to make about this Brett Kavanaugh nonsense.

It takes an enormous level of privilege to think Brett Kavanaugh’s life is being destroyed.

Let’s imagine for a moment something that we know to be untrue—that Brett Kavanaugh is the virginal angel he pretends to be. Let’s pretend that he didn’t assault anyone. Let’s pretend that he’s not a rabid partisan. Let’s pretend that he’s the perfect jurist for someone on the Republican side of the aisle.

That’s a lot of pretending, I know.

That makes all the accusations lies. It means his reputation has been damaged—probably permanently—by something entirely untrue. It means he might be denied a position he really wants due to the political machinations of people from his distant past.

In the worst case scenario, he not only loses out on the Supreme Court seat, but faces impeachment and removal from his current seat as well as permanent persona-non-grata status at the nation’s law schools. He won’t be able to be a judge anywhere or teach in any law schools anywhere.

I’d be pissed if that happened to me.

My life would not be destroyed.

Even if all that were true—and, reminder, we know it’s not—Brett Kavanaugh has a wife who presumably still loves him. He has children who presumably still love him. If his nomination crashes and burns in the most dramatic way possible, he will still be able to find lucrative employment at a right-wing law firm or think tank, and he’ll have a promising future on the martyr circuit.

Meanwhile, there are parents who will be unable to feed their children today. There are women who are going to be beaten by the people they love. There are parents who will sit at the bedsides of their dying children. There are parents who will be selecting caskets. There are spouses who will have to make the decision to take the person they love most in the world off of life support.

There are people whose lives are destroyed—by illness, accident, and addiction—on a daily basis. I know. It happened to me recently. My wife passed away in July. I had to make the decision to take her off life support. If I could get her back by having a Senate committee destroy my reputation, become a political pawn, and have the President of the United States mock me in front of thousands of sycophantic douchebros, I couldn’t sign up for that quickly enough.

The degree of privilege it takes to think that losing out on one of the best jobs in the country, perhaps even losing the great job you already have—jobs with high salaries, a real impact on the world, and that come with respect by the bushel—is having your life destroyed is absurd and everyone making that point should be embarrassed.

If you can go home at night to a nice house with a healthy family, your life has not been destroyed. You’ve just experienced the same kind of hardship everyday Americans experience on a daily basis. That you feel your life has been destroyed shows you feel you’re above it all, that you’re entitled not just to a chance at a good life, but to an actual good life.

Guttenberg, Kavanaugh, and the Handshake that Wasn’t

Guttenberg, Kavanaugh, and the Handshake that Wasn’t

At a break on the first day of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee was approached by Fred Guttenberg who had his hand out to shake that of Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh refused, turning his back on the father of one of the kids killed in the Parkland shooting.

Those on the political right would have us believe this was a scripted moment that means nothing. They’re at least partially right because it was partially scripted, but it’s the unscripted part that means everything.

Almost Everything in Politics is Scripted

They would have us believe that this handshake that wasn’t is irrelevant because it was scripted, but if that were the case, almost everything in politics would be irrelevant and that’s obviously not true.

Campaign speeches are scripted. Convention speeches are scripted. Commercials are scripted. Speeches from the floors of the House and Senate are scripted. Almost every public statement made by almost every politician in America is scripted. Even supposedly off-the-cuff statements are—if not actually scripted—discussed ad nauseam by candidate and staff before they’re made.

But the prevalence of scripted discourse in politics is irrelevant here because while Fred Guttenberg was almost certainly staging a stunt, Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t obliged to follow the script.

The Important Part Wasn’t Scripted

Offering to shake the hand of a political opponent is rarely newsworthy. Accepting a handshake from a political opponent is almost never newsworthy. Had Brett Kavanaugh shaken Guttenberg’s hand, and offered a trite platitude about the Parkland tragedy, we wouldn’t be talking about it today because we wouldn’t have known it happened.

It became newsworthy because Brett Kavanaugh refused to engage in the simplest, most basic of our cultural norms. A handshake is the baseline greeting for people who aren’t necessarily the best of friends, but who accept the other as part of their world.

The Shriveled Turnip at the Heart of the American Political Right

That’s why Kavanaugh’s refusal to shake hands is so revealing. It’s emblematic of a political movement that makes a lack of empathy and the denial of humanity a core tenet of everything they espouse.

If you are not a rich, able-bodied, cis-gendered white Christian man, the current Republican Party doesn’t think you’re human enough to count. To borrow from one of the worst decisions our Supreme Court has ever handed down, the Republican Party thinks that if you’re not a rich, able-bodied, cis-gendered white Christian male, you have no rights which the rich, able-bodied, cis-gendered, white Christian male is bound to respect.

They think people are poor because they’re lazy. They think people are disabled because they deserve to be. They think women are just there to help men be more manly. They think immigrants are diseased moochers. They think brown people are lazy and unintelligent. They not only think they’re better than us, they think they’re so much better than us that they’re the only ones who deserve a seat at the table.

The Price of Access to the Public Arena is Acceptance

There’s an argument we see every time someone from the political right is publicly disinvited from an event. It’s censorship. If you really believed in an open exchange of ideas, you’d let everyone in. You’re being hypocrites, blah blah blah blah, it’s all bullshit.

Access to public debate has a price. That price is accepting the humanity of everyone else who argues in the public debate. If you do not accept that women, disabled people, gay people, brown people, trans people, and people that just don’t agree with you on anything at all have the same right to access public spaces, the same right to have their votes counted, the same right to work, to worship (or not), and to just be themselves, then you have no right to demand a place in the discussion.


And that is why the handshake-that-wasn’t is newsworthy. It’s not simply a matter of one person being dismissive of another, it’s a matter of the fundamental flaw of an entire political movement. They think that they’re the only ones who are smart enough, dedicated enough, honest enough, and correct enough to make public policy and every single one of those qualifications is shorthand for being white enough.

They think they count and we don’t.