In the waning moments of the presidential election, my co-workers and I have noticed a certain trend: self-identified liberal men who are desperate to perform political awareness. They are eager to tell you that they voted for Hillary Clinton, while subsequently outlining all of the reasons why voting for her was a Herculean task in which they miraculously overcame themselves. Their endorsements of Clinton aren’t necessarily endorsements, but rather an acknowledgment that voting for Donald Trump is unconscionable.
It’s a kind of performative political awareness that’s permeated this election, or at least its public discourse: Sad but woke men who have triumphed over their moral objections and cast their vote against Trump, a candidate who is openly racist and has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault. Implicit to this acceptance of a deeply flawed candidate like Clinton is that their decision is heroic, a willingness to sacrifice their personal politics for the sake of the greater good.
Part of this performance is the public acknowledgment that this was a hard decision, that maybe they wouldn’t have voted at all but, as they painstakingly point out, there’s a lot at stake in this election. So they hold their nose and vote for Clinton, conflating their perception of rationality with morality. Like all conscious performances, applause is expected; a hearty round of congratulations for subsuming their individuality—made up of equal parts anger and reason—for the redemption of our social and political order.
And applause seems to be the only purpose of this performance. (Otherwise, it’s easy enough to vote for a third-party candidate.) But then congratulations is part of the public performance of political expression; not only to expect it but to dole it out to those who have likely have little interest in congratulations. Take David Simon, for example. The TV producer’s social media has morphed into a surreal “congratulations Twitter,” for certain groups that he deems important to Clinton’s success. Since this morning, he has thanked Asian-Americans, the LGTBQ community, women, and people of color. “As a white guy, I wish to begin the day expressing deep gratitude to my fellow female, black & brown citizens for saving us from ourselves,” Simon wrote earlier today. Simon is part of a liberal white guy trend, one that posits women and people of color as the calm, stable bedrock in stark contrast to the natural anger of white men. He isn’t alone. It seems like there’s a whole “congratulations” sub-genre of white men publicly depending on“authentic” voices of certain demographic groups to provide redemption from their own creation.
I am not interested in either extending or receiving congratulations to them. I am tired of the expectation. There is no applause for voting against Donald Trump; no congratulations for refusing to vote for a man that holds women and people of color in clear contempt. There is no praise for refusing to align yourself with a candidate who believes that women should be jailed for exercising their constitutional rights or who fundamentally believes that sexual assault is simple right as a man. Women and people of color are not saving white men; we’re saving ourselves.