What we can learn from our politically-motivated celebrities

In the wake of what has clearly been a brutal election cycle for nearly all involved, the internet has been awash with memes ridiculing every participant: our President-elect, his opponent, those who voted for him, those who voted for his opponent, those who voted third party, those who elected not to vote at all, religious groups, ethnic groups, and countless other subsections of our populace. 

One of the groups getting a lot of negative attention from Trump supporters is celebrities who spoke out loudly against him. It's not that I disagree with the sentiment--if they all said they would move to Canada I suppose its reasonable to offer your packing services. And it's not that I'm a worshipper of pop culture; as a stay-at-home parent to a two-year-old, I'm years behind in my Netflix queue. But I think we are taking the wrong lessons from those politically-active celebrities. 

You may not care for the politics or behavior of a particular celebrity (or maybe all celebrities, but that's quite a large group to homogenize and dismiss). But it's worth pausing to consider why there were so many "Hollywood liberals" supporting Hillary Clinton and why those people will continue to exert pressure on President-elect Trump's administration. Because of their work, celebrities see more of the country than many of us. They visit far more American cities than many of us do in a year, maybe more than even our most active political leaders do. I'm thinking specifically of oft-tweeting comedians like Bill MaherSarah Silverman, and Patton Oswalt, who crisscross the country playing clubs with patrons from all walks of life. Perhaps it's because of their frequent connections with such a wide swath of the population that these celebrities have developed a more inclusive and empathetic worldview. Or perhaps that view helped propel them to celebrity in the first place. 

If their greater exposure to people has in general made them more focused on socially progressive issues, their income and platform help put them into a position to do something about those issues. I'm thinking here of Save The Day, the PAC run by apocalypse-averter Joss Whedon, and all of the celebrities and influencers who gave their time to spread messages of civic engagement. I would argue that such groups have even more work to do, even more call to be in the public eye, under a Trump administration. In the not-yet three days since Trump's election, hate crimes against religious and ethnic groups have risen. Donald Trump's first tweet as our President-elect threatened freedom of the press as well as peaceful assembly. Individual citizens are rightly fearful of government retribution against them. At this moment, we need our celebrities to say the things some of our most-vulnerable citizens no longer feel safe saying. We need them to keep an unrelenting focus on any civil rights abuses threatened by our incoming administration. 

We also need to be more like our celebrities and start traveling. This election has made it clear that we have a collective listening problem. Our social media echo chambers, our preferred news outlets, and our like-minded communities are making it impossible to truly listen to those who don not share our views. I count myself in this problem. I was so laser-focused on the social issues our country is facing that I couldn't hear the legitimate economic suffering that would lead a person to vote for a candidate who promised a rosier economic picture in spite of that candidate's abhorrent social views. And if I couldn't hear that, I certainly couldn't hear people who voted not in spite of, but because of, those views. One way to be a better listener is to go find new people to listen to. So my family and I are traveling to parts of the country we haven't been to before. We'll approach the people we meet with a Starlee Kine level of curiosity and engagement. I don't think it will change our views overnight, but it will remind us of the shared humanity we have with those who think differently than we do. 

Of course, our family's ability to travel is a privilege that not all people have. And even those who can afford travel may feel unsafe doing so, given the kinds of violence we have been seeing toward minority groups in just the last few days. But "travel" doesn't have to mean boarding a plane or crossing an ocean; it can be metaphorical. Travel can mean trying cuisine you find to weird. It can be visiting history museums. It can be attending a religious service at a place of worship other than your own. It can be changing the station to Fox News or MSNBC. It can be any activity that helps you step outside of yourself so that you can hear the other perspectives. 

This is not a Pollyanna request for us all to get along. Listening does not mean agreeing. But our problems are not solely on the shoulders of the President we just elected. There was simmering resentment for him to stir and spill over. Listening to and understanding that resentment can help all of us determine where to go from here.