I Yelled At An Old Lady About Her Bad-Faith Politics

I Yelled At An Old Lady About Her Bad-Faith Politics

I didn't plan on tearing into an elderly woman when I left the house Tuesday afternoon to vote in Maryland's primary elections.

The plan was to glide in and out of my local precinct, cast votes for the least detestable gubernatorial and state legislative and school board candidates, collect my little "I Voted" sticker, and head home.

My plan, as you may tell from the headline of this post, went sideways when a frail old lady sitting in a lawn chair just outside the "NO ELECTIONEERING BEYOND THIS POINT" sign stood up and handed me and my wife a pamphlet. It looked innocent enough: Entirely in blue, it was appropriately called the Blue Book, and listed a slate of Montgomery County school board candidates. The lady stuffed the pamphlet into my hand and assured me that her group was "nonpolitical" and composed of "concerned parents and educators from across the county."

I examined the document. Educators United Against Racism, it read. On the back, there were half a dozen statements, all of them vague, all of them written in the dog whistle of far-right politics. There were references to no student group being favored over another, to parents having a say in their child's education, to not separating students according to identity. I wish I still had the pamphlet, which I eventually crumpled and threw at the feet of our local purveyor of bad-faith school board politics.

The front of the Blue Book included names I did not recognize. My wife pointed to the top name and said he was the insane school board candidate we had read about recently. She was among the untold thousands of radicalized conservatives who have aimed to take over American public schools because kids had to wear masks for a while (and trans kids are allowed to exist and students might sometimes read books written by black and brown authors). Below her name were others who, upon review of their social media accounts, had engaged in a far-reaching campaign of deception to trick well-meaning Montgomery County liberals into voting for them.

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As I voted inside the empty precinct, I stewed. Not only had this old lady tried to get me to cast my vote for a slate of deranged boomers whose brains have been broken by Facebook memes, but she had done so in seemingly good faith, under the guise of a nonpolitical group of citizens. Her wording had been so carefully tailored, the candidate statements had been so perfectly vague and ultimately meaningless, the reference to opposing racism so wretchedly turned on its head. Even the name of the brochure, the Blue Book – named as such because we reside in the bluest county in the bluest state in the country – had been designed in a bad-faith lab to fool me into supporting people I loathe. I was stewing. I was stewing good.

Exiting the polling place, I lost my composure completely. I threw the Blue Book at the lady's feet and told her she should be ashamed of herself – as if these people are capable of feeling shame. I yelled (I never yell) at her to say what she means, to tell the truth about what she and her fascist cohorts want to do with our local schools. I called her disgusting and deceitful. She called me naive and told me I simply don't understand what's happening in this country. This is where I should have asked if JFK Jr. was going to emerge from the wilderness, arrest Montgomery County's Democratic lawmakers, and take over our school system, but was once again undermined by an inability to think on my feet. I suppose I was in no mood for QAnon jokes.

We shouted over each other for another minute, an incoming voter looking on in confusion and horror. The lady told me the Blue Book included candidates from across the political spectrum. "Republicans, Democrats, independents," she said again and again, as if repeating the lie would eventually convince me that I was wrong to oppose such a fine group of candidates with varied party affiliation. "This is not about politics."

"Say what you mean," I shouted as I walked to my car – my desperate plea for this old woman to operate in good faith. I might as well have screamed at a rock to grow legs and walk, or for my dad to stop thinking about Hunter Biden for one hour.

My disgust knows no bounds for this elderly lady, but I understand her bad faith approach in trying to sneak a fascist or two onto the Montgomery County Board of Education. She could not have possibly been honest about what these candidates wanted to do with the power of the school board. Voters would have recoiled in sheer horror had this woman done what I asked and said what she meant: That LGBTQ educators are "groomers" and gay students were somehow receiving preferential treatment in our schools and white kids were being taught to hate themselves because their ancestors enslaved black people and worked tirelessly to make their lives a living hell ever since. Anyone even vaguely aware of ascendant fascism in our politics knows where these people stand. It's not a secret. Yet this horrid old lady had packaged her views in the most deceptive way possible. No doubt hundreds – if not thousands – of people cast vote for the Blue Book candidates because they foolishly assume everyone is operating in good faith.

Mercifully, none of these monsters were elected to the school board.

Experiencing this on primary day was like watching the internet's bad faith spill out into the real world through the conduit of an older woman whose mind had surely been corroded by a barrage of social media posts designed to make her a fearful animal, not an informed citizen. I'm accustomed to the bad faith of online – a sort of nonstop gaslighting campaign by the right and those paid handsomely to create political cover for the right. To log on every day and expose yourself to the brain-killing toxins of social media is to expect a flurry of arguments from conservatives that don't reflect what they really mean, making it nearly impossible to push back against their bullshit.

Conservatives (and at least one school board candidate listed on the Blue Book brochure) might say they're concerned about students' mental health, which, of course, they say was harmed by mask wearing and virtual schooling. You might say, wait, but there is real data showing students' mental health suffered greatly during the COVID school shutdowns. You're right. To believe the right – dedicated to the dismantling of any and all efforts to provide health services to the working class – cares at all about the mental health of anyone is to buy into their bad faith. If conservatives had been honest about their stance on COVID school closings and mask policies, they would have said something like this: COVID-19 is either an imagined virus, a creation of the Democratic National Committee, or a bioweapon deployed by the Chinese government, and taking extreme measures to stop the spread of the so-called virus are authoritarian and anti-American. Plus, I need to fucking kids out of the fucking house. And I need a haircut, so I might kidnap the governor.

The massive influx of right-wing school board candidates – whose campaigns often include threatening the lives of current school board members – shows in stark terms how the turmoil of COVID-19 has accelerated radicalization on the right. One of the deranged Montgomery County Board of Education candidates on the Blue Book brochure, a woman named Dawn, tweeted in April about how she felt "politically homeless" and had suffered a "political identity crisis" in the aftermath of school closings and other measures to protect students and educators against a virus that has claimed 1.1 million American lives.

Dawn's social media posts over the past year leave no room for interpretation: A person who had possibly once had mainstream political views on a range of topics had been red pilled by society's response to COVID. The lure of a bad-faith Republican machine that told people like Dawn exactly what they want to hear was too appealing to turn down for many. You're not crazy, the machine told them in so many ways; it's your opponents who are crazy. They have not taken the red pill. They do not understand reality. Hence, a red-pilled old lady – someone who probably would not have been politically engaged a generation ago – is standing outside my local polling place telling me I'm naive. If I swallowed the red pill, I would see what's actually going on. I would see the matrix of left-wing lies and deceptions that most Americans call the real world.

I don't know how to counter the all-consuming bad faith politics we face every day, both online and offline. In a system predicated on the concept of free speech, in which anyone can say anything to anyone, maybe there is no effective pushback to bad faith. What amount of good faith can drown out the right's refusal to say what it means?

I suppose I tried yelling at the bad faith, or yelling through it, on Tuesday afternoon in the waning hours of Maryland's primary election day. Do I like yelling? I do not. Do I see it as something of an outdated behavior and a toxically masculine trait, especially when directed at a woman? I do. I feel some shame about what I did on Tuesday outside our local precinct. Not immense shame, but certainly some – a twinge of it, perhaps. Yelling is a primal way to release the inner turmoil that builds within us during this dystopian era, and is simultaneously no longer an acceptable way to express oneself (for good reason). All the outrage and trauma and helplessness in the face of injustice with no end: There's only so much a person can take. So I yelled. I yelled to get my point across. I yelled to maybe – just maybe – create a modicum of shame in this utterly shameless woman.

Take it from someone who lost his shit and berated a woman who looked a little like his grandmother: The bad guys are fully engaged. We need good guys and we need them now.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.