Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Everyone is Equal (some are just more equal than others): A rumination on human rights

Conservatism is the dread fear that somewhere, somehow, someone you think is your inferior is being treated as your equal.  ~ Petr Kropotkin

I had yet another conversation recently, well, maybe "discussion" or even "argument" is a better way to put it, with someone who truly feels that recognising the rights of minority groups will take away rights from the majority. I have had this conversation many times with people online, and I struggle to understand why they feel this way.

It is, at face value, a very puzzling position. How can anyone imagine that recognising someone else's human rights will somehow take your own rights away, or even diminish them? Rights are not pie. The more people you share a pie with, the smaller each portion becomes. But rights are not pie. Rights are concepts, which contain no volume or mass and can, therefore, not be depleted.

But let's dig into it a bit. The assertion was, if everyone was guaranteed the same rights, it would cost those with privilege more to administer those newly-extended rights. A cost for which they would receive no direct benefit and, indeed, may make their own rights less valuable. You can't go saturating the market with rights, or rights will have no value at all. Except, rights are not a commodity, just as they are not pie. You cannot buy and sell human rights like you can buy or sell oil, grain, or pies.

Slavery is probably the greatest single example of the removal of human rights. Slavery enabled the buying and selling of humans and permitted these humans to be treated in the most appalling ways. The argument against abolishing slavery was primarily economic. Some were making a tidy profit in the importation and sale of slaves. Some relied on the source of unpaid labour to make their agricultural endeavours prosper. It was felt that if one region abolished slavery, they would be at a disadvantage selling their goods in competition with regions where the unpaid labour of slaves subsidised the industry.  Other arguments were raised, of course. The notion that black people could not manage on their own and the slave owners were doing them a kindness by keeping them was a particularly repugnant one. There was the fact that the Bible says nothing negative about slavery, so God must think it's OK. But, ultimately, greed was the overarching reason to want to maintain the status quo.

The thinking goes something like this: "If I give this slave human rights (or, more properly, acknowledge that this being is a person deserving of and entitled to human rights) then I will lose. I will lose my profit margin. I will have to seek employees and pay them wages. I will have to dramatically alter my management style to one that is far less efficient. I will have to work harder. Additionally, I will lose something that gives me status in my community: the number of slaves I own. I will have to put myself out to be polite, or at least not horrible, to these people. They will be putting their bums in the same seats I may want to sit in, drinking from the same water fountains, competing against me in the market, possibly even in politics. They may begin to think they can wear what they want, think what they want, say what they want, go where they want. They may even think they can marry into my people. In all these ways, I lose and they gain."

From a 2016 lens this seems a bit absurd. Or, is it? Britain abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833. The United States abolished slavery in 1865, but only after fighting one of the bloodiest wars in that country's history over this very issue. It was not until the 1960s in the United States that "Jim Crow" laws requiring or validating segregation by race were beginning to be struck down. Even today, there exist racially segregated schools and neighbourhoods. Blacks face significantly more obstacles in obtaining loans and mortgages, accessing health care and education, and are far more likely to be convicted of a crime and to receive a harsher sentence than whites. President Barack Obama has had more opposition to his initiatives than any other president, simply because he is black. As I said, there was always a fear that blacks might compete politically. And they have. And, in winning the presidency, Obama unleashed the pent-up anxiety and rage and bias of more than a few generations of white Americans. Because they feel they are losing something if a black man wins something.

Then there is the accusation that if someone different from oneself; a woman, or a person of colour, or someone from a different ethnic or religious background, attains a position of authority, they will take away from those who have traditionally held privilege to give to those who are just like themselves. So, basically, people are afraid that these other people are going to do to us what we have have been doing to them for hundreds of years. And apparently what we have been doing to everyone else is pretty crappy, because the very idea incites terror in some.

In Calgary there has been a Muslim mayor for 6 years. There has been no dismantling or looting of churches and synagogues to build up mosques. There have been no special express queues for Muslims to get transit passes and library cards. There has been no bias towards Muslim businesses or neighbourhoods. Calgary police are not enforcing Sharia Law. Naheed Nenshi is quite popular and appears to be doing a fine job for everyone. Equally. He doesn't mention his faith. It doesn't come up unless someone else raises it. As CPC MP Jason Kenney did one time when he said in an interview, "it seems to me that it's the mayor and people like him who are politicizing it", referring to the niqab debate. Nenshi responded in his usual quick-witted style on Twitter, ""People like me", eh? Let's just assume @jkenney means "thoughtful people", shall we?" This launched the hashtag #peoplelikeNenshi which quickly began to trend across Canada.

Protectionism is frequently the underlying reason for keeping others out of the human rights club. "If we let more people have the rights I enjoy, it is going to make those rights more expensive." Like providing health care to refugees, something the Harper government cancelled, saying they are "bogus" refugees just coming here to steal your healthcare dollars.

That concept, that someone is always out to take something from you, is always present in these sorts of discussions. The extreme end are those people who have multiple locks, video surveillance, and private security hired to do drive-bys to check on your place and make sure no one is taking your stuff.

You would probably be hard-pressed to find Canadians who would admit to thinking slavery is a viable and efficient economic model. You might find quite a few more Canadians who feel the market should determine what people are paid for their labour, who hate the notion of a government-mandated minimum wage. Yet, labour supply outweighing demand means that without a legal minimum wage, employers could get away with paying people far less than it costs to survive. There will always be someone even more desperate, who will take even less money because it is more than they have right now.

"But life isn't fair!" Some people say. "If you work hard you will gain success. Like me." They say. "The government (and by extension, me, the taxpayer) should not be responsible for making everyone happy from the cradle to the grave."

What people who say these things don't take into account is that not everyone starts out at the same place. If you grow up in a middle class neighbourhood, and go to middle class schools, you are not starting from the same place as someone who grows up in a remote community with a generation-long boil water advisory and rats and chronic social problems born of a history of residential school abuse and disenfranchisement and a loss of cultural identity. You are not starting from the same place as someone who was carried over borders as a young child, away from falling bombs and collapsing buildings, only to spend several years in a refugee camp where there is no school and law and order mostly rests in the hands of those with the power and strength to enforce their will. You aren't even starting in the same place as the kid who grows up in a trailer park and mom maybe drinks some and dad could get out on parole next hearing, although it's always a bit crazy when he's home...

You are not starting in the same place as someone with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or autism, or childhood cancer, or who suffers a disfiguring accident.

What if you cannot speak either of our official languages very well?

And what if you do grow up in a middle class neighbourhood but you are a member of a religion that has identifying observances; a turban, or hijab, for example? What if your name alone causes your resume to go on the "no" pile? Because some employers are reluctant to hire someone whose name might be hard to pronounce...

What if you are "different"? What if you find you have strong feelings for people of the same sex as yourself? What if you feel disconnected from the gender on your birth certificate?

What if, later in life, you have a catastrophic event or series of events in your life? A disabling mental illness? A marriage break-up? A terrible physical  illness? A down-sizing that causes you to lose your livelihood? What if these things happen to you in a constellation of misfortune? What if you lose your family or community support network and are utterly alone dealing with these things?

What if you come back from a war and you are changed, physically or mentally, by what you have endured?

Human rights encompasses all these scenarios. The right to not be treated as second-class citizens, freedom from abuse and persecution, the right to be treated like any one else under the law... The right to rent an apartment you can afford. The right to gain employment commensurate to your skills, without discrimination based on identity. The right to not be targeted by law enforcement. The right to safety and liberty of person. The right to be recognised as a Canadian with all that encompasses; health care, education, political franchise, and all the things those in higher socio-economic groups take for granted, like clean drinking water, protection by the police, equal consideration for employment, equal treatment in the courts, freedom from racial, religious, or sexual-orientation slurs and persecution, not being taken for moonlight rides by the police who are supposed to protect you, not disappearing between the cracks...

"But I worked for my money! Why should I help out all these lazy bums that expect us to take care of them?" Well, because it is easy to label people as lazy bums when you do not see the struggles they face. At a bare minimum, recognising their rights to be treated as humanely as you yourself would expect to be treated seems a no-brainer. Those of us with privilege in this society, in this world, could do with a boatload more humanity towards those who  can barely imagine being so well-treated.

Providing children with health care and dental care and water that is clean to drink should not be contentious in a country as wealthy as Canada. Providing struggling families with tools to raise their children in safety, like affordable daycare, skills training to get better jobs, parenting mentoring for those who did not have the advantage of growing up with capable parents... It is about the future, right?

We essentially slit our own throats if we deny our future, the children, all the advantages they could have in terms of health care, security, self-respect, safety...

And this country needs immigrants. Those of European descent have failed miserably in the reproduction department. We need people to be our doctors, lawyers, ditch diggers and burger flippers. We need more people and the rest of the world has more people who need a safe place to live. Sounds like a pretty equitable situation, right? But only as long as we can welcome them as equals. And that means extending the human rights we have to them. And extending the same human rights we take for granted to the indigenous people of this land. They will make up an ever larger portion of our population. And no one should be left behind. They are humans. Immigrants are humans. That's the cool thing about human rights. They are for every human. They are not pie. Acknowledging the human rights of another does not cut into or diminish the human rights resource.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Spin doctoring 101

There is a very clever thing that politicians, mostly on the right, but probably all across the political spectrum, do when trying to build support for an idea that would be very unpopular if presented in clear and honest terms. They spin it.

They take a concept like, say, keeping people they don't like because of their religion or skin colour or sexual orientation, out of the country. Now, most people in Canada would say, "That's terrible! That is racist/homophobic/xenophobic! That is not what we do in Canada! In fact, that is un-Canadian!"

"Un-Canadian" There it is. That's the hook. Based on some focus groups and watching social media, the spin doctors realize that Canadians are concerned about and actively dislike things they perceive as un-Canadian behaviour. Like racism. And hatred based on religion. And homophobia.

Alright then, they think. How do we frame what is a de facto filter to keep these people of colour, Muslims, and others we don't agree with out of the country in a way that sounds like we are actually supporting Canadian values and protecting the country from un-Canadian ideas?

To start with, let's talk about really abhorrent things that most people will agree are un-Canadian. Honour killings. Marrying 12 year old girls to old men. Female genital mutilation. Terrorism. Never mind that these things are already fully covered under our criminal code. Never mind that it is almost impossible to test people for their values. Never mind that if anyone is actually thinking, "Gee, I think I will move to Canada and do heinous deeds", they will probably lie about their values and intentions to get in. Never mind that the kind of in-depth interview process this screening would require would effectively shut off immigration because of the time and manpower it would take to conduct.

Because none of that is the point. The end-game here is to a) stir up hostility towards minorities (because the CPC is well aware that many of their base harbour deep suspicions about those who dress, look, speak, or worship differently from themselves), b) clog up the the immigration system to ensure that only those the CPC approves of can get in, and c) move public sentiment more in line with the alt-right nationalist view that Canada should be a white, Christian country.

And the strategy is brilliant. None of us want murderers, torturers, rapists, child abusers coming here to do their thing. Which makes this proposition so difficult to argue against. As a vague concept, screening immigrants for un-Canadian values seems like a good idea. But, what exactly, are un-Canadian values? Who gets to decide? Would prospective immigrants be asked if they are willing to convert to Christianity? If they accept creationism as a theory equal to or better than evolution? If they support pro-life and teaching abstinence in sex ed instead of teaching real biology? In short, will they be screened for "social conservative" values? Seems like a crackerjack way to increase the voter base.

Much talk has been given to "tolerance" and "diversity" being Canadian values that would be screened for. But, seriously, how tolerant and accepting of diversity is screening people to find out if they think just like you?

In practice, it is an unworkable plan. But that isn't the point. The point is to get Canadians dredging their deep subconscious for those racist, xenophobic, homophobic feelings and dragging them out. Putting them on display, much as the Trump campaign did in the US. Appeal to people's baser instincts under the guise of keeping us all safe. But, safe from what? If someone has a different complexion, believes in a different religion (or no religion), loves a different gender than the traditional, it does not mean they pose any threat to you. Tolerance, acceptance, and celebrating diversity are Canadian values. Screening for those who are different is not. Nor is stirring up latent fear, dividing people, plumbing for hatred.

We have to keep our eyes on the puck here and not be hornswoggled by clever spinning.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Why are Conservatives?

When I was growing up in south Winnipeg in the 60s and 70s, it seemed every street had an angry neighbour. It was invariably a man. In that community, at that time, he was invariably white. And he was over 35, if not much older.

His was the lawn all the neighbourhood kids feared. His lawn, that he kept looking like a green at Augusta with a ridiculous expenditure of time, effort and chemicals. He would mow in multiple directions. He would go out and execute dandelions and crabgrass with some toxic concoction. He could be seen meticulously clipping those errant blades of grass that had the audacity, the sheer impertinence, to grow a little quicker and stand up above the others. Like the tallest poppy, the tallest blades of grass must be suppressed.

If a stray ball went onto this man's precious lawn there was a stressed huddle of kids. No one wanted to go get it. But someone had to, because if you abandoned it, he would carry it door to door, accusing each child in the neighbourhood of the grievous trespass. Finally, someone would be appointed to creep anxiously into the front yard to get the ball or frisbee. He apparently sat in his front room, gazing protectively at his lawn most of the time, because he would explode out of the front door, moving with alarming speed, brandishing a belt, or stick, or flyswatter, or whatever other implement was close to hand. If the child was not quick enough, he or she would be beaten off the property.

Adults back in the day could physically assault other people's children with impunity. Miscreants could be beaten in the street, in the store, in school. Then the offended party would call the child's parents and, if they were of a similar mindset, the unfortunate kid would get another beating when they got home.

This man was also misogynistic and racist. He would scream sexist, homophobic, and racist expletives at children along with "GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN".

And every election, he had a huge Conservative sign proudly displayed on said lawn.

So, what makes some people seem so intolerant and filled with hate and anger? MP Cheryl Gallant recently suggested that multiculturalism and human rights are not Canadian values and endanger our children. The immediate response to that is "WHAAAAT???" How can anyone, especially someone allegedly representing Canadians in Parliament, be so completely out of touch with what a majority of Canadians hold to be Canadian values? But Kellie "Barbaric Cultural Practices" Leitch has also recently suggested that immigrants should have to pass a "Canadian Values Test" before being admitted to the country. But are these actually Canadian values she wants to test on, or Conservative values? Because clearly these are not the same thing. Not at all.

Most Canadians I know believe in human rights, multi-culturalism, equality before the law for all, helping those less fortunate, peacekeeping, evidence-based policy, science, protecting the environment, non-discrimination, gun-control, harm reduction, universal health care, and generally not being an asshole. All these things seem to run completely counter to what these CPC MPs seem to feel are Canadian values.

This has got me thinking about why some people think so differently than others. What are Conservative values? How do these come to take root in some people's consciousness? Looking back on a decade of CPC policy and statements, coupled with Republican acts from the US, one can form a list. It is not comprehensive, but clearly different from how many Canadians view the world.

Misogyny: Republicans seem hell-bent on controlling women, including their reproductive choices. They want to prevent women from getting birth control and they want to prevent them from getting abortions. Harper shut down most Status of Women offices, prevented birth control and abortion from being part of his "legacy" of the international child and maternal health initiative, refused to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and their followers have a rich vocabulary of misogynist abuse. Republicans in the US also came up with the whole "purity ring" concept, with ceremonies and all. This concept is hinged on little girls pledging their virginity to their fathers who then transfer it to their husbands when they marry. Essentially, they deny women ownership of their sexuality.

Homophobia: In the US the Republicans have fought same-sex marriage and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. In Canada, the CPC could not get away with as much discrimination, but at times it seemed clear they envied their American counterparts' ability to make life miserable for this segment of society. As it is, CPC supporters and MPs are notably absent from Pride parades and other manifestations of alternate gender/sexuality.

Xenophobia: Refugees on both sides of the border have had a rough ride. More so in the US where Trump wants to build a wall and send Muslims back to...somewhere. But the Harper government also stopped processing of refugee claims and appeared to pick and choose refugees based on Christian affiliation. Harper incarcerated refugees in prisons, including children. Denied health care to refugees. The only immigrants that the CPC welcomed were those eligible for the millionaire immigrant investor program. Throw in a dash of "old stock Canadians" and a "barbaric cultural practices snitch line" and you get a fairly good view of Conservatives' view of anyone that does not fit their demographic.

Law and Order: The CPC ran on a law and order platform. With both the CPC and the Republicans, there seems to be a strong tendency towards "hang 'em high" rhetoric. Punishment and revenge for wrongdoing is paramount. Assigning blame and extracting a pound of flesh seems to really excite their supporters. Rehabilitation and reconciliation are very low on the priorities when it comes to a correctional system. The CPC cancelled a lot of rehabilitation programs, introduced mandatory minimum sentencing, and trotted out "victims of crime" at press conferences to demonstrate that they were truly going to champion victim rights and eradicate the rights of the incarcerated. The quality and quantity of food declined in Canadian prisons. One might suspect that Harper bitterly resented not having the right to order executions. In the US, the death penalty persists in a number of states, despite the many wrongful convictions that were later overturned, sometimes posthumously. Canadian values includes an abhorrence of state-sanctioned murder. If we allow our officials to kill someone, are we not just as culpable? Are we not just as abhorrent as the executed?

In the US the judicial system under the Bush administrations got positively medieval. Mandatory minimum sentencing. Three strikes and you're out, meaning three convictions could net you a life sentence, even if some were very minor infractions. Private prisons (something Harper was moving towards) where inmates are made to be slave labour for corporate profit, and states could be sued for not convicting enough people to keep up the work-force. Elected judges who had incentive to pander to the most vengeance-driven factions in society, and whose election campaigns can be funded by the industrial prison complex.

The US penal system reduces people to the worst thing they have ever done. Convicted felons lose the right to vote. Forever. Often they cannot find a job after release because their record follows them and employers of a conservative bent will not offer a job to an ex-con. So what do you do when you have no means to support yourself? The contradiction of this is obvious to progressive minds. You condemn people to a disenfranchised life in the shadows and are surprised that they re-offend? Really?

In Scandinavian countries, a prison sentence is the punishment. Losing the liberty to come and go as you please. Period. In addition, because the goal is to reintegrate inmates successfully back into society, the incarcerated receive counselling, anger management therapy, education and skills training, so that when their sentence is served they can rejoin society better citizens than when they were convicted. Their recidivism rate is extremely low. In fact, they are closing prisons because there are so few offenders that warrant so severe a punishment.

Even as the US is gradually admitting that their draconian system is not working, is not making anything better, the CPC in Canada was hell-bent on replicating that model.

Policing and Military: In the Conservative view, police and soldiers are worshipped. They can do no wrong and must be respected and admired. They are society's wielders of the Big Stick. In the US, and increasingly in Canada, police are militarised. Police departments are acquiring anti-personnel vehicles and weaponry. But, wait... More and more we are becoming aware that, yes, police and soldiers are actually human beings with human frailties. They make mistakes. They have prejudices. They can get angry. They can be violent and irrational. They can have a culture of hatred towards the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. Progressive elements urge better screening of officers, better training in dealing with individuals in distress, and sanctions on officers who act with excess violence. Conservatives view this call as heresy. The uniform represents something sacrosanct. Furthermore, law is ultimate. There is no allowance that some laws are irrational or unnecessary. Law and those who enforce it are on a pedestal.

Likewise, the military and military involvement in situations that are far, far away and offer no credible threat is to be desired. Because, we don't want to be seen as weak, do we? Weakness is anathema. As they say, if you are only capable of seeing the world and problems as nails, your only response is going to be a hammer.

Big Business and the Cult of Corporatism: A key conservative value seems to be undermining gains made by the labour movement. Union breaking, back to work legislation, resistance to increasing minimum wages or workplace health and safety standards... They routinely paint groups of employees, like teachers and nurses, as greedy, unconcerned about the public, driving up taxes, or simply parasitic. Those "parasites" are engaged, usually above and beyond the call of duty, educating and raising the next generation, and looking after us and our loved ones when we are ill. They are doing dangerous jobs, whether it is the nurse on the Alzheimer's ward or the welder working 20 floors above street level.

In the US there are states with minimum wages laughably below what anyone could live on, and a dearth of health and safety regulations. Corporate interests would, apparently, love a world in which they could pay next to nothing and make people work until they drop dead, then just replace them. The people at the top making the decisions are so far removed from the reality of their workers' lives that they are completely incapable of empathy. They see numbers on reports. They don't see tenements with cockroaches or rats, bedbugs, broken windows and hungry children. It is not their reality. This is why unions are still important. Some say the unions have done their job and got some concessions for workers. But the forces that would wring every ounce of life out of workers are still out there and gaining ground. Unions, far from being a "tax on employment", are still desperately needed to prevent all the gains made so far from being stripped away.

There is no such thing as trickle down. When corporate leaders get rich, they save their money in off-shore low-tax jurisdictions. They are not spending it in the community. That's what those who are regular folks who make a living wage do.

Science, Environment, and Evidence-Based Policy-Making: The Conservative mind seems to blindly accept statements from leaders. There is a popular trend towards disdain for scientists and experts. The "my ignorant opinion is worth as much as your elite education" trend is in steamroller mode. Under Harper we saw libraries, important science libraries, destroyed. Years of research in dumpsters. Essential programs like the Experimental Lakes Program defunded. You know who else destroyed libraries? Attila the Hun. The Visigoths. Hitler and the Nazis. The K'mer Rouge. Great company. This shunning of science and knowledge seems related to the disconnect between actual evidence and what the conservative mindset would like the truth to be. Things like climate change and best practices in policing and justice are irritating to the conservative mind. Why shouldn't we just be able to harvest all this lucrative fossil fuel and ship it out? Why shouldn't we stomp wrong-doers into oblivion? It grates on them when anything pops up that questions essential gut feeling beliefs.

Root Causes, Sociology, Prevention, Harm-Reduction and Compassion: These are all very uncomfortable and inconvenient things. The majority of those incarcerated in Canada and the US have mental health and/or addiction issues. But, man, dealing with all that is expensive. And it takes time. And besides that, who cares? If you do something wrong, we hold you responsible. Only those bleeding heart liberals care if you were beaten and sexually abused as a child and thrown out into the street and developed a drug habit. Tough luck, kid. We're not interested. You were caught smoking a joint and now your ass is ours. Now you're going to spend some time in a federal penitentiary with murderers and rapists and we actually hope they beat you up and assault you and make your life hell because you broke the rules and that makes you a threat to the good decent people in society. And we want scum like you to suffer. A lot. Because it makes us feel good.

And so, what makes people think like this?

While Conservatives profess to be all about "individual responsibility", they have a strong tendency to express an extreme external locus of control in their actions and attitudes. In other words, they like to find someone to blame for everything. It keeps their world neatly ordered. And a throng of faceless, nameless refugees is the perfect scapegoat. Or drug addicts. Or the homeless. 

I am more and more convinced that being Conservative, in the sense that the Trump and CPC followers are "conservative", is a particular psychological state. One that encompasses an extremely rigid world view, authoritarian outlook, a feeling of lack of control which drives them to try to control everything and also to fear the unknown or unfamiliar... This deep insecurity probably also contributes to the manifestation of greed in their outlook. Lack of empathy, callousness, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, misogynism, disdain for the less fortunate, condemnation of addicts and those with mental illness or features which make conservatives uncomfortable, all seem to be tied into this fear and the desperate need to feel better, more important, more deserving than those who are not like them. That's my theory, anyway.

Locus of control (whether you feel your behaviours impact your outcome, or whether you feel powerless and all events are the result of external forces) is almost certainly a product of nurture. A religious upbringing further reinforces an external locus of control. Angry, unpredictable parents reinforce an external locus of control. Life events over which one has no control, such as a drop in the price of oil, or a natural disaster that destroys homes and livelihoods also enhance this external locus if one is predisposed to viewing the world that way. Finding someone to blame is critical to maintaining psychological equilibrium. Premier Notley, immigrants, First Nations, those who commit crimes, etc become a focus of the anger and frustration and hatred. Someone else has done whatever it is to them. And those deemed responsible must be punished to balance the scales. Hence the enthusiasm for mandatory minimum sentences, removing programs that reduce harm, incarceration of refugees, etc.

But, if Conservatism is really a personality trait, how do we cope with what, to many progressive thinkers, appears a throw-back to brutality and unthinking violence? Something dark ages, not 2016?

I do not have a lot of answers. But it seems conservatives are usually spoiling for a fight. After all, might is everything and opponents must be beaten down. So, I suggest not rising to the bait, or descending to their level. Progressive do the cause more harm by resorting to angry responses and engaging in heated argument. Be armed with evidence. Irrefutable evidence. Do not allow them to make you angry. Discuss, but do not allow yourself to be provoked. 

It's really hard. They can be infuriating. But name-calling and vicious attack will only make them dig in to their position and reaffirm their belief that liberals/progressives are the devil's spawn.