What Could Possibly Go Right?

#35 Trae Crowder: The Inexorable March of Progress

April 12, 2021 Vicki Robin Season 1 Episode 35
What Could Possibly Go Right?
#35 Trae Crowder: The Inexorable March of Progress
Chapters
What Could Possibly Go Right?
#35 Trae Crowder: The Inexorable March of Progress
Apr 12, 2021 Season 1 Episode 35
Vicki Robin

Hailing from Celina Tennessee, Trae Crowder is a standup comedian, writer, and self-proclaimed “Liberal Redneck.” Trae gained national attention (or notoriety, depending on your viewpoint) with his viral video rants and has been performing and touring his particular brand of Southern-fried intellectual comedy for over a decade.

Trae addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” through his socially aware comedic view, sharing thoughts including:

  • That there’s inexorable positive progress in social issues over time, despite setbacks in the short-term.
  • That each new generation makes advancements in social awareness; for today’s young people, “the default position seems to be one of wokeness.”
  • That in spite of stereotypes, “in any given state, 40 something percent of people voted blue, but the state still shows up red on a map.”
  • That when considering issues such as racism, the wider USA needs to avoid “using the South as a scapegoat, and in doing so, act like they don't have those problems where they live.” 
  • That we could all use more empathy to understand others’ perspectives and experiences in our day-to-day lives.

Resources

Connect with Trae Crowder
Website // Facebook // Twitter // YouTube

Follow WCPGR
Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

Join our Patreon Community by  April 13 to receive an invitation to Backstage with Vicki : A What Could Possibly Go Right? Zoomboree on April 14.

Learn more: https://bit.ly/wcpgr-res

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/vickirobin)

Show Notes Transcript

Hailing from Celina Tennessee, Trae Crowder is a standup comedian, writer, and self-proclaimed “Liberal Redneck.” Trae gained national attention (or notoriety, depending on your viewpoint) with his viral video rants and has been performing and touring his particular brand of Southern-fried intellectual comedy for over a decade.

Trae addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” through his socially aware comedic view, sharing thoughts including:

  • That there’s inexorable positive progress in social issues over time, despite setbacks in the short-term.
  • That each new generation makes advancements in social awareness; for today’s young people, “the default position seems to be one of wokeness.”
  • That in spite of stereotypes, “in any given state, 40 something percent of people voted blue, but the state still shows up red on a map.”
  • That when considering issues such as racism, the wider USA needs to avoid “using the South as a scapegoat, and in doing so, act like they don't have those problems where they live.” 
  • That we could all use more empathy to understand others’ perspectives and experiences in our day-to-day lives.

Resources

Connect with Trae Crowder
Website // Facebook // Twitter // YouTube

Follow WCPGR
Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

Join our Patreon Community by  April 13 to receive an invitation to Backstage with Vicki : A What Could Possibly Go Right? Zoomboree on April 14.

Learn more: https://bit.ly/wcpgr-res

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/vickirobin)

Trae Crowder  

I'm actually a bit of an optimist on a long term timeframe. The general march of progress, if you want to call it that. I really believe that it's inexorable. 


Vicki Robin  

Hey, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right? a project of the Post Carbon Institute, in which we have conversations with people I call cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, all in response to our one question. What in the midst of all that is going wrong could possibly go right? Today's guest is Trae Crowder, who grew up according to his website in Celina, Tennessee, a town sometimes described as having more liquor stores than traffic lights; two at the last count. Like most people from the deep rural South, Trae grew up with an affinity for literature, film, blacks and gays. In 1998, at the age of 12 after seeing Chris Rock on HBO, he decided he wanted to be a comedian. He first gained national attention, or notoriety depending on your viewpoint, for his liberal redneck series of viral videos. He has been performing his particular brand of Southern fried intellectual comedy in the Southeast for well over a decade, and now has toured nationally with his writing and drinking partners Cory and Drew, who currently in pandemic times, have a podcast called Weekly Skews. Trae moved to Southern California, but you can take the Redneck out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the Redneck, or whatever. Since I only know Trae from his liberal redneck stand up and YouTube rants, I was surprised by the direction this interview took. It was veering into a very positive view of what could go right based on his observation about how much righter things are today than they were. His grandparents and parents grew up in a very different South, with very different attitudes, much greater prejudice and brutality. So he sees the direction of history moving in a direction toward more tolerance, more unity, a better future. Social progress, according to him, is actually happening and he's not stupid about the stupidities. I enjoyed this conversation immensely. So here's Trae. 


Vicki Robin  

Hey Trae Crowder, welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right? Conversations with cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good.


Trae Crowder  

Hi, Vicki. Thanks for having me. 


Vicki Robin  

This is a total fangirl moment. I've loved your comedy since I first discovered you on YouTube. You remind me of two other super smart, acerbic, spare no ego comedians who saved my sanity over the years. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.


Trae Crowder  

Well, to a comedy nerd, that means a lot. So thank you.


Vicki Robin  

You're so welcome. I read someplace where you said in an article, Well, I'm a comedian and a psychological masochist, and as such, I make political comedy videos for the internet. So that's one way to introduce you. What people who hear your liberal redneck comedy rants might not know is that you're dead serious on strategies that can dial down hate and stupidity and dial up dignity and decency, like how to end the opioid crisis or alleviate poverty. You feel free to just speak from either side of your redneck liberal mind. We all know the litanies of what's falling apart. It's not just COVID, the pandemic to end all pandemics, until the next one hits. It's racism. It's the growing class chasm. It's our government increasingly, I'll buy it for the rich. Refugees we don't want from the global south stuck at borders, while products we want from the global south get stuck in the Suez. All of this slathered with so much political hatred that if I say this sweater is blue, someone would say fake news. So anyway, all this is perfect fodder for comedy and politics. So today, I am fascinated with where you will take our basic question. With all that is seemingly going wrong, what could possibly go right?


Trae Crowder  

Yeah, I think it's an interesting question, an interesting premise for a podcast. It's something I've thought a lot about. And actually, I think, compared to a lot of people, especially in the comedy world, and the political world, and most of the worlds I traffic in, I'm actually a bit of an optimist on a long term timeframe, and kind of always have been. I don't know for sure, but I think that a big part of that comes from actually growing up as a progressive or as open minded in the extremely rural south. I say that because... Okay, first of all, disclaimer, nothing I'm about to say is meant to indicate that things are great, or that we're not having problems right now, or that we haven't backslid or that everything is fine. That's not what I mean by any of it. But having said that, I think growing up there, the sort of social progress that has been made in the rural South over even my lifetime, but especially if you talk about, I'm the third generation to graduate from the same rural high school. If you compare where I grew up now with when my grandpa, my dad's dad, was growing up there, the amount of progress in terms of just general social issues is objective and immense. Still a long way to go, but you have to realize where we were starting from. Things have just gotten so much better in that regard. You know, because we're talking about dark and messed up, obviously, but we're talking about lynch mobs and Jim Crow and stuff like that. My uncle is gay and lives in my hometown and takes care of my mamaw. He literally couldn't have done that not that long ago. It wouldn't have been safe for him there. Again, still a lot of progress left to be made, but I think a lot of progress has been made. I'm a big believer in the sort of generational aspect of progress. A lot of the guys that I grew up with, some of them are hardcore, super Trumpy, very red Republicans; people I went to high school with, for sure. But a lot of them, especially the ones I met in college, who would still tell you they're conservative or vote Republican or whatever. They don't hate gay people, the way that their parents or grandparents kind of openly did, not too long ago.  Again, that bigotry still very much exists, for sure, but progress has happened. It's also weird because on the other hand, economically and whatnot, things have gotten far worse for these people. Things are not looking good where I'm from, in the general outlook. But I think in terms of equal rights for people and the way people are treated, and just the general march of progress, if you want to call it that. I really kind of believe that it's inexorable. If you look at it from a macro enough sense, you look at it on a long enough timeline and in a high up enough viewpoint, I think over human history, we move in essentially one direction. And there are setbacks and whatnot, like we're living in right now. But I don't believe that we're going to just backslide back into the dark ages. I think we got to keep fighting these people right now in this moment, to ensure that doesn't happen, but I'm hopeful that at the end of the day, it won't, and we'll come out the other side of it and be okay. Also on a more micro sense, with the vaccines and everything, and all we've just been through as a society last year, I think there's reason for some optimism on that front too, just in terms of daily life and everything. I'm a father, I have eight and nine year old sons. I think that, like I said, the generational aspect. I think we generally were better than our parents' generation in that regard. And I think they will be better than we were. I think that's just how it goes. And you have little pockets of regressivism and everything, and that does happen. But I don't think that it will halt the overall march of progress as we move forward. I never have believed that. So that is what I latch on to and what I tell myself at night so that I can sleep, and that's the general thing.


Vicki Robin  

It's so interesting because comedy at its best has a lot of bad stuff going on, because you have a lot of material. So the last thing I thought you were gonna say to me is that you're an optimist. Is that going to ruin your comedy.


Trae Crowder  

Well, that's another interesting question, for sure. People asked me a lot during the Trump administration, What are you going to do when Trump isn't the president anymore? I always used to say - because this is true - when I first went viral and kind of broke through, Trump wasn't the President then either. It was still Obama's America, but those same people that led to Trump and everything, they were there then. Of course, they were. Those are the people that passed the North Carolina transgender bathroom law, which was the thing that my video was about, way back then. I'm under no illusions that those kind of crazy regressive idiots are going to go away. I think as long as they don't go away, there will always be things to make fun of. But the other thing is, again, like I said, I have two young sons and I place a higher priority on the world not burning than on me having jokes to make. I can start doing funny voices or something hopefully, if I need to, if it means things are generally better. Like, Trump is not the President anymore and I haven't missed him at all, in terms of comedy and jokes to make. You know what I'm saying? An interesting prospect, because you're definitely right. Struggle and stress and those types of things on a societal sense, they breed funnier stuff, I think.


Vicki Robin  

It's interesting. It's like what you're saying is, if everything is sort of inexorably and inevitably getting better with setbacks, rather than everything's getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster. If it's actually true that the line of progress, if the level of tolerance and openness and a willingness for humanity to be maybe somewhat dysfunctional, but a human family. That's about the most hopeful thing I've heard in a while, that we really are on a trajectory of progress with setbacks.  


Trae Crowder  

Do you watch period pieces much or anything, for entertainment? Because my wife is super into them. 


Vicki Robin  

No, I watch you.


Trae Crowder  

I'm into them too. I feel like, things are bad right now. Again, I'm not denying that they are. They are, but I think it makes it easy to forget sometimes, how much insanely worse things were in terms of social issues and people's rights a century ago, less than a century ago. Not just in the south, either. We're watching a show right now that takes place in 1900 New York City at a hospital, and they cover the insane racism that was rampant at that time. Again, racism then was like, you could just kill Black people if you want to. You could just string them up. That wasn't that long ago. That wasn't that long ago that that stuff happened. Then back before that, slavery and killing each other with rocks and swords and stuff like that. If you didn't believe in the right god, you could be burned at the stake. Women weren't allowed to know numbers, or they were witches that get strung up and burned. We did all that. Human beings did all that, over the course of our history. I just think if you look at all that on a timeline to where we are now, I think that it tends to move in generally one direction. I just am choosing to have faith in the continuation of that.


Vicki Robin  

Totally. Keeping the faith. So what do you see right now that would be evidence that, despite setbacks, things are going in the right direction? Going in a positive direction, in the direction of greater kindness, love, fairness, justice, etc?


Trae Crowder  

Well, I don't know for sure. Like I said, my sons are eight and nine. But I get the impression that kids today, high school kids and whatnot; the ones who are rebelling are the ones who turn into little neo nazis and stuff, because the default position seems to be one of wokeness amongst the young people. That's like their starting point. That was not the default position for when I was in high school. The default position was calling other people gay for no reason and punching each other when a certain color of car drove down the street or whatever. We were stupid. I just feel that is a sign. I just think they're better than us. I think that happens, almost as a rule. So I look at young people right now... And you think about the internet. Yes, the internet is terrifying, and the implications of it and whatnot. And again, this is just optimistic perspective. You can take a pessimistic perspective on this exact same subject. But I choose to think that these kids that have grown up fully immersed in Internet culture - because you know, I'm in my 30s, but the internet wasn't a thing when I was a kid, especially in Celina, Tennessee; cell phones, internet and all that. Again, not that long ago, because I didn't grow up with any of it. It all came around when I was in college. I was an adult already. These kids today, they're growing up fully immersed in that culture, in that world. I think that they'll be better equipped to navigate the landmines of it, because it's just a bigger part of their life and how they look at things. They'll be smarter about it than we are. They won't be as easily subjected to fake news and propaganda and things like that on the internet. Again, you could take the exact same subject and look at it from the other perspective and be like, No, they'll be even worse because they've grown up doing it, or whatever. But like I said, I just choose not to believe that.


Vicki Robin  

I think that's so powerful. So disabuse us, if you will, of stereotypes of regressive Southern rednecks. I mean, I'll just preface that by saying, everybody, we all think we're middle class, even though we're not. And we all think we're liberal minded in terms of prejudice. But this whole last year has shown us that, no, we are super prejudiced. We really have terrible thoughts about people who are not like us. So we're prejudiced about Southerners, so just give us the rant about that.


Trae Crowder  

Well, again, I have to give a disclaimer at the beginning of this, because I've done versions of this a lot, and what ends up happening if I don't watch it, is it starts to sound like I'm acting like none of this stuff exists or whatever. That's not what I'm saying. Those people, the stereotypes, they're real. That's the way it works with a lot of stereotypes. They exist. It's just that we're not a monolith, and we're not all like that. That's the only thing I've ever tried to get across to people, because when I first went viral, I got a lot of comments that were like, You're like seeing a unicorn. I was like, I promise you, I'm really not. There are plenty more people who are like me. You look at a map and the whole region is bright, bright red, right? But in any given state, 40 something percent of people voted blue, but the state still shows up red on a map. I'm saying across the whole region, that's millions of people who didn't vote that way. In large part, thanks to our Black population in the south, but that doesn't account for all of it. I'm not the only liberal white Southerner. There are other ones, but they're just drowned out by the much louder and still the majority voices of the people that you think of when you hear my accent. Those people do exist, it's just that it's not all of us. That's number one. And number two, the thing I've always thought that annoys me about that dynamic, is that I think, yes, those people exist. Yes, those are problems we have in the South. But I think that stuff allows people from elsewhere to sort of use the South as a scapegoat, and in doing so, act like they don't have those problems where they live, ie. like there's no racism in California or Minnesota or something like that, because "no, the South, that's where the racism is". No, racism is an American problem. I feel like a lot of times people want to talk about the South like it's the source of all the country's issues, when in reality, no, those people are in every single state. There are liberals in Alabama, and there are crazy regressive redneck conservatives in California, Washington, you name it. I feel like that dynamic we're talking about kind of covers up a lot of that for a lot of people. It makes it convenient to look at the South and be like, that's where the problem is. 


Vicki Robin  

For sure. That's what we always want to do. We always want to go like: Scapegoat. That person. They're the bad one. Get rid of them. I mean, case in point is that, up where I live, we have a lot of right wing militia groups. We have the Three Percenters, we have the Proud Boys, really making some waves, making trouble, just showing their colors. What's your sense of it? Are these right wing militia groups something that everybody could dump into the South too? Like, Oh, let's just call that the South. But it's not. It's in Michigan, it's in Oregon, it's in Washington. How are those movements in the South now?


Trae Crowder  

I mean, they're definitely there, for sure. To me, and this isn't some grand revelation, other people have pointed this out too; but as a stand up comedian, I've travelled around the whole country, I've been to 47 states or something. I've driven across many of them. In my anecdotal experience, it's really way more of a kind of urban-rural divide in a lot of ways, than it is in any kind of geographical sense. So yeah, we have all those people you're thinking of in the South, for sure. But again, they exist in all the other states too. I definitely don't think that it's a Southern phenomenon. Going back to the internet, I think the internet makes it easier for those people to band together and find each other. When it comes to the white supremacist extremists, the really hardcore ones, I have an optimistic take on that too. I'm not saying I'm right. Again, I just try to be hopeful about things. What I tell myself about those people, and what we're seeing with them now, is that this is them kind of lashing out in desperation at what they recognize as the sort of dying off of their way of life, meaning for a very long time, that was just the status quo and was unquestioned, the supremacy of the straight white man. So they didn't need to band together and show up and burn stuff down or whatever. But they see the march of progress we're talking about earlier, and they see the way young people are, and I think it scares them, and they realize that that sort of thinking is threatened, because it is. When they say, Oh, it's threatened. It's like, Yeah, it is and it should be. If we're talking about white supremacy, it should be an endangered species among philosophies. But they realize that and so I think it's like them acting in desperation, when they're being a lot more emboldened and lashing out now. It's them coming together and desperately trying to stop it. It's scary. They've already messed a lot of stuff up. They'll mess a lot more. Lives have been lost and more will be. I'm not minimizing it. But I think that's what is ultimately going on. I don't think that they'll win. I don't think there's enough of them. I don't care how loud they are. I think ultimately, they will lose. So again, that's what I tell myself.


Vicki Robin  

That's great. So we're just about to wind up. But I would like some advice. I was raised in New York, a New York Jew, you know, very liberal. I would like advice from your perch for liberals, about what do we say that works and really doesn't work? What do we say that inflames people, and makes the things that we care about harder to achieve? Give us some language coaching.


Trae Crowder  

It's a really hard question because it depends on what it is you're trying to do. What I've been saying recently when it comes to politicians, the idea of people running as Democrats in the South and how to reach certain groups or whatever. What I've been saying recently is, you don't have to go in, take your guns blazing. I mean, go in and talk about gun control and abortion and things like that. You can instead choose to talk about health care, making sure their mamaw can afford her medication or that their son is cured of his addiction to pills instead of just kept in prison to rot for another 15 years, whatever. Things like that, which are progressive policies that are near and dear to these people's hearts, instead of getting mired down in the kind of big wedge issues that we are always going to be divided on, no matter what. I think that's the approach if you're a political strategist or a politician right now. But first of all, I'm pulling all this out of my butt.


Vicki Robin  

I know, I'm just asking for some education.


Trae Crowder  

Yes, but that's how I think that they should approach it. Regular people just in your day to day life, just try to - this is super, super simple - the thing that I've always done just comes down to empathy, meaning actually think about the person that's on the opposite side of you, and what their perspective is, and try to imagine that you had experienced whatever it is they're experiencing. Sometimes you do that, and you're gonna be like, Yeah, and I still wouldn't be racist, man. Of course, that's what happens. And when that happens, the approach I've always taken is like, you don't have to try and reach those. I never have. From the very beginning, I've been okay with offending racists that I grew up with. The jokes I've had, it's like, if you get offended by that, you're a racist. I don't care if that bothers you. But when it comes to just conservative working class, rural people that are from a different world or whatnot, and they're all fired up about whatever; just actually, before you take a hard line stance on it, just think about the perspective that you're coming to it from. If after that, you still feel as strongly, then I think that's completely fair. But I think what a lot of people tend to do on both sides is they come into it, and automatically place the other person on the extreme end of the political spectrum without knowing that. You just meet a person, you know they're conservative, and you place them at the extreme end like, You're probably a racist bigot, Bible thumper or whatever. But you don't know that that's true. Same thing with us too. They meet a liberal and place us at that the extreme God-hating, baby-killing, gun-taking end of the spectrum. And everybody does that. I think if less of that happened, because the reality is most people are somewhere in between those two polls, actually. If people thought about that more, I think we would be a little less polarized and divided. But what do I know?


Vicki Robin  

Preach it. Thank you so much, Trae, for taking the time with us. This has really been surprisingly positive and wonderful.


Trae Crowder  

Well, again, it's just how I sleep at night. But yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.


Vicki Robin  

Hey, thanks for listening. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a five star review so that this hopeful message can get out to more people. Check out Post Carbon Institute's Resilience website for show notes and for more guest information. Join us on Patreon and become a financial supporter of the show, for exclusive content and special online events. Thanks also to Asher Miller, Amy Buringrud and Clara Winter at Post Carbon Institute, plus production assistant Michelle Wigg from FrugalityandFreedom.com