Heads or tails
I’ve spent most of my week, like many people, absolutely stunned trying to make heads or tails of what just happened in the election. I am faced with the reality of Donald Trump as the new POTUS. Facebook, normally a fun distraction for me, became something I avoided. The amount of fear, hate, intolerance and cacophony of voices, most of which continued to yell at one another, was too much.
Most of my horror and fury was the fact that almost half of my fellow Americans voted for a man who I believe (and to be clear, still do) stands for misogyny, racism and hate. How could these people look at their black, Hispanic, LGBQT, Muslim or female friends and believe that their choice wouldn’t impact the freedoms and liberties afforded to them? Is that what this country now stands for? What happened to “liberty and justice for all?” Those are the questions that tumbled over and over in my mind this week.
Those questions were a result of a perspective I had built over time. From the beginning of the campaign, Trump’s antics horrified, disgusted, and enraged me. In him, I saw a man who used fear-based ideologies to stoke the fires of his constituents to build his own power base. I saw a man who was more concerned with his own ego than he was for the health of the country. I saw a man that catered to uneducated, white men and sold them false promises.
And while I believe that those perceptions of Trump as a person are true, with every new sound byte, every new video and accusation, I used his words to build my own ideological wall, to plug my ears, and to create my own story of his constituents, the “uneducated, white male Trump voter.” It helped me to build a very binary view of the election – heads or tails – and to bolster a stereotype.
And just like any other stereotype, it did little to help me understand any other perspective. I have several close friends who voted for Trump (some of them female, all of them educated). Our tentative and halting discussions, done so to preserve the sanctity of the friendship, were about the lack of choice in candidates and a lot about the “lesser of two evils.”(As a brief aside, this is not an essay on the puts and takes of a two party system or the need for an electoral college, nor do I want to discuss it at this time). In some cases, the vote for Trump was about “primary core beliefs” centered around religious or other dogmas that people use as a moral compass to guide their life decisions.
These discussions, while painful, gave me a greater sense of understanding. And while part of me is still very angry and disgusted, I found that wasn’t helping me shake myself out of my post-election shock. Instead, I began to read the articles from opposing views with an open mind. I had read them throughout the election, but only so that I could create my own rebuttals, load my arsenal with anti-Trump articles and build up my own ideological wall. And while I continue to read liberal articles too (there is something to be said for Scalzi’s “Cinemax Theory of Racism”, which argues that any vote for Trump includes some form of active or passive racism) that trouble me and flame my own fears, I believe there’s more to it.
This listening and attempt at understanding hasn’t shaken my beliefs in women’s rights, equality for all Americans, in gun control, and in tolerance. I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for those ideals. The listening also hasn’t lessened the fear I have for violence as a result of the election perpetuated by the zealots representing both sides of the coin. I am still afraid that a Trump presidency could shove our country backwards several decades and undo what I consider to be a lot of social, economic, and political progress. I believe those threats are still very real. But as a result of listening to understand, while my own fear and rage towards Trump remains, those feelings towards my fellow Americans has lessened.
I’m not advocating an immediate joining of hands and singing kumbaya, and to be honest, am exhausted at both those that mock it as a strategy and those that suggest it as an immediate form of healing. I don’t feel ready for that. I’m also exhausted by the “shut up and move on” arguments I’ve seen, as though if we continue to relegate our dialogues to our own politically sympathetic echo chambers, that those actions will in some way help us make progress as a nation. It won’t. The current state of the union is due to a group of people feeling disenfranchised and not heard. The irony is that this state of real or perceived oppression, in all of its manifestations depending on the different red and blue audiences in our country, is exactly what brings Americans together at this moment. We are all striking out against a perceived exclusion of some form. It enrages us all collectively yet still manages to isolate us. And while the expression of rage is needed, there needs to be a step after. Instead of exclusion, we need to see if we take a step towards inclusion in the form of dialogue.
At some point, we’re all going to have to be better at it. For conservatives to listen and understand the very real fears of their fellow Americans threatened by a Trump presidency. For liberals to try and get through the shock and awe and take some time to understand “how we got here.” We’re going to have to listen to hear and not to speak. We need to think less about labels and stereotypes and begin to have conversations with real people who think differently than we do. After the conversations, we’re going to need to take concrete action to bridge the very large chasm that we have in our country. Standing on one side or the other and continuing to shout at one another across the abyss is not helping. We can’t afford to continue to look at just one side of the coin. It starts with every liberal, every conservative, every independent, and every other American. It needs to start before rage and violence are the only languages we speak, before force and brutality against one another is our new American ideal. And it needs to start today, before it’s too late.