My Dearest Trump Voting Friends,
I’ve been having a hard time this week figuring out whether and how to address you who who voted for Trump, but don’t consider yourself racist, sexist, homophobic, or bigoted.
The first thing I will say is this:
Do we really think that those whom we would count as racists, sexists, homophobes, and bigots describe themselves as such? These are tropes that have nothing but a negative connotation in American society. I didn’t see the Trump supporters who are advocating such violence against minorities of all stripes saying, “I’m so proud to be a bigot!” as they beat protesters out of his rallies. They’re proud to be whatever they think themselves of being, but I hazard to guess they ascribe themselves a different label. They believe their cause is just and that they are exacting justice. Their fundamental position is that these groups have no place in the United States, and that the correct cause of action is to excise them from our country.
There is no compromising with these minds as they are, nor their wishes for our country. There is no compromising with bigotry. And I imagine a devil’s advocate might say, “you are being just as bigoted by saying there is no compromise.”
No, sweet pea, I am not.
When I say there is no compromising, I am saying it is not acceptable to accommodate the wills of those who wish to get rid of, even exterminate, entire swaths of Americans. And make no mistake, these people exist. We’ve seen their sentiments on full display during this election and in recent days.
I have no wish to get rid of those people as they would like to get rid of my community and demote those who are different from them to the level of second-class citizens. If that was my aim, then, by definition, I’d be a hypocrite and a bigot myself. I’d like to change their minds, but right now I have no answer for how to address them or open their minds. All I can do right now is protect, demand protection, and beg for allies.
So what does that involve in a country where there is an exponentially growing number of documented cases of womens’ vaginas being grabbed, little girls’ vaginas being grabbed for that matter, threats of lynching, swastikas spray painted on the canvas of America, families that fear being torn apart through deportation, or by the dissolution of the right to marry?
I can tell you how you can help, Trump voter, who does not consider themselves to be a racist, a bigot, a sexist, or a homophobe. Some of my fellow comrades may not agree with my reaching out to you, but we need you as allies more than ever.
Help does not begin with saying: “but I have friends that are muslim, latinx, black, LGBTQ, etc!”
Nor does it begin with saying, “But I’m not a racist! I’m not a sexist! Etc!”
I understand the tendencies to say these things.
It’s about self-preservation.
It’s about self-preservation of the ego, to be exact.
And I can tell you precisely why I understand:
I used to be an ardent Republican. Back in high school and middle school, well-before I could vote, I stood gleefully on the side of the most conservative Republican principles. Against gay marriage and gay-rights. Pro-“life.” I supported economic conservatism even before I knew what it was.
Though I grew up in a fairly rural town, which should have increased the likelihood of my having friends and family that shared these views, my hometown was and remains surprisingly liberal.
So what happened when I, this naïve teenager (and I say that lovingly to myself, because boy-oh-boy, was I naïve), would openly express these sentiments and my ardent devotion to conservatism and the Republican party?
I was shamed for it.
I remember the sting of that shame. It hurt very deeply. And the shame didn’t make me want to develop a more open mind, but entrenched me further in my worldview. I imagine you’re familiar with this feeling.
But it also did something else.
Along with that entrenchment of beliefs, came an opposing reaction.
With the shame came this fundamental doubt over whether or not I was actually a good person.
Not a doubt whether or not my beliefs were good or correct, but a doubt over whether my core sense of self was something that had an inherent goodness.
That, my darlings, was my ego talking.
No one likes to be associated with bigots, even bigots themselves.
Without discussing the details of my growth and evolution, I can tell you today I’m one of the wildest liberals you’ll ever meet. A hardcore socialist. A free wheeling, open-minded, hippy dippy, feminist, humanist, meditating, kumbaya loving liberal. A lot of it had to do with me moving away to college in a big city. It’s such a clichéd trope, I know, but it’s true.
So why do I tell you this story?
A lot of it has to do with empathy. I know a lot of people who are feeling the exact same things I felt as a silly, ignorant, naïve little teenager.
I know how much it hurts.
I think it’s a little easier to encourage people to have more open minds if we create the space for open minds and create spaces for empathy.
But such a space is not without discomfort.
Discomfort, in fact, is a necessary part of it.
So right now, I acknowledge your hurt and discomfort over being called a bigot for casting a ballot for Trump. And I hope my story tells you how much I can empathize.
This is where the tough love comes in, honey buns.
Your vote for Trump does make you implicitly complicit in the violence that was stoked by his campaign and has been perpetrated by the most virulent strains of supporters. It makes you complicit in the more passive perspectives of those who think that gays just shouldn’t have the right to marry, that muslims should be banned, that trans people should not be protected, that undocumented immigrants should be deported, that black people are inherently violent, that all Mexicans are rapists, but aren’t perpetrating open acts of violence.
I must be firmly clear on this point: your willingness to overlook or hold your nose against the most bigoted aspects of his rhetoric, campaign, and supporters and cast a vote for him is not a form of neutrality against such bigotry. In its passivity, it is a tacit endorsement of it.
But your vote has been cast. Even if you wish to go back and change your vote, you cannot. It is written in permanence. The lever has been pulled. The hole punched. The ink dried.
About that, you can do nothing.
And if you don’t wish you could go back and change your vote, you do have some explaining to do to and action to take for the “but I have friends that are black, muslim, latinx, LGBTQ, etc!” parts of your life. If you love those parts of your life and those people, to them you have an uncomfortable but inescapably necessary responsibility.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times following the election, Bernie Sanders wrote:
“Working Americans can’t afford decent, quality child care for their children. They can’t send their kids to college, and they have nothing in the bank as they head into retirement. In many parts of the country they can’t find affordable housing, and they find the cost of health insurance much too high. Too many families exist in despair as drugs, alcohol, and suicide cut life short for a growing number of people. President-elect Trump is right: The American people want change. But what kind of change will he be offering them?”
What kind of change will he be offering them?
Those who know me well know that I am an optimist, but I am not optimistic about the change he is offering our country.
I think the more important question for you, however, is what kind of change will you be offering our country?
I assume, dear friends, that your support of Trump can be explained in part by Bernie’s sentiments. You have every right to want a better life for your family in asking for a populist candidate that will address those things, even if that populist candidate flies around in an airplane lined with gold.
But I return to the question: what kind of change will you be offering?
Are you willing to ask the president-elect to do whatever he can to tamp down on the bigotry and violence he has unveiled?
The better question is, are you willing to demand it?
I know you’re uncomfortable right now, sweet peas. I know that being called a bigot hurts.
But discomfort won’t kill you, I promise.
Bigotry, however, does kill.
Keep that in mind as we move forward.