The American Conversation

3

November 12, 2016 by Julia

I am trying to make sense of what’s happening in our country, and some of what I say here might be inflammatory, or messy, or even contradictory. I am sorry about that. It’s where I’m at, and I think we’d all do better to just admit we contradict ourselves half the time; to do so is to be human. If you disagree with me politically I hope you will stick around anyway. I will try my best to learn more about your viewpoint, too. Maybe we can get the ugliness out and then move past it into productive conversation.

The day after the election, after the shock wore off, there was some relief for me, like when vomiting briefly gets rid of nausea. The election of Donald Trump felt to me like America barfing everywhere. It’s bleakly reassuring to see such blatant evidence of sickness. Now we know! We deserve a sick day. Blerrrrrrgh. Get us some ginger ale, Netflix, and a bed pillow.

I am not a politician, and like most people, I don’t have time to research policy or even the candidates beyond the headlines, memes, articles and video clips that pop up online, as well as the occasional comedic opening monologue on late night TV. Those sources have given me strong ideas about this election’s candidates, but to be honest, I just assumed that as a pretty convicted Democrat I would simply vote for whomever ran against Donald Trump. True to form, I care most about social justice, civil rights, caring for our needy, and gun control. I don’t believe I could ever choose abortion myself, but I don’t think we can legislate what a woman decides to do with her body; we are better off supporting women so that unwanted pregnancies are dealt with in less sad ways, or preventing those pregnancies altogether. And while we’re being honest, this is how I see most of the Republican party when I envision them as a mass (rather than individuals, some of whom I know and care about): a bunch of greedy, rich white folk who just want to preserve their place on top by hijacking the formidable Christian community and misleading them with “values” that actually go against the most important teachings of the Bible. (Hint: one of those teachings has something to do with loving your neighbor as yourself. Does this sound like your neighborhood Republican?)

I could find a million factoids to back up my beliefs online, but it’s pretty well known at this point that none of us are changing anyone’s minds with these memes or carefully worded statements. Trump supporters could find just as many arguments to post against mine.We’re just digging in our heels, getting more entrenched in our own beliefs, waiting for the perfect moment to say, we’ve been right all along, told you so!

In this frantic online climate of writing and posting and grabbing at truths that reinforce our own beliefs, it’s so easy to make it about our egos and just wanting to be proven right. I am as guilty of this as the next person, and I feel silly even writing this post. I will do my best not to sound like I know more than I actually do. I will try not to make this entirely about me. I can only draw upon my own experience, but while using that, I am looking for more than affirmation.

I don’t know what’s true anymore, and it’s concerning. Political truth has never felt so subjective to me. When I see Republican friends scold the Democrats who dread the next four years, they say things like, “If we survived Obama, you can survive this!” and I have to wonder, what world were they living in, where they could only survive Obama’s presidency? What did he do to make their lives so miserable? Hasn’t he been a wonderful role model and successful president? Not perfect, but actually bettering and protecting our country in many real-life instances? Am I missing something? You can hear the anger in my questions, yes, but I also genuinely want to know. I can’t not know anymore, if I care about my country.

I remember feeling euphoric after Obama was elected, while also seeing posts on Facebook from my conservative friends, speaking of a whole different world. They acted like the apocalypse was upon us, like we were doomed as a country…much like we liberals are speaking now about Donald Trump. I remember, after Obama’s election, feeling like I and those other people were living in alternate universes. As happy as I was about Obama, that extreme disconnect disturbed me. Still, I thought that if anyone could bridge the divide between parties, maybe he could. Obviously, that part didn’t work out, because it’s a two way street.

And now Trump’s call to unite as a country is like bitter ashes in my mouth. I feel like saying, “Oh, screw you, asshole.” I don’t believe he means it, just as Republicans didn’t believe Obama, and refused to work with him these past eight years.

But I know that grudge gets us nowhere, and I want to be better than that. I want Democrats to be better than that. Republicans, too.

But none of this “Make America Great Again” bull. I can never get behind that, because the only thing that makes me feel better is the (admittedly too slow, very, very slow) social progress of history. Trump knew exactly how to exploit the racist fears and nostalgia of older white Americans with that slogan, and it infuriates me that white people are buying it, ignoring the historical experience of non-white Americans, women, and the LGBTQ community, just to name a few groups of oppressed people. What “Great” part of America’s history is he referring to, where things were better for anyone but straight white men? We have done amazing things as Americans, heroic things. But that is still happening.

No, there was no better time, and the point is that things are supposed to progressively get better, as it has done all throughout history, despite many setbacks. My only hope is that we will keep learning from our horrific mistakes, looking back in the direction from which we came, and continuing in that same direction toward civil rights, justice, environmental responsibility, and, well, just plain old goodness. I don’t mean goodness in a nostalgic, judgement-ridden way. I mean it in the freshest way possible, where you live responsibly and by your conscience, actually listen to your heart, acknowledge the humanity of all people, and maybe even care about them. And then do something practical about it, in a way that isn’t entirely about acquiring more wealth or power for oneself.

To me, that’s what the Democratic party is supposed to represent. But I have no idea if they do anymore, in this topsy-turvy world.

There is so much I don’t understand. And yeah, I’m mad, but I’m getting to the point where if it’s not constructive, I can’t handle it anymore. So while I hold fast to my belief that there are more bigots who voted for Trump than who voted for Clinton, and that Trump is more dishonest, power-hungry, greedy, and of despicable character than Clinton, not to mention the only President-elect with no previous political experience (I know that is actually a selling point to some, although I seem to remember that was one of the Republican party’s major arguments against Obama)…I am willing to admit we have to move past our ideas of who the candidates and parties are, and figure out how to stop arguing so we can do better for all of our people.

WOW that was hard for me to get that out, can you tell? Again, I’m sorry. It’s hard to be on the losing side. It’s only been a few days, so I’m still easily riled up.

What I mean is, I want to know why the people with good intentions and character voted for Trump, because there must be a reason beyond what I have been led to believe. I obviously don’t care about the bigoted reasons – screw that. I also don’t care about the sexist “vague distrust of Hillary Clinton because she has a fake smile and was an ambitious First Lady” reason.

Putting those bad reasons for supporting Trump aside, what are some of the decent reasons? What are the needs that aren’t being met in those red states, that they felt that had to turn to Donald Trump for help? Is it something we can address as a country, without a side of bigotry or violence? I really want to know.

I can’t help but wonder if these conversations would go better in person. I know it’s waaaay easier to just post a few gut-punch memes or articles on social media and call it a day, saying you fought the good fight for your party, collecting virtual high-fives from everyone who already agrees with you.

The uselessness of that approach weighs too heavily on us Americans right now, though. We’ve been preaching to our own choirs for too long, wasting too much energy on faceless internet trolls, and we know this is how the political divide widens. Sometimes we are too angry to care that our country is divided. Sometimes the country must be divided, as in the case of the Civil War. I don’t know if this is a case where we should come together, or fight for what we believe is right. Can we do both, somehow?

Two days ago, when I woke to find that Donald Trump had been elected, I just wanted to talk to people face-to-face about it. But between the bus stop with my kids, the shelter where I volunteered, the grocery store and the liquor store (two separate places because Maryland is weird), most people were acting like nothing had happened. It was bizarre. I felt like I was going to burst and yet we were like quiet androids just going about our business in politically charged awkwardness. I am not usually one to start up conversations with random people. But at the liquor store I jokingly tried to connect with the cashier, without giving away which side I was on: “So…were you busier yesterday for election day, or today, the day after?” He said he left early yesterday so he wasn’t sure. Obviously, it wasn’t a satisfying exchange.

Lots of people think they don’t want to talk about it face to face. Not on Thanksgiving, not with strangers or neighbors or even friends or family that feel differently than we do. I want to have conversations with people from across the political divide, though, and I know I’m not alone. I know I can do better than this blog post, with its generalizations and messy emotions and back and forth ramblings, but I am going to let it be for now, in the interests of transparency. If you give me a little grace, I will return it.

Despite my anger, despite my bias against the Republican party, I want to be part of an inclusive, impassioned but respectful conversation that makes America greater than it was, greater than it is.

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3 thoughts on “The American Conversation

  1. Christine says:

    Lots of things going on here. Trump got around the same votes as Bush and Romney. So past Republicans are same Republicans that voted for him. What was missing was the Democratic vote. Obama got substantially higher numbers in some areas. With those missing Democratic votes, the result swung to Trump. Our challenge going forward is to figure out how to deal with the substantial amount of intentional misinformation and misdirection (i.e., the fake news). There is A LOT of it. Getting to facts is hard – even for the college educated and/or skilled critical thinkers. It’s hard and exhausting and those raising families and working just don’t have the hours to devote to the research and fact checking. Another huge factor to what happened is lack of empathy. Many who voted for Trump are quick to defend themselves on FB saying, “But I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, I’m not a xenophobe.” And for many that is true. So it speaks to their complete lack of empathy towards communities that Trump’s messages are a threat to. They had their personal reason for voting Trump, and they held that higher than the human and civil rights of these other communities.

  2. coffeejot says:

    Very well said. Completely empathize with the “don’t have time for anything not constructive anymore” part.

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