To My Trump Supporting and Trump Ambivalent Friends

There are a lot of people I know and love, mostly white, who have been very frustrated with the negative response of many Americans to the Trump presidency. Who have seen the response as melodramatic, self-pitying and unfair. And I won’t pretend that all of the responses to our new president-elect have been entirely rational or productive. I have conservative friends who have received hatred and anger in the past couple of days, and that is not okay, is never okay. But it is vital that Trump supporting and Trump ambivalent Americans take some time to consider where the anti-Trump sentiment is coming from.

People are scared. Genuinely frightened for their lives, and their livelihoods, and the future and stability of their families. Our President-elect has said horrible things about people like me and about people I care about. I genuinely believe that a Trump administration poses a clear and direct threat to people that I love.  And that makes me angry, and afraid.  You don’t have to agree with me. I honestly hope to be proved wrong. But that is where I am today, on November 10th 2016, two months away from Donald J Trump assuming the presidency.

As I watched election results come in on Tuesday night, desperately hoping that at least the Senate would go blue, I experienced my first real understanding of what it is like to feel as though your country is slipping out from under you, and the fear and frustration that comes with that idea. I was embarrassed that I had not tried to understand that feeling before.  I was not a graceful winner in 2012.  I was 18 and excited about victory.  I was uninterested in the thoughts and emotions of those Americans whose candidate had lost.  I was not always kind to many of my conservative friends.

And that is not a sustainable or a productive mindset.  We have a lot of work to do in this country right now, and the first part of that comes with learning to listen to each other. If we aren’t at a point where we can listen to each other’s facts, we should at least be able to listen to each other’s emotions and experiences.  We don’t have to agree with each other’s perspectives on this country or politics to understand how other people feel.  For years, the concerns and beliefs of many Americans, particularly in rural areas, have been overlooked and often mocked.  Democrats saw the impact of that choice this election. The rejection of empathy is always harmful.  We have to listen to each other, we have to start now.

The reason that so many people are so resistant to the Trump administration is because they are well and truly afraid.  Many feel personally attacked. Regardless of whether or not you agree with it, many people have seen the Trump campaign as a campaign of hatred. Of racism, and bigotry, and at times of violence.  Many Americans believe that on Tuesday we voted not only for a president, but on whether or not people of color, Muslims, LBGTQ people, and many others had a right to personhood, autonomy, safety, and a place in this country. I know many of you think that is untrue, even grossly absurd or offensive.  And believe me I desperately hope that you are right.  But if it is not true, prove it by really and honestly denouncing it. The way to prove that Trump supporters aren’t racist is not to insist that you, a Trump supporter, are not racist.  It is to prioritize the concerns and the safety of those who feel targeted by their new president.  To tell them they are still loved and wanted, that they deserve and will have a place in this country over the next four years.

The fact that so much of the denial of racism, sexism, religious discrimination, etc. coming from my Trump supporting and Trump ambivalent friends seems primarily defensive rather than reassuring is painful and scary.  If I say that the incoming administration is homophobic or sexist, it is not because I am attacking the person I am talking to or want proof that they are not a bigot, it is because I want reassurance that I am safe in my own country.  If I say that the new administration is racist, or sexist, or ableist, or religiously intolerant, I want proof that Trump supporters actively value the lives and safety of the people that I believe Trump threatens.  In many cases I know this to be true.  As I have said before, I know many kind and caring people who are also Trump supporters.  But when someone’s first response is to say “I am not a bigot” instead of “you and the people you care about are valued and safe,” it will seem to those of us that are afraid that other people’s egos are more important than our lives.

In essence, I am asking for more empathy and support than I have often given those I disagree with. And I understand that that can seem melodramatic or frustrating or unfair.  But it is also necessary.  People’s fears will not be mitigated by insisting that they are invalid.  We must be listened to, we must be supported. If that seems unfair, know that I am also demanding greater tolerance of myself going forward and that it is not easy. I am asking us all to be better.  And the first, most important step in doing that is to make sure that those around us feel safe and feel loved.

So Trump supporters, please stop telling us you aren’t racist. No one cares, and no one will believe you until you start actively affirming the value of Black and Brown lives instead of talking about what people should or shouldn’t believe.  I know that the people I love who voted for Trump are capable of immense kindness and compassion and empathy.  What I am not at all convinced of is that many of the people I love will make it through the next four years okay, or that the country I love will not be consumed by waves of hatred and bigotry.  Those are not concerns that can be addressed through moralizing or argumentation.  They can only be addressed by a denial of self, and ego, and an insistence that all Americans, regardless of race, gender, orientation, ability, or religion are valuable and deserve to be protected.

As a Christian and a human being, I deeply believe that love trumps hate.  If you are one of those fortunate Americans who believe that we stand at an exciting crossroads of progress, that Trump as a symbol is not a source of hatred and bigotry, prove it to those of us who doubt that through actions, not words.  Fight fear and anger and with love and compassion.  Help us to build a foundation we can all be proud of and future we can all be a part of.

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