I don’t often make any kind of political statements on this blog – or anywhere, else, really, beyond the occasional soft lob in Twitter’s direction. I’m a moderate – I agree with both conservatives and liberals in different ways – and that means that most people think I’m wrong on some points, and some people think I’m wrong on all points.
But I was up most of the night talking with people, and saw so much grief and fear that I have to share some of my current thinking on what comes next for those of us who are dismayed (or, perhaps, later become dismayed.)
To be absolutely clear about where I’m coming from – no ambiguity – I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and I voted for Hillary Clinton yesterday.
Trump is a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist. I didn’t like him before he ran for president; I like him significantly less now. But not everyone who voted for him is a racist. I’m not just saying that because I know people who voted for him who are not bigots (including, as bewildering as it is to me, some persons of color.) I’m saying it because a black man won the presidency not only once, which might have been a fluke, but twice.
To me, then, Trump’s win means one of three things: 1) that a significant number of people voted this time who didn’t vote in the last two elections and they voted for Trump; 2) a significant number of people who voted in the last two elections for President Obama didn’t vote this time; or, 3) that a significant number of people who voted for President Obama in the last election voted for Trump in this one.
It might be a combination of all three, but it’s the latter group who matter here, I think. The movement toward or away from racism is not something that happens quickly. It’s generally rooted in childhood – we learn it from our parents, or others around us; people who were fair-minded enough to vote for a black man in 2012 are unlikely to have voted for a racist in 2016 simply because they themselves had become racist in those years.
There might be a middle ground, where people who were only somewhat racist in the past jumped on Trump’s bigotry bandwagon, seeing it as validating their views, but I doubt people like that voted for President Obama. Twice.
What is possible is that people who voted for President Obama didn’t like their lives under his administration, saw only more of the same if Clinton won, and thus voted for Trump while telling themselves that they didn’t have to like him/agree with his views on other human beings to prefer his policies.
I’m not debating policies at all here, just noting that it’s not remotely unusual for people who don’t feel like they’ve benefited from an incumbent to vote for his opponent, more so after eight years of the same party in the White House. Not unusual at all, and we generally accept that. This time, not so much, because it feels like so much is at stake in terms of race relations and security for minorities.
Those are absolutely valid concerns, and why I don’t think viewing everyone who voted for Trump (remember: I didn’t) as an automatic racist, which is what I was seeing a lot of online last night, is helpful. If we look suspiciously at people around us, thinking, ‘half these people are bigots’ with no proof of that beyond that more people than we hoped voted for a racist…that’s when we’re truly screwed. What we do, how we live our lives, matters, and often more so than what the government does.
I live in Indiana, land of Mike Pence and the RFRA that was making national news in the spring of 2015. Leaving aside that much of what people saw was media driven, here’s what people didn’t see: many, many business owners proudly displaying signs in their windows welcoming everyone. Whatever the reality of the law, many companies and businesses, perhaps even the majority, not only didn’t embrace it as a way to harm others but rather, went out of their way to embrace them.
Indiana had Pence, and we absolutely still have our share of racist, bigoted assholes. But that doesn’t define us as a state; having Trump/Pence in DC doesn’t have to define us as a nation. Don’t believe me? Ask someone who attended Gen Con the last two years. The knee-jerk reaction, after RFRA, was to move the con; instead, people came, the con – and the city’s pleasure and acceptance in that – happened, and it’s still on the schedule through at least 2020.
Last night, I commented on Twitter that I think the real question now is what can we do, as individuals, to combat racism, bigotry, and misogyny. Here’s what I’ve come up:
- Be willing to connect with people who are different from you. I don’t mean talking to every stranger you meet, but meeting their eyes, giving them a brief smile or making small talk when appropriate? You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. They may not respond positively, but if so? That’s not on you. (And hey, if I’m saying this? With ‘introvert’ as my middle name? Anyone can make an effort to connect with those around them in small ways. Anyone.)
- Listen to those around you, particularly if you don’t agree with them. No, I’m not advocating giving racists a platform, but some of the people who voted for Trump did so because they didn’t feel their lives and problems mattered to the Democrats. Listening may not change anything, but hate and anger never will. How do we become less racist as a society? How do people change? Nearly always, it’s because someone with a different view took the time to get to know them, to hear them, to earn their respect. Either we want to be part of people changing, or we want to pretend they don’t exist…and look how well that’s worked out for us.
- Be sensitive to people who may be feeling threatened, particularly right now. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist asshole, but they’re out there, and they’re feeling validated right now. If someone looks uncomfortable or nervous, do what you can to stand with them.
- And getting back to our government? Pay attention to what your Congresspersons do. Over and over, we’ve seen senators and representatives do things that are inexplicable to those of us outside their district with the justification that they ‘have to work for the people who elected them.’ You want to live in a different world? Take the time to learn what they’re doing, and then contact them and let them know what you approve of or don’t. It’s time-consuming. Do it anyway.
Indiana is still here; we still have good-hearted, compassionate people in every direction I look, and I firmly believe the same is true of our country as a whole. But we can make it better, we can make others feel valued, we can grow as a people by seeking to get to know our neighbors. And we can do it no matter who’s in the White House.