Plenty of pundits keep telling us progressives that we didn’t listen to them in the heartland ― to you of the white working class, to you of conservative Christianity.
Actually, I grew up as one of you. I’ve listened to you my whole life, but I don’t think I know how to understand you at all.
I suppose now you’d consider me part of the so-called liberal elite. I’m a west coast university professor with a Ph.D. and almost 30 years of teaching experience. But I’m the daughter of a Southern Baptist, working-class pipe fitter at a paper mill in a small, conservative town in northwest Georgia.
My parents did not go to college (my father finally earned a degree after he’d retired from the paper mill). Only one of my four grandparents finished high school. I studied hard, got a scholarship, kept studying, kept working and I moved into the white collar middle class.
My white, conservative Christian upbringing had told me that was the American Dream ― to work hard and succeed. I did, and I feel you’re holding it against me now that I no longer share your views. I think you must imagine the liberal elite as East Coast, Ivy League-educated, trust fund babies completely out of touch with how most people live.
Sure, some faculty members grew up with money. Some went to Ivy League schools. But a lot of us professors were you ― working class kids who did whatever it took to get a college education. Along the way, a lot of us developed progressive ideas, not out of our privilege, but out of our own experiences of discrimination, struggle and oppression.
“My white, conservative Christian upbringing had told me that was the American Dream ― to work hard and succeed. I did, and I feel you’re holding it against me now that I no longer share your views.”
We read and argued and wrote and rewrote. We got peer-reviewed, over and over and over. Our ideas are held to incredibly high, rigorous standards, and so, when we speak we do so carefully, thoughtfully, with nuance, and with openness ― because sometimes we are also wrong. But because we’ve studied hard and held ourselves up to professional standards, we really do know a lot about what we’re talking about, and we have something to offer in a real conversation across our differences (including the East Coast Ivy Leaguers who aren’t as out of touch as you may think). But I don’t think you want to hear us or me.
You tell me I need to “get over” Trump’s election and stop being a sore loser. But politics is not a sport. We don’t choose teams and simply cheer ours on to victory. My beloved Atlanta Falcons lost the Super Bowl, and, painful though that was, I will get over it. It hurts, but I won’t protest, march, write letters, or otherwise resist the outcome, even if we discover New England’s balls were deflated. It’s a game, but it’s not life or death.
This election, however, is exactly that. Perhaps you can tell me to get over it because you do not have to worry that Trump will appoint a Supreme Court justice that could play a role in invalidating your marriage. If Congress passes and Trump signs the First Amendment Defense Act, you probably won’t have to worry that a bakery, restaurant, or hotel might legally deny you service. You don’t have to worry about being stranded at an airport and refused admission to the U.S. because of the country you’re from or the religion you practice. You don’t have to worry about having your family divided across the world with a simple signature on an executive order.
You say you are aggrieved because you have not achieved what you think you deserve or you think some less deserving other has taken it. Despite having moved into the middle class, I have spent my career teaching about and advocating for labor unions, a living wage, affordable childcare, social security, affordable healthcare, accessible higher education. Progressives are actually the ones who support the economic programs and policies that could make a difference for the working class.
“You don’t have to worry about being stranded at an airport and refused admission to the U.S. because of the country you’re from or the religion you practice”
You have a right to be aggrieved, but I fear you are targeting the wrong people. Low paying jobs, job insecurity, companies moving work overseas, low benefits, little vacation ― these are the results of decades of policies that benefit the truly wealthy ― those whose wealth depends not on the labor of their hands but on their ability to exploit the production of poorly paid laborers. The problem is not that immigrants have taken your jobs or drained money from the safety net. The problem is that the system of wealth sets workers against one another so they do not target the real economic power that limits their work and financial security.
You say you want progressives to listen to you. Then prioritize truth. This election was filled with “fake news,” shared widely on Facebook, and this administration already has begun to create a language of “alternative facts” to misinform and mislead. If you want to talk, offer evidence, real evidence based on verifiable data and reliable sources, not wishful imaginings or fabricated Breitbart stories. An internet meme is not an informed and legitimate point of argument that facilitates dialogue. We’ve reached a point where you’d rather believe an overt lie if it supports a belief you already hold than pursue the truth if it might challenge your currently held belief.
The Bible tells us God is a God of truth and the truth will set us free. Yet you chose someone who lies with impunity. I want to understand how you choose to ignore the evidence that is right in front of your eyes ― photos of the crowds at two different inaugurations, for example. How do you accept what is proven to be a lie? How do you support someone who, rather than correct the record, doubles down on his lies?
“We’ve reached a point where you’d rather believe an overt lie if it supports a belief you already hold than pursue the truth if it might challenge your currently held belief.”
Especially, how do you do this in the name of the God of truth? Before the election I saw one of you who’d written as an evangelical Christian in support of Trump that “God can use anyone.” So help me understand why you thought God could use a man who’d said he’d never asked God for forgiveness, who serially committed adultery, who said he could grab women by the genitals, who cheated contractors and workers, but you didn’t think God could use a woman who is a Christian, a lifelong Methodist and who, from the heart, quotes the Bible and John Wesley (when Trump didn’t even know how to say “Second Corinthians,” which he called “Two Corinthians,” and when asked for his favorite Bible verse struggled to name one until he landed on “an eye for an eye.” And you know what Jesus said about that one).
I know you’ve been offended that progressives have called you racist for voting for Trump. I understand that. You don’t see yourself as racist. But you did knowingly vote for someone who insulted Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, and Jews. And women. And LGBTQ people. And people with disabilities. Help me understand how that squares with the notion of God’s love for all people.
Can you really imagine Jesus using the words Trump did about these groups of people? How would you characterize voting for someone who is overtly racist? Help me understand how you align your Christian perspective with his racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism.
I’m afraid that what you want is a nation that conforms to your interpretation of the Bible. That’s where we really run into trouble because that would require you to force your particular conservative Christian beliefs on everyone else. I don’t understand how people who want to claim religious liberty for themselves are so unwilling to give it to everyone, which is actually the premise of true religious liberty.
You say you want a Christian nation, but our founders were clear that was never their goal. In fact, the Constitution goes to great lengths to protect the government from religion and religion from government. I also get the sense that you think people are not Christians if they aren’t Christian in the same way as you. But can’t we find some common ground? Can’t we agree that all people should be free to practice their religion or practice no religion and should be safe from coercion based on religion? Can’t we agree that we share values of love, kindness, respect, and community and then try to live those with each other? Do you really think a Christian, especially a biblical literalist, can want a wall built?
“You say you want a Christian nation, but our founders were clear that was never their goal. In fact, the Constitution goes to great lengths to protect the government from religion and religion from government.”
The Bible is clear about how we are to treat foreigners among us ― no matter how they got here. What if the Egyptians had built a wall before Mary and Joseph fled from King Herod? Our Christian story starts with a refugee family. Can we not practice our shared Christian values with immigrants and refugees coming to our country?
Can’t we find common ground on issues like, say, abortion? I think we could have a common goal of lowering abortion rates. After all, you will never end abortions. Maybe you can end the safe, legal ones, but, one way or another, women will still have abortions. They will just be more likely to die from them.
And here’s where I think dealing with facts is crucial to find common ground. We know that abortion rates are lower worldwide when there is no global gag order. We also know that what is most successful in lowering abortion rates is access to contraception, accurate sex education, and personal and economic empowerment for women.
To cling to overturning Roe v. Wade as the only way to end abortions is a fantasy based on ideology rather than medical science and social science, and it flies in the face of the evidence for what is successful. So the real question is are you more interested in actual effectiveness in lowering abortion rates or ideological purity? We can lower abortion rates together but not by denying women choices over their own bodies. We can be effective together by listening to the data and working together to ensure all women have access to contraception, education, and social and economic resources. Are you willing to have that conversation?
I’ve heard some of you say that we’ll just have to agree to disagree, but that’s a problem. You see, we’re not talking about ideas here. We’re talking about actual human lives. If we were talking about predestination or modes of baptism or premillennialism, I’d say, sure, let’s agree to disagree. The stakes are pretty low. But if we’re talking about the rights of people to access housing, clean water and air, and healthy food or the possibility of a nuclear arms race or discrimination written into law or women losing basic life-saving health screenings, or young black men being incarcerated disproportionately, or Native peoples having their sacred sites desecrated and their water poisoned, or Muslim people being targeted for their faith, then the stakes are much higher, and I cannot simply agree to disagree.
That’s why I’m writing you now. We need to talk, and I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. I need to know, is it more important to you to win than to do good? Or can we build coalitions? Listen to science? Rely on real evidence? Be effective? Put the needs and rights of all others above ideologies? Can we live the love of God we claim? You want me to hear and understand you. I get that. I also want you to hear and understand the rest of the world that is not you or your kind. Because they too are God’s people and therefore are in the circle of those whom we must love. You taught me that when I was a child. If we can agree on that now, we have a place to start.