Did America's Sympathetic Indifference Elect Donald Trump?

Up until election night I didn’t fully understand the country I live in.

Please allow me to be human for a moment. To think out loud for once and to speak simplistically. I am not a writer or a politician. I am merely a civilian writing on my laptop in the dark, and like many, I am unable to sleep from worrying about the prospect of my country.

Donald Trump is now the most powerful person in the world. This idea is both frightening and overwhelming.

I’ve always proudly considered myself an optimist. I thought that there was more good in this world, than evil. I didn’t think that an individual who tapped into people’s anger and resentment rather than their hope and optimism could win an election. Trump exemplifies vulgarity. He bullies and demeans. He has fanned the flames of people’s bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. He’s the ultimate villain and that character doesn’t win in the end, right? Or so I thought. I am in Los Angeles as I write this, only miles from some of the biggest motion picture film studios in the world, and today for the first time I wonder if perhaps I’ve simply been exposed to too many unrealistic movies with happy endings.

Up until election night I didn’t fully understand the country I live in. I believed that the nation, though far from transcending xenophobia, homophobia and racial prejudice, had become more accepting and tolerant. I believed that folks with logic and reason were frustrated with the status quo but ultimately would make the responsible choice.

Did Trump’s divisive rhetoric resonate with hateful people? I am certain of this. But I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are thoroughly bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic.

Can Trump voters who are indifferent to the experiences and fears of people that his divisive statements are directed towards, get a pass for endorsing the man who said them? I grapple with this question. I am either onto something, or in complete and utter denial. Most likely, it is the latter.

As I put myself under the microscope of self-critique by asking “What did I do wrong?”, “What did I miss?”, and “What can I do better?”, I am able to find remnants of fault in myself in this area as well.

Two strikingly different realities exist in America. Tuesday night couldn’t have illustrated this fact more clearly. When I hear people in red state America share their hardships about losing their manufacturing, factory, or coal mining jobs, I sympathize. But quite honestly, it doesn’t affect me, my family, or friends. I care about their hardships, but I don’t share or fear their daily reality because it is so far removed from my own. Like watching a tragic story on the nightly news, I take a moment to feel bad for the victim, but when the story is over, I go along with my evening and cook dinner. This sympathy infused indifference has deceived me into believing that I have committed myself to fully understanding someone’s perspective when I really haven’t.

Sympathetic indifference is cunning because it allows us to feel as though we are kind, thoughtful, and considerate of other people all while still being able to ignore and disregard an individual’s critical concerns.

This example is only one minuscule issue out of many, but I see the importance of making an effort to understand people’s day to day struggles if I ever expect someone to take the time to listen to my own.

Perhaps this notion of sympathetic indifference can give some insight into understanding what led up to Donald Trump being elected president on Tuesday.

I would watch the vile remarks that Trump and his supporters would say about Muslims living in America and I would instantly fear for the safety of my Muslim best friend who’s middle name is Hussein. I can’t help but wonder, would I feel as upset if I had no personal connection to the group of people being hurt?

When I studied Mike Pence’s backwards record on LGBTQ issues, I worried for the well-being and security of my family members and friends.

Could I feel the same sense of sympathetic indifference that I feel towards the steel workers in Pennsylvania if the people being threatened were not in such close proximity to me and the people I care about?

If I didn’t have two ivy league educated brothers who have been followed around an upscale store more times than I can count. If I could fly without being the only randomly chosen person to get patted down every time that I go through security. If I didn’t experience seeing a friend be mistaken for the wait staff at the event where he received the most distinguished award of the night, perhaps then I’d be able to believe that implicit racial bias is a myth, that stop and frisk was fair and just, and that these experiences were just a result of more whining from the left.

Would I recognize that intolerable rhetoric is detrimental and wrong, but still be able to ignore it enough to vote for the man who said it? In my mind, I could never partake in this hypocrisy. But in reality, the wellbeing of steel workers who lost their jobs held very little weight in my election decision-making process. Did I expect more action out of these people than I demanded from myself?

I am not excusing ignorance, intolerance, or hate but I am trying to make an honest attempt to understand people’s overwhelming decision to vote for a man who represents these things.

I remember in 2008 and 2012 hearing insolent statements like, “Obama is not my president” from the people who didn’t vote for him. Today I have to acknowledge and admit, that Trump is in fact my president because despite what an uncomfortable number of citizens in this country seem to feel, this is my country too.

Trump does not represent my values or my vision, but I still believe in our people (well, most of them anyway).

There is much work to be done. It’s time to roll up my sleeves, utilize my time by being proactive on the ground, rather than just advocating online to my bubble of followers who think and live like me, and actually be willing to sacrifice for the equality that I believe is both possible and right.

Maybe I will feel more angry about the results in a few days. But tonight, I want to self-evaluate so I can begin to redirect and reorganize. You learn more about yourself when you lose than when you win. I can do better and I will.

Follow Monica Rose (@MonicaRoseM) on Twitter.