No Amount Of Empathy Can Sanitize The Trump Platform

Kindness.

Unity.

Resilience.

Reconstruction.

These are the buzz words that have been shoved in my direction during the past 48 hours—hours in which I’ve been struggling to maintain the contents of my stomach and only burst into tears at appropriate times and in appropriate locations.

They were sweet words, meant to offer hope, but they couldn’t help but feel hollow. I admire the people who can pivot so quickly to making plans and demonstrating the audacity of hope. But I am not one of them.

These were my words:

Terrified.

Devastated.

Betrayed.

Vulnerable.

And while I’ve been trying to process these emotions, to rise through them, to be the bigger person I have always hoped I could be, there have been those who have taken the opportunity to point their fingers at me and yell loudly.

<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/maps-presidential-election-race-gender-age" target="_blank">Mother Jones
Mother Jones

They tell me I’ve been living in an echo chamber. My Facebook protects me from the despair of the white working class. My life is sheltered from the concerns of non-urban voters.

Meanwhile, girls I love and grew up with in my rural, non-coastal town—who took the bat against my homemade birthday piñatas, who shared my bunk at Girl Scout camp, who feature prominently in my prom photos—are sitting in prisons right now on charges related to heroin. None of them got to go to college like I did. I know I’m the lucky one. Don’t you dare tell me I don’t know I’m the lucky one.

They tell me I should remember that my tribe is ultimately my country, not my party,

“Country over party,” says the party that—meanwhile—has chosen party over country every day for the past eight years. (Besides, when I say I’m terrified, it’s because I’m terrified for my country.)

They tell me that, as an “elite,” I’ve been sheltered from the rage being directed at the slashing of social safety nets and the old, well-worn paths into the middle class.

Meanwhile, the most economically disadvantaged group in America—African-Americans—voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. In the nearly 25 years since Bill Clinton’s first term, the wealth of white, college-educated Americans has increased more than 86 percent. Whites with no college degree have seen their wealth decrease by almost 11 percent.

That’s stark and incredible and immoral. But consider this: the wealth of African-Americans with college degrees has shrunk by almost 56 percent in the same time period.

How do you characterize the Hillary coalition of educated white women and almost all black and brown folks as “elites”? If this was all about neoliberal economics, how do you explain their vote for the “establishment” candidate?

No, this is (at least a little bit) about culture and social identity. It’s about what Van Jones called a “whitelash.” It’s about wanting different things.

And that’s a harder bridge to cross.

Regardless of what constitutes the gap between us, what I’m trying to say is this: It’s not that I think empathy for those who voted for Trump is misplaced or the wrong lesson to learn. It’s that empathy as a solution to political crisis is a long road, and I wonder if it’s really “unity” if the effort isn’t split between the two parties.

When we thought we would win, we were twisting ourselves sideways to reach an agreement on how to show compassion to the losing side and how to facilitate reconciliation. In The New Yorker a few weeks ago, Anand Giridharadas summarized the “pro-love” argument as:

If the North could reclaim the South in that spirit [of Lincoln’s promise of “malice toward none” and “charity for all”], the argument goes, surely liberals and progressives can embrace their Trump-supporting brethren.

But we didn’t win, of course. And now that we’ve lost, the fight is still, somehow, about how we liberals can make the ”other side”—the white working class and its long-ignored grievances—feel more welcome in this country?

Republicans have the Presidency, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and a majority of state governments. That hasn’t happened since the 1920s, when Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover were president, the Supreme Court issued decisions declaring a minimum wage to be unconstitutional and Asian-Americans to be ineligible for naturalized citizenship, and Congress and the state legislatures led this country into the Great Depression. If someone has to be reassured that they aren’t being left out in the rain this time, it’s us.

I’m being asked to examine my own knowledge of and prejudice toward whites without college degrees, especially those living in the rural and suburban areas of flyover states.

That’s fair. Never feel that you don’t have the right to push me to be a better, kinder, more thoughtful person.

But here’s a test for Trump supporters, especially those who accuse me of overreacting:

How many of your friends are survivors of conversion therapy?

How many times in your life have you been racially profiled by a law enforcement officer?

How many of you have been sexually assaulted and then dismissed and disbelieved after you spoke up?

How many of the people in your life have trusted you with the knowledge that their families are undocumented? How many of your friends rely on DACA to go to school and hold a job?

How many of your family members only have healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act?

How many of the people on your social media feeds are Muslim?

There is absolutely a cultural gulf in this country. But the assumption that the fault and the responsibility belong to the urban left alone seems to legitimize the false idea, implicit in Trump’s entire campaign, that white America is real America—that the rest of us are impostors who need to ingratiate ourselves to them.

So stop belittling our fears. Your candidate was endorsed by the KKK, for God’s sake, but not by the biggest figures in your own party. We have the right to be terrified.

In return—and I'm gonna need Jesus to pull it off, but I’m committed—I pledge to forgive you, to acknowledge your fears, to learn from this, and to fight to build a country of which we can both be proud. I’m working to transform my fear and disbelief into the love and rage I know I need to reengage you in that fight.

In a normal year, the etiquette of this situation would compel me to say, “I hope you get what you wanted.” That’s how post-election America should work.

And in a way, this still does work that way.

I understand that you felt like you didn’t recognize this country anymore, and to the extent that what you wanted was to feel a sense of belonging in and ownership of this community, then I wish that for you very much.

But to the extent that you wanted the policies that Trump promised, I desperately hope you don’t get any of it.

I am committed to making sure you don’t get any of it.

CONVERSATIONS