This didn’t feel like an election. I’ve voted in elections and weathered their results, for better or worse, for 28 years. This felt more like a relationship breakup, or the death of a loved one. I’ve also weathered those – the shock, betrayal, grief, anger and disorientation. The waves of shifting emotion punctuated by brief spells of clarity and euphoria. The being unable to sleep, or unable to get out of bed. But instead of cards, hugs, time off from work and casseroles, we’re given millions of people celebrating this death. They gleefully flaunt it in our face and commit violence in its name.
For weeks, I’ve been trying to pinpoint what I – we – are mourning. I’m not naïve. I know this country is still steeped in the racism, sexism and homophobia it was founded on. It’s not a whitewashed, romantic view of the United States that’s died, nor faith in fellow Americans or humanity. What’s died is hope – hope that reason and facts would prevail. Hope we were ready to evolve. Hope there were enough of us. Hope I was wrong.
This loss of hope feels familiar. I remember the exact moment I “woke up” to the reality of my marriage. We were in the kitchen, and as my husband delivered some troubling news, I heard and saw a huge glass wall shatter and crash to the floor in my mind. I suddenly realized neither he, nor our marriage, was going to change. It was time to get out for my safety and well-being – and I did.
What’s going to make this new world difficult is unlike an abusive spouse, we don’t always know who the enemy is or where they’re lurking. There’s nowhere to escape, and no end in sight. However, getting clear on the following ideas will help progressives stay awake and focused as we decide how to show up in a Trump world.
One, we don’t want caring or “tolerance”. We want people to leave us alone and get out of our way. We don’t want to get anything, we want abuse and mistreatment to stop. To stop killing us, raping us, groping us, harassing us, targeting us, passing us over for jobs we’re overqualified for, paying us less than others doing the same work, preventing us from marrying those we love and barring us from quality healthcare and housing. To stop treating us as less intelligent, capable, worthy, and human than we are. To stop ignoring and dismissing us when we say this is happening – we are the best judges of our experience. Ignorance and good intentions don’t erase harmful impact.
Two, their fear of what might happen is not equal to our fear of what is happening. Anyone who is afraid deserves empathy and kindness. But those who fear things that aren’t real don’t deserve policies or laws to protect them from their imagination. The fear of rapists lurking in trans-friendly bathrooms is not based on facts. The fear that gun control means surveillance and gun removal is not based on facts. The fear of an invading hoard of “illegal aliens” from Mexico is false (immigration has declined for nine years and more are leaving than arriving). The fear of “radical Islamic” terrorists grows while twice as many Americans have been murdered by domestic extremists and white supremacists. Meanwhile, mass shootings, police killings of unarmed Black males and income equality have reached epidemic levels. Child abuse, pay inequities and and violence against women and LGBT people persist. These are well-documented facts which threaten our democracy and collective prosperity.
Three, this is not about “not offending” or avoiding hurt feelings. This is about lives and livelihoods. “Political correctness” is about correct policies, and putting American values into action through respectful communication. It’s about treating others in a way that allows them to live full lives, not about “not offending” the thin-skinned. This election has already resulted in meaningful danger to Americans. Trump voters’ distress is real —but nothing like the threats faced daily by LGBT, women, people of color and immigrants. When one is accustomed to privilege, however small or invisible, equality feels like oppression.
Four, voting for Trump was a racist, sexist act. Period. Bigotry is not racism. A person can have good intentions and not say bigoted things, and still commit a racist act. That’s how racism persists despite millions of good people acting with good intentions, and why we’re still talking about racism in the 21st century. Trump voters are justifiably angry and feeling disenfranchised. But there were so many other ways to protest the establishment: backing Bernie Sanders, promoting a write-in campaign, organizing boycotts or staging demonstrations. Trump voters knowingly chose a candidate who neither understands nor acts in the best interests of the majority of Americans.
Five, we can no longer afford to be naïve or shocked. Stop being surprised when racism, sexism and homophobia show up on our national stage. Stop saying “have an open mind” about Trump, “wait and see,” or “buck up, it won’t be that bad.” I remember hearing those same poisonous words as an abused spouse. Such words encourage complacence in the face of real danger. They encourage false hope and inaction in the face of mounds of evidence. We can’t afford to ignore the evidence – decades of it – demonstrating exactly who our President-elect is. We don’t owe Trump respect just because he’s President, and we’re not obligated to honor the office regardless of who occupies it. We must believe Trump’s actions and “treat every poisoned word as a promise”. Our very lives and livelihoods are at stake.
Six, we don’t need people to agree with us to do better behaviors. We are a diverse society and inclusion means everyone is included. However, it does not mean all behaviors are included. Others don’t need to share our ideology, vocabulary or values to do behaviors that get out of our way and contribute to our collective thriving. We’ve wasted too much time trying to make others “get it”, while many who “get it” aren’t doing effective behaviors. We need to articulate what we want, not just what we don’t. We must provide concrete direction and specific actions – try my Resources for Active Anti-Racists guide or my last HuffPo post.
Make no mistake ― we mourn real loss and face real danger in the Trump World. Internalizing these six ideas will help us get clear, get through and get to work in a more powerful way. History is on our side, and our grandchildren are watching.