Authors Note: This post is in response to something I posted a FaceBook shortly after the election suggesting that hugging a Trump supporter is preferable to attacking them.
Who’s up for hugging a Trump supporter? I certainly understood that posing such a metaphor on social media so soon after the election was risky. The reaction was as diverse as our nation is divided. It pointed out how many of us are stuck in a quagmire of anger, intolerance, fear, shock and bewilderment. It also pointed out that the challenges ahead may be in the divisions within our community rather than who occupies the White House.
Of all the reactions, the most concerning were not so much those that lashed out in anger, but those that contacted me privately out of fear. Many reached out to say they supported what I had to say, but were intimidated by the hate and rhetoric coming from people they considered to be on their side. Imagine that? When I look to the future I’m less concerned with the hate and intolerance that will be coming at us than I am with the hate and intolerance within us. The first I expect, the latter I didn’t see coming.
When I experience people telling Trump supporters to “F—k off” or calling them all racists or bigots my heart breaks for them. Given the statistics of who did and didn’t vote for whom, it’s clear that this election will go down in history. However, it may not be for electing a buffoon as many would believe, but for the complete and utter implosion of our two party ideological dichotomy. Lineal political models, such as Left vs Right or Conservative vs Liberal cannot be used to perform a post election autopsy this time around. So trying to put your uncle, parent, neighbor or stranger in any category, be that bigot or simply a passenger on the crazy train, would lead you to false conclusions pretty much every time.
The purveyors of intolerance across the political spectrum remind me of the homophobic parents that are shocked to be the last to know their child is gay. Or avidly pro-life parents that are devastated when their daughter waits 20 years to tell them she had an abortion as a teen. On that note, I remember shocking family members a couple decades ago when in a room full of babies and toddlers, one of my in-laws pondered aloud, “How will we know if we are good parents?” I thought about it and said, “I’ll know when my 16 year-old daughter comes to me and says “Daddy, I’m pregnant.” Here I am a few decades later with a 16 year-old daughter. While no one wants to hear those words, I like to think that my daughter has that level of safety…that I’m safe to approach. She’s knows I’ll be disappointed, maybe even disagree with her about how to move forward, but I think she also knows that the first words out of my mouth will be “I love you” followed by the longest hug of our lives. Back then I was trying to grapple with the point I’m struggling with now. Intolerance of any kind only filters the intolerant person from the world around them, breeding their own ignorance of those with whom they are different. In fact, it can even divide us from those with whom we have the most in common.
My original post is here:
Presuming you are not a Trump supporter, I’d like to encourage you to find one and give them a hug. You won’t have to look too far; they are about 50% of us. They are our parents, neighbors, kids, co-workers and in-laws. Despite the voices of protest and social media, they are not all bigots, racists, misogynists or deplorable. Some may be, but they are mostly decent people that want what is best for this country and it would be a mistake to assume they are monolithic.
Ponder for a moment how poorly Hillary Clinton did in this election. That’s the only thing I can think of that deserves the title “deplorable.” And think about how many people you know took a position something like, “Well I don’t really care for Hillary, but I’m voting against Trump.” Right? Now extend that across the apparent ideological divide. I’m just one person and I know a number of Trump supporters that are good and decent people that are not racist or bigoted any more than you or I. I know Trump supporters that were equally torn. They didn’t like Trump as a person and didn’t support his bigoted views. Some were one-issue voters on things like abortion. Others have trust in our democratic institutions and Constitution to temper his offensive and dangerous ideas. Were my mother – a devout Catholic, a purely loving human, a community volunteer, superstar mom – alive today, she would have voted for Trump and opposed his bigotry. I suspect many others in my circle did as well and none of them are racist or bigoted. I also know that most of them would stand between an abuser and his target, be that a racial or ethnic minority or member of the LGBTQ community.
I understand the anger and frustration people are feeling. What I don’t understand is the condescension, hate and bigotry being directed at a group of people based on how they voted. There are deplorable people that espouse profoundly ignorant ideas. They always get more attention than the moderate voices.
As a teenager I was a racist, anti-Semitic, bigoted asshole based on how I see the world today. It’s been a long journey to get where I am today. The journey continues. Along the way not a single person that attacked me for my views or called me names ever opened my eyes or changed my behavior. In fact it often encouraged my worst behaviors. In my life of activism, I’ve attacked others that I thought were racist or bigoted. I never changed any minds or raised awareness. In fact I only widened the gap, as did those that attacked me. It seems wherever we are on our own personal journeys many of us tend to attack those only a few steps behind us, even though we may have stood where they are not long ago. (Freud likely had an explanation for this). We need to remember that titles such as “homophobe” or “racist” are not black and white. As conditions they are on a spectrum. I’m a racist, homophobe or asshole in someone’s eyes depending on where they are on their journey. We all are. And we’re also heroes and mentors to others. There are people you and I may consider a racist that may be encouraging someone close to them on the journey to be less racist and they are not doing it by attacking them.
It took me 8 years to get my loving conservative father to understand what I was doing in Nicaragua in the 80’s and to finally oppose Reagan’s policy there. It was a baby step for him on his journey. It happened because I loved and saw all the good in him despite our significant ideological differences. I was less tolerant, and thus, less successful with others I didn’t love. In the end we all need to choose our own path in the face of a potentially dangerous time, but I learned that it’s a lot easier to win hearts that battles. Probably more than any time in recent history, this may be the time to open our arms and encourage some to come just one step in our direction, rather than chase them further into the darkness.