Nice going bubs, you struck a chord with peeps. A couple of conservative friends wonder about my parenting, while one close liberal friend from North Carolina wrote, “You raised a wonderful daughter. You should be proud. I especially love that she uses the word ‘Motherfucker’.” I side with two-thirds of what my liberal friend wrote.*
Instead of the questions I ended our first dialogue with, I wonder if you could respond to this.
Ron: You said you watched parts of the recent OJ Simpson documentary. I had a similar reaction to Trump’s victory as I did Simpson’s acquittal. It was surprising, but I found the spontaneous celebration among African Americans in Los Angeles and around the country even more perplexing. How could they cheer a cold blooded murderer? Almost instantly, I realized I didn’t understand their thinking and the onus was on me to try to. More specifically, I was clueless about their deeply troubled relationship with the LA Police Department. Overtime I learned they weren’t celebrating Simpson, instead, they were celebrating the LAPD’s defeat. Finally, someone stuck it to their oppressor. Similarly, after the post-election shock abetted a bit, I realized I didn’t understand Trump voters thinking very much at all. How could the contest be so close that the electoral college eventually tipped his way? I went from “that’s completely incomprehensible” to “Man, I’m seriously out of touch.” But I think the onus is on me to try to understand it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but when I think about your adolescence and young adult life, it seems to me that you’ve been almost completely surrounded by peers very similar to yourself. In high school, most of your friends had similarly liberal parents, were in almost all of the same college prep classes, participated in the same extracurricular activities. Then you guys attended selective liberal arts colleges and continued to be surrounded by smart, mostly well-to-do, liberal peers. I suppose you’ve made some diverse friends at work and in the city, but all of us live segregated lives, not just racially, but politically, economically, socially. How many people do you personally know whose politics are markedly different than your own? How many friends? How many close friends who you interact with on a weekly basis? I feel fortunate to have some close friends who are my political opposites. Sometimes it’s exasperating, but I’ve learned to shift from thinking “How can you be so stupid?” to “Why do you think that way?” Then, the more I learn about how they grew up and their life journey more generally, I start to understand their politics sometimes even to the point where I think their politics are rational given their particular life experiences. Sometimes I even conclude that if my life had somehow paralleled theirs, I’d probably vote the same way as them.
Through specific friendships with a few particular conservatives, I’ve concluded that human decency eclipses partisan politics. I’ve had to acknowledge that many of my political opposites are exceptional parents, friends, people. They’re down to earth, kind, funny, committed to their families, hardworking, a huge net positive in their communities. Dan, who wrote a lengthy heartfelt reply to you is a great example of that. So my questions. Know any Trump voters? Any desire to?
Alison: I wonder if my first response prompted this question or if it came to you outside of that first post. I hope that my anger and frustration would not suggest, somehow, a reflexive lack of empathy for those on the other side of my political views. My entire frustration boils down to a lack of rigorous empathy for people living outside of one’s own experience and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to deny that to anyone else. I’m not always successful in doing so, but it is a process I try to stay continuously and actively engaged in.
The long and the short of it is that no, not many of the people I am close to are Trump supporters. Yes, I would like to know more people who voted for him. Most realistically, I do and plan to continue to take time to read and listen and learn about people who are my political and cultural opposites. I understand that communities I am not a part of, who vote differently than me, are suffering, economically and culturally.
But, I can understand and empathize with an experience or point of view and still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally. Empathy is not the same thing as forgiveness. The former does not predispose the latter. I want to understand more about what led those who voted for Trump to do so, with my mind open and prepped for the changes that should occur when new information is received. But I also cannot accept that anyone deserves less in life than anyone else and I do believe that voting for Trump imperiled that human truth. He is openly racist, openly misogynistic, openly hateful. I understand that most people do not intend to cause harm with their actions, but the reality of our present situation means that people who have been the subjects of his disparagement are going to fall into harm. Legislatively, culturally, and personally. I don’t disparage the humanity of anyone who voted for him but I do disagree with the decision to vote for him, vehemently and morally.
For a moment, I’d like to step away from your specific question, and address the larger context that it lives in. The question of “How can we better empathize and understand Trump voters?” is an important question, but one that I see taking over the post-election narrative, and I want to push back against that. We need more understanding, full stop. From the left of the right, and from the right of the left. Over half of the country voted for the candidate that did not win. That is a somewhat damning state of affairs for the Republican party and the right should be asking themselves to better understand the lives and struggles of the minorities that overwhelmingly voted against their agenda. In addition, to switch back to the left side of the isle, the fact that the main question being asked is about understanding Trump supporters, and not, “What do we need to do now to help protect the vulnerable?” further serves to erase the marginalized from the national narrative. I am not saying that individual instances of asking this question do this – of course this question needs to asked, and between two white, privileged people like you and I it is especially appropriate – but that as a trend, it does.
Ron: Seems like you jump pretty quickly from “understand and empathize with an experience or point of view” and “still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally.” Maybe it’s too much to ask the most disappointed Clintonistas to take the time to truly inquire into their political opponents’ worldviews. I get that you want to step away from the question in order to “help protect the vulnerable”. And I get that for the sake of my graduate student from Jordan, I need to do whatever I can to make sure DACA is implemented, but I can’t help but wonder whether, at some point, “protecting the vulnerable” becomes paternalistic. I write that, knowing full well in this Day and Age of Hyper-Partisanship, it may cost me the liberal base of the Democratic Party if I decide to run in 2020. More seriously, let me try to pose this gut feeling as a question designed to extend the discussion.
Granted, children living in poverty and victims of sexual abuse, and we could go on and on, need adult advocates like you and me to fight for enlightened public policies that protect them. But what about the Detroit autoworker who lost her job as a result of economic globalization or her autoworker son who makes one-third of what she did ten years ago? Is there a difference between “empowering the vulnerable” and “protecting them”? Where should the agency for more enlightened policy come from? Within historically marginalized communities themselves or sympathetic allies like yourself? Why?