An Open Letter to My Friend who Voted for Donald Trump
Holy shit, right? That was unexpected.
Remember last week, when all the polls were saying your guy was gonna lose? Remember how I was so cocky, so sure Hillary was going to win, posting all those memes on Facebook about Pantsuits and Nasty Women? I’ll bet that pissed you off. I’ll bet you thought your guy was going to lose. You were girding your loins for another 4 years of a president you didn’t actually vote for.
But Trump won. Handily. And I’m not here to dispute that, my friend. Though only 26.3% of y’all pulled the lever for Trump, he won the electoral college, 290 to Clinton’s 228. It wasn’t even close. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America in January. And let me tell you, it hurts to type those words out. I am hurting right now, my friend, and I’m a little bit afraid. And, I’m not the only one. Let me explain.
When I saw you last week and you asked me how I was doing and my eyes filled with years, your brow furrowed. “You’re this upset about the election?” you asked me. “Yes,” I replied, “I am.” And then I watched the emotions play across your face. You went from being concerned about me being sad, to being concerned about what my sadness might say about you. You wondered if, perhaps, you were somehow responsible for the way I am now feeling. Am I mad at you, you wondered? Do I think you’re a racist, or an anti-semite, or a misogynist, or a xenophobe, or a homophobe, or some other label that I am certain you do not think applies to you? Am I judging you right now?
In that moment, I can see the change in your face. You are becoming defensive and guarded. When I tell you that, for the first time in 15 years, my students openly wept in my classroom, you ask me, “Why are they so upset?” When I tell you that Latinx students on my university campus have been chased down in restraurant parking lots with chants of “We’re gonna build that wall,” you say, “That’s not my fault!” When I tell you that students of color were giving away their football tickets, fearing verbal and physical abuse, you tell me, “Racism existed before this election.”
And you’re right, friend, about all of that.
I know you would never yell at a Muslim woman for her choice to wear a hijab. I know you would never spraypaint a swastika on a storefront with promises to “Make America White Again.” I know you would never march down the hallways of a high school hoisting a “Trump/Pence” sign and chanting, “White Power!” or hang a black doll in a dorm elevator in a manner recalling the lynchings of actual black Americans in the first half of the the 20th century. I know you don’t believe that there is ever a scenario when a man should grab a woman by her pussy.
I know you would never do or say any of those reprehensible things, my friend, because I know you. You’re my neighbor, my student, my mother, my pharmacist, and my uncle. Our kids go to school together, play baseball together, and do plays together. I have made pancakes for your daughter after a sleepover and you have accompanied my son on field trips when I had to work. I brought your garbage cans back to the curb when you were out of town and you picked up the beer cans that were tossed in our lawn after homecoming. We have looked each other in the eyes many times. I have tickled your baby’s toes. Our votes this November were different, but our lives remain deeply, stubbornly, intertwined.
So that’s why I’m writing you this letter, My Friend Who Voted for Trump. I am writing this letter so that I can tell you that while I believe that, in the long term, the election of Donald Trump to POTUS will cause great harm to the United States in terms of the economy, foreign policy, education, the environment, and social justice, and because I believe that, in the short term, the election of Donald Trump to POTUS will cause great harm to African Americans, Muslims, Jews, Latinx, women, immigrants (both legal and illegal) and the LGBTQ community, I nevertheless do not hate you for making this choice. I don’t think you’re a bad person. In fact, America needs your help right now, and I think you are up to the task.
I know that when you voted for Donald Trump, you did not do so because you hate people who are not like you or because you want to punish or hurt them. My guess is that you voted for Donald Trump because you are a Republican party loyalist, and you always support your party’s nominee. You might have voted for Trump because you believed him when he told you that he could bring American jobs back to the Rust Belt. Or maybe you voted for Trump because you are so frustrated with the status quo that you believe Trump might bring some, any, kind of change, no matter how erratic, to the White House. Or maybe you voted for Trump because you believe Hillary Clinton threatened America’s security through her use of a private email server and, because she is married to Bill Clinton, former President and known philanderer, and because maybe, just a little bit, you thought she was “shrill.” None of those choices make you a bad person.
If I don’t hate you, you might be thinking, then I must look down on you. I must think I’m smarter than you, or more well-read on the issues. No, I don’t think that either. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you read more than your fair share of election coverage (even though recent studies show that what liberals and conservatives read about the same issues is wildly divergent) and that you debated many of this campaign’s key issues — the economy, immigration, emails and pussies — with friends, with people like me. And after we debated — maybe it was in a Facebook comments feed or maybe it was when we were chatting after that PTA meeting — we realized that we don’t actually see the world in opposing ways.
In fact, there are so many things that we have in common, politically speaking. We both care about the cost of health care. We both care about veterans and ending wars. We both want children to learn and be happy and thrive. We both — and I promise I won’t tell your church friends you said this — believe in a woman’s right to choose. And I know we both want everyone to stop arguing and calling each other names. We talked about that on the sidelines of our children’s soccer game. Where we differ, I think, is that I took Trump at his word when he said he would deport Mexicans, ban Muslims, and grab women by their genitals, and you didn’t. Where we differ, My Friend Who Voted for Trump, is that I believe that a society which is not post racial, post gender or post anything cannot withstand a presidency like this one without suffering great damage. And that damage will be inflicted upon the same people who always seem to bear the brunt of bad policy: people of color, people without money or families or countries to call home, people whose genders don’t match the ones on their birth certificates. These will be the first Americans to know what a Trump presidency will be like.
This letter isn’t me asking you to go protest Trump, or the electoral college, or the fact that this is the first election since 1965 without the protections of the Voting Rights Act in key swing states like North Carolina, Florida and Michigan, though I have and will continue to go protest some or all of those things. This letter is me telling you, My Friend Who Voted for Trump, why so many people are so very scared right now, and what you can do to help. There are so many ways, but here are just a few suggestions:
- There are 3.3 million Muslims living in America. Their religion does not make them terrorists. I know you know that, just as you know that not all blonde white boys are Dylann Roof. So if President Trump ever decides to make good on one of his primary election promises — to ban all Muslims from entering the United States — you must stand up for Muslim Americans.
- There are 157 million women living in America. Many are now worried that Vice President Elect Mike Pence will abolish Roe vs Wade and continue to vote against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Actually it will be pretty difficult to get rid of Roe vs Wade, if I am being honest, but he might require women who have had abortions or miscarriages, no matter what the reason or how early, to arrange funerals for their aborted fetuses. Do you really want that to happen to women? Are you really nostalgic for the days of back-alley abortions, like one Penny got in Dirty Dancing. (He used a dirty knife and a folding table!) If Pence tries to push these policies through — you must stand up for American women.
- Donald Trump has said he will “build a wall” along the southern U.S. border. The cost estimates for this public works project is approximately $25 billion (which does not include the cost of upkeep, which will need to begin as soon as construction ends). Also, it won’t work. Trump has also vowed to deport America’s 11.2 million undocumented workers, a plan which has been estimated to cost $400-$600 billion dollars. Also, it won’t work. Also, it’s unethical. Also, America has tried it before and it really sucked. So if President Trump ever decides to make good on two of his primary election promises —to build a wall and deport 11.2 million human beings— you must stand up for them.
- It won’t just be Donald Trump and Mike Pence you will have to stand up to in the next four years. Far harder will be standing up when your colleague makes a sexist joke and expects you to laugh, or when you see a good job applicant denied an interview due to his race or ethnicity. You need to do this now, more than ever, because even the FBI has admitted that hate crimes and hate speech are on the rise since this long and terrible election began. That is not progress. So you must stand up for the people who ar enow being told they don’t belong in America. And if you want to wear a safety pin while you stand up and speak out, well that’s just gravy.
- Finally, and I ask you this as both a friend and a media studies professor: before you read a news story or share a news story (whether IRL or online), or believe a news story, check your news source. I recommend a varied news diet, but one which includes well-respected and vetted news organizations like PBS, BBC and CSPAN. Because it is impossible for us to understand each other when our foundations are based on biased or inaccurate information.
If you do these things, I will know that mean it when you say “Not all Trump voters are racists/xenophobes/misogynists.” I will believe you when you say you voted for Trump because you truly think he can lead our country and make it better for all Americans. Right now, though, it’s really difficult for me to believe that. And it’s far harder for my friends who are not white, straight, cisgendered and financially stable.
So please consider that as you puzzle over why people like me are grieving right now. Please give us the benefit of the doubt, that we are not crying because we lost an election, or because we lost the first real opportunity for a woman to hold the most important political office in the world, or because Republicans are back in charge. All of those things suck, yes. But worse than all of that is the very real fear that the hard-won progress we have made as Americans in the realms of social justice and tolerance, progress which is really just in its infancy and which has so much further to go, will be cast aside with a flick of Trump’s presidential wrist. Please think about what is at stake and then promise to stand beside me and hold the Trump administration accountable every step of the way.
I believe in you.