Personal Responsibility; or Why I’m Not Ready to Let Trump Voters Off the Hook
It’s Tuesday morning, November 15, 2016. One week ago, I woke up nervous but optimistic. By 9 pm Pacific, my optimism was all but spent and panic — real, vicious panic — set in. By 9:30, I was a third of the way through a bottle of Old Crow. At around 10, I turned off the election and fully committed myself to a complete body- and mind-numbing drunk. It helped. But not much. I slept about two hours and spent Wednesday cycling through 4 of the 5 stages of grief. Acceptance could go to hell wearing a Make America Great Again hat.
By Friday, I was carpet-bombing social media, hunting a way to assuage my fear, scouring Twitter and Facebook for any means to expunge my anger, frustration, and confusion. A friend called to ask if I was doing ok. I took a deep breath. He encouraged me to unplug, implement a social media/Internet blackout. I agreed.
So for this past weekend, I disconnected. I watched the Timberwolves lose to one LA team and pummel the other. I read comic books. I hung out with my wife and enjoyed her company. We went to see a great movie (Arrival, and it’s message of understanding and peace felt like the universe was both laughing at me and giving me exactly what I needed). We ate great tacos. We lounged and watched TV. We, mostly, avoided the election.
But the election post-mortems kept needling me. Not because they had it figured out but because no one had a clue. Fingers were pointed. Blame tossed. Theories examined. Arguments debated. Conspiracies contemplated. Everyone underestimated Trump’s appeal. It was an “anti-establishment” or “anti-PC” election. Hillary was a bad candidate and campaigner. Racism had shown its true face. Trump voters were angry and frustrated because government had left them behind. It was refutation of the Obama agenda. Democrats never understood the Trump voter and never cared to.
Here’s the twist: To one degree or another, all of the above are true.
When Obama was elected, especially the first time, he was expected to be a transformational President, but he turned out to be a center-left pragmatist. Many on the Left felt abandoned. Many on the Right focused on his “socialist” policies. A lot of people saw no change for the better in the way government operated or in their lives. Obamacare saved people’s lives, but it also dug deeply into people’s pocketbooks. Few of the warmongering policies of the Bush years were discontinued. The country recovered from the 2008 financial meltdown, but it didn’t RECOVER and that recovery never made it to many parts of the country.
Hillary was more of the same, and she had the huge disadvantage of being part of the political establishment for the past 25 years. And that’s not forgiving her own flaws. Her perfectly manicured political persona can come across as fake and self-serving. She fails to inspire. The emails, Benghazi (both of which were partisan witch hunts, but she didn’t handle them well, either in real-time or as they affected her campaign — Edit. I thought about this a lot and come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t matter how she handled these events. People who wanted to dislike her were going to use them regardless. My proof? For the email, gwb43.com and all the Republicans who had their own private email issues. For Benghazi, 13 embassy attacks under Bush, 0 investigations; also, Benghazi-8 separate Congressional committees investigating, 9/11–2 committees).
Democrats have no monopoly on looking down their noses at opponents, so I’m a bit tired of hearing that the “elites” mocked the “working class” in this election. But much of the Left has long looked at Red America as dumb America. They (meaning we) have been perfectly happy to ignore them. And the Democratic Party certainly haven’t taken the time necessary to understand the frustrations of those who never saw an economic recovery, those who worked harder for less, those who felt that progress was leaving them behind, not while they held power nor during the campaign. The Left decided Trump was unfit for the job and made this a cornerstone of the campaign, without realizing that not only was his “unfitness” part of his appeal but also that every attack on him only galvanized his support. It’s a natural human response. We circle the wagons against outside incursion. So I’m on-board with any and all attempts to weave the working class back into the Democratic Party and to find ways to understand the people we disagree with. No person is only who they voted for. No group is a monolith.
But racism and white nationalism did play a powerful role in this election. To say otherwise is to ignore reality, to say “I voted for Trump but I’m not a racist” is to miss the point. Trump never hid who we was. Not when he made birtherism — a racist and ridiculous conspiracy — mainstream. Not when he mocked a disabled person. Not when he chose Mike Pence as his VP, a man who wrote an editorial admonishing Mulan for giving girls the idea that they could be in the military, signed a bill to jail same-sex couples for applying for a marriage license, believes in conversion therapy for gay people, and forced women to have funerals for their miscarriages. Not when he implied that Carly Fiorina couldn’t win the Presidency because “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” Not when he said he wanted to ban Muslims until we figure out what’s going on. Not when he incited violence at his rallies. Not when he wanted to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it (one of the most ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky campaign promises I’ve ever heard). Not when he attacked John McCain for being captured in Viet Nam. Not when he went after a Gold Star military family because they were Muslim. Not when he hired Steve Bannon — a racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic misogynist (you can reorder that list any way you want) — as his campaign chair. Not when the KKK officially supported him (no, he has no control over what the KKK does; yes, his rhetoric is the reason the KKK supported him).
If you voted for Trump, you have to reconcile the above list (along with Trump’s history, his other racist/sexist statements, his policy positions, his complete lack of experience, and his gigantic ego) with that vote (just as I must reconcile Hillary’s flaws with my vote). Maybe you voted for Trump as a middle finger to the establishment. Maybe you voted for him because you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary. Maybe you voted for him because you think his business acumen (such as it is) will be a boon to the American economy. Maybe you voted for him because a Trump presidency will at least be “interesting.” Maybe you truly believed he was the better person for the job.
Regardless of your specific reason, if you voted for Trump, you made the decision that your reason was more important then his racism, his misogyny, his demagoguery, his authoritarianism. I understand that you are most likely not a racist/sexist/homophobe in your daily life. But you must realize that you can be an enabler of racism, sexism, and homophobia without believing in any of them (real truth, we all do it everyday and most of the time don’t even realize it). You don’t get to wave away the horrible things he said and did. You must come to terms with the fact that you knew what you were getting and you voted for it anyway. Now you own all of what that means.
The impulse to forgiveness and understanding is an honorable one. I respect anyone who looks at the results of this election and believes that we need to do a better job of understanding the other side. I am trying my best to see things that way. I am trying my best to fight the impulse to see everyone who disagrees with me as my enemy. I am trying my best to take off the blinders and be truthful with myself about myself. But Trump voters need to do the same. If you want forgiveness and understanding, you should also offer it. If you don’t want to be associated with the horrible aspects of Trump, then you must stand against them. This isn’t about who you voted for last week. This is about what you do next. In an election in which Trump won the Electoral College but Hillary is on pace to garner more votes than any Presidential candidate but Obama, there is no mandate. There is only our honesty with each other and ourselves.