To My Fellow Liberal Artists: What We Can Do About Donald Trump
It’s been a hard two weeks for us.
We’ve mourned, we’ve cried, we’ve feared. Now, we have to try to process what happened, to figure out what steps we can take to make this new world as kind, as tolerant, as loving as possible. How we can keep someone like him from ever coming into power again.
In the face of so much hate, so much terror, it may seem as though there is nothing we can do. That we are helpless.
But we are not.
It can be difficult to pinpoint the reasons someone supported Trump, and each voter is an individual with a personalized set of motivations. However, it’s worth trying to find the key factors behind “why”, so that we can zero in on the problems in our society that need fixing.
Those who are openly racist, sexist, or homophobic have a clear motivation. We blame other’s support on vague, hard-to-prove traits: a lack of political awareness, a reliance on Facebook memes for news, an inability or unwillingness to engage in critical thinking or common sense.
While those traits may be true in some cases, they clearly aren’t in all. There are numerous Trump supporters who are intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful people. However, there is one trait that does seem to be more universal, that seems to color a majority of Trump supporters, and even many of those who chose to abstain from voting at all (or who wrote in a dead gorilla).
The problem is a lack of empathy.
Even those Trump supporters who are not intolerant voted for a candidate who is intolerant (if only for his choice of running mate). Trump’s supporters chose their own self interests over the lives and rights of marginalized groups. LGBTQ+ people, women, the poor, single parents, people of color, immigrants - all were cast aside for the sake of a protest vote, or a chance to shake up the establishment, or a devotion to pet issues.
When those who would be affected negatively by Trump’s platform spoke up, they were dismissed. Ignored. Even the Trump supporters who were uncomfortable with Trump’s statements about Mexicans, or his selection of Mike Pence, or his bragging about sexual assault, chose to silence those fears. They said they were willing “to take the risk”, even when it wasn’t their lives at risk.
They made it clear that they didn’t hear those that Trump targeted, that they didn’t care. That these groups weren’t even real to them, were not flesh-and-blood, living people.
That’s where we come in.
Our job as artists is to make another world real for people, to allow people to lose themselves in a character, or point of view, or an event they have never experienced. Whether we speak through a photograph, or a novel, or a song, or a film, we have to reach deep inside another person, pull them from themselves, make them care.
Especially for artists who, like myself, are members of marginalized groups, now is the time to tell our stories. Now is the time to speak out, to share our experiences, to try to move people in whatever ways we can. To let Trump supporters know who we are, what are lives look like, what we stand to lose. We have to let them know that we are real people, with lives and dreams and hopes just as valid as their own. We have to let them see what harmful polices could do to our lives. We have to make them care.
This goes both ways. A large number of Trump supporters have said they voted for him because they felt heard for the first time, they felt that Trump knew them and valued their experiences. They claim that liberals don’t hear their stories at all, that we don’t feel for them, that we dismiss and stereotype and harm them as much as Trump does us. That we hate them for living in rural areas, for being religious, for working blue collar jobs.
I’ve been brushing aside this stereotype of liberals for too long, because it doesn’t fit with my personal experience. I grew up in rural areas, with family and neighbors who were struggling in towns that felt forgotten. I chose a political party partly based on which one I felt was more likely to help those I grew up with, which one I thought would do more for blue collar workers and farmers and small business owners. My own Christianity, which is the most important thing to me, led me to becoming more and more liberal, the two beliefs not fighting, but strengthening each other. I was fighting for them, I was one of them-how could they claim I hated them?
But that was a mistake. If someone feels unheard, they are. I at least didn’t hear their cry of feeling forgotten, neglected, ignored. I may have been fighting for them, but I didn’t let them know that I was.
What’s more, there is undoubtedly truth to their complaint. I’ve had to shut down liberal friends from insulting those that live in in the south or the midwest. I’ve had to correct them when they assumed everyone who lives in a rural area is hateful, small-minded, or ignorant.
We need to be empathetic to them as well. We need to hear their stories. We need to allow ourselves to be moved for those struggling in rural areas, in dying towns. What’s more, we need to let them know we hear them. We have to show them we care. That we’re fighting for them just as much as we are anyone else. No one is going to listen if they don’t feel listened to.
We have so much work ahead of us, especially in these next four years. We have to create, to share, to move those around us. We have to tell our stories, and the stories of those we fight for who may not have a voice, who may be silenced by the next administration.
We have to make people feel for those who are trangender, or bisexual, or an illegal immigrant, or mentally ill, or an out of work coal miner, or a single parent on food stamps. We have to tell those stories.
Love trumps hate, but people seldom love without first feeling empathy. The first step is to make people care, to make them feel for those they cast aside, dismiss, or hate.
We cannot allow ourselves to be hopeless. We cannot allow them to make us be quiet. Tell your story, tell others stories, in the way that’s best for you. Dance, paint, sing, write, film videos, photograph.
They cannot hear us if we do not speak. So speak out, however you can.