Stand up and listen

I’ve debated whether or not I should write about politics here, since I don’t consider myself an expert and it’s easy to be taken out of context. But I think this election has made it clear that we all need to do a lot of soul-searching, and more than that we need to hear from each other and work together to understand and repair the damage this election has wrought. This is my attempt to contribute to that process.

A friend recently said he’s not sure what scared him more: that some people voted for Trump because of his incendiary racist, misogynist, and xenophobic statements, or that so many people voted for him in spite of them. Personally, the second type worries me much more: the “Trump change voters”, who voted for him not because he’s so great but because they think whatever he does as president, it can’t be as bad as what we’ve had up till now. I am shocked that so many otherwise decent, hardworking, and honest Americans are willing to overlook the hateful speech that infected every moment of Trump’s campaign, thinking he’s the lesser of two evils.

I don’t think these Trump change voters put on moral blindfolds or suffered complete ethical breakdowns. I truly do not believe that so many people would actively support barring entry to a billion Muslims or questioning the legitimacy of a judge simply for being of Mexican descent. (Of course a few would, but I don’t believe they make up anywhere near a majority of those voters. I hope I’m right in that belief.)

In fact I also don’t believe that so many people would actively support a president who enacted those measures. I think that many of Trump’s supporters simply believed that his comments were bravado that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

My real fear is that this incredible willingness to overlook such hateful speech will set in motion gears that no one, not even Trump himself, will be able to stop. After all, human beings are creatures of language, and all great human tragedies started with words that should have been taken seriously but weren’t.

Human beings are creatures of language, and all great human tragedies started with words that should have been taken seriously but weren’t.

As we’ve seen in the news following the election, the legitimacy that the election conferred on such language has already emboldened the extreme elements of the alt-right to not only speak but also act on their hatred.

And as time goes on, unless we work hard to delegitimize them, those ideas will become ever more mainstream.

So what can we do?

I actually don’t think that protests are the right vehicle for progress. It’s true that protests will play an important role and we must never hesitate to voice our opposition to unjust actions or policies. Targeted protests that shine light on specific consequences of this election, such as increasing racist and sexist violence, harassment, and discrimination, will be necessary and crucial to containing the damage.

But protests that are just catch-all anti-Trump rallies, while legitimate and perhaps helpful as a release valve for our shared frustration and anger, won’t convince our fellow citizens that we’re worth listening to. In fact they will likely inflame animosity on both sides, pushing us to retrench along party lines and to gravitate towards the most extreme versions of each side’s beliefs.

More importantly, protests won’t convince the Trump change voters that we are listening to them. One recurring theme of this election is how so many Trump voters, often described vaguely as “the white working class”, said that they feel they’ve been excluded from the political system by both the left and the right.

The desire to be heard, to be acknowledged, and to be considered is fundamental to every person’s self-esteem and self-worth. We can argue about whether white working class voters have or have not received due consideration from the establishment, but if at the end of the day they feel like they’ve been abandoned, they will vote based on that feeling.

So I think one of the first steps we should take is to start listening to them and furthermore to make sure they know that we’re listening. We don’t have to agree with them and we may not be able to change their minds, but simply by sitting down at the table and hearing what they have to say, we can help show that there are ways to be heard and effect change that don’t involve grabbing women by the pussy, banning entire religions, or building a wall.