Dear Rural and Rust-Belt White People,
My Facebook friends hate you.
(In case it’s not clear, I write here using imperfect generalizations. I know, #notallwhitepeople and #notallfacebookfriends. Read on.)
We all heard in the media how your votes won the election for Donald Trump. How you stood with Trump despite his obvious and disqualifying shortcomings against our candidate here in the coastal cities, Hillary Clinton. How you overlooked his racism, misogyny, ignorance, narcissism, and mendacity to propel him, state by state, to the nomination and through the general election campaign.
How you fell under the influence of hateful demagoguery and pseudo-journalism to believe that President Obama is illegitimate, Clinton is crooked, and Trump will make America great again. How you bemoan the loss of your white privilege through growing multiculturalism and competition for your disappearing low-skill jobs.
How you feel like you are the real Americans, and we are just pretenders.
A mosaic of individuals from the coastal cities and Chicago, my Facebook friends — not all, but a lot of them — hate you for what you did to our country on Election Day.
They can’t stand you for your ongoing behaviors, either. They think you follow your faith blindly and turn a blind eye toward science. They think you are happy to execute criminals and tolerate gun deaths to preserve your right to carry a weapon to Wal-Mart, yet you are quick to rescue the life of the fetus that is preventing a woman from having control of her body. They think you are backwards for not embracing diversity and global trade and cooperation. They think you only have yourselves to blame for your inability to adapt to the new globalized economy.
They think you are closed-minded to welcome those who are different only if they bend to your ways. When you protest when they don’t, my Facebook friends call you bigots.
We don’t understand you.
And that is why I cannot hate you.
I am a white cis-male heterosexual moderately-religious Jewish-American with a master’s degree. (We think we shouldn’t have to explain to you that cis-male means identifying with my biological male sex, by the way.) I have only ever lived in the New York metro area. I used to belong to a teachers’ union, and then I worked for a secular nonprofit. My Facebook friends are counting on people like me to hate you. But I cannot oblige.
I cannot hate you because I don’t know how you feel. I see the desperation in your part of the country in documentaries, but I have never experienced it. I don’t mind paying federal taxes that disproportionately benefit your part of the country, but I don’t know how or how well that money is being spent. I appreciate how you directly contribute to the safety and prosperity of our nation, but I have no idea what it’s like to mine coal or serve in the military. I abhor the lack of propriety on the increase in our country (though we disagree on what constitutes impropriety), but I don’t fear the wrath of God because of it.
I don’t know you. But you are America, too, and I need to learn to embrace you.
I have questions about you. What’s your story? How and when did your ancestors arrive here and set down roots where you are now? When was America great to you, and what made it great? How have things changed for the worse for you in your lives in recent decades? What is still great about where you live? What are your dreams for the future?
How much are you like me? We both probably love our country and history and the Constitution. (Seriously, I really love it and have studied it thoroughly.) I’m sure we are both inspired by our country’s natural beauty. We both must also love our family above all else. But I’m not Christian, like you probably are. I have a somewhat different perspective than you. For example, I love the giving spirit around the shortest days of the year, but I don’t like how Christmas dominates the entire culture at that time. I’d imagine you can’t understand that. I also love learning about the country and the world from NPR, The New York Times, and TV news channels not called Fox. Do you think I’m being hoodwinked by the mainstream media? And I imagine you don’t care for Jon Stewart and his associates. What makes you laugh about society?
(Generalizations here again, remember.)
Why do you distrust accredited experts and the knowledge they generate? Why do you think that the non-English immigrants of the past were any more of an orderly, acceptable bunch than today’s? Why do you act regarding those not like you in ways that seem so far from loving thy neighbor and the Golden Rule? Why do you think that you need guns to defend yourselves against a government of laws, not men? If the federal government shouldn’t protect the environment, how else can this public good be effectively protected for our children’s children? Do you really think that America is an overwhelmingly righteous country in the global order, despite our tendency to not cooperate and to exert our influence selfishly?
Why do you trust Donald Trump, a demonstrably despicable human being? In over a year on the campaign trail, he’s shown he can only give us slogans, lies, and insults; concentrate only enough for tweeting, and not for preparing for more than thirty good minutes of debating; and flesh out basically one policy proposal — building the wall. Why do you think that he will actually make your lives better? Given Hillary Clinton’s complicated life in the public eye, why do you ascribe more evil intent to her manner of reaching her ambitions in politics than you do for anyone else? Especially for any man? Would you have shed tears looking at your sleeping children on Election Night and thinking about how a Clinton victory would negatively impact their lives, as I did when looking at my innocent little girls and thinking about their new President, a confirmed misogynist? Would you, like me, be considering civil disobedience in the name of human values, had your candidate lost the election? What do you think of me seeing more to like in the #notmypresident movement than to reject?
Do you and your Facebook friends really think that we in the coastal cities are some sort of other and un-American?
My Facebook friends believe that about you. I love America too much to agree with them.
I don’t know you, but I really want to learn about you, and from you, and with you. I hope you’ll say the same about me. I hope we all say that increasingly about each other. Our nation needs that much more than we need someone to make us great again. (Even more than we need to say “I’m with her.”)
Just as you are looking forward to the next four years, I am dreading them. There will be no greatness to America if you don’t understand that there will be real costs to the changes that were promised to you. Not just costs to our national debt and international relations, but to the things that make America unique: a free and professional press, a healthy civil society, and broad inclusion of those from all walks of life. There will also be no greatness to America if we don’t understand that we haven’t made room for you to share in our country’s prosperity. That it is wrong to condescend to you. That we rely on each other to achieve great-nation status. Like it (or her) or not, we really are stronger together.
I expect to be challenged by your responses to my letter, if you choose to respond. I expect to be insulted, even. After all, there were some pretty harsh sentiments expressed about you here, and I’m sure you have some about us, as well. We can be a pretty smug lot, after all, and so self-absorbed that we’ve traded in our in-person friends for Facebook friends that we don’t have to make an effort to see in the community or at our houses of worship. Mentioning that and other failings on our part is fair, and I won’t take it personally. I even expect some nastiness because that’s the Internet, but if that’s the majority response, I’ll withdraw this letter and cry in my organic craft beer. Not because I’ll be hurt, but because this experiment in outreach failed.
We’ll be living together in the reality you chose for the next four years. You’re ready to celebrate, and I’m ready to protest, and that’s fine. But if we don’t try to see things from each other’s perspective, our Facebook friends will continue to hate each other. Let’s leave the ire that comes out so easily on Facebook behind. Let’s challenge our friends, Facebook and actual, when we hear them speak in the language of hate and prejudice. Let’s build real relationships with those who are different from us. If there’s anything we can agree on, it has to be that love must trump hate. We are and will be American, together.