Never underestimate what lengths people will go to when they are scared.
The appalling bigotry that Trump so casually associates with is easy to identify, and even in some sense stand up to. One need not look too hard to find dedicated organizations and individuals combatting all the various Trump -isms and we owe them more of our support now more than ever. They will need our resources, our time, our sweat and our tears and a continued commitment to support them long after Donald Trump vacates the White House. Or his hotel room, wherever he ends up staying. Those among us who are staring at a particularly difficult future as a result of Trump’s election need our love as much if not more than our donations to these causes.
But until you actually take the time to really wrestle with the reality that millions of people fall in that big grey spectrum between Alt-right-carrot-demon-worshipping-internet-troll and your progressive Facebook friends circle, cloaking yourself in the moral righteousness of anti-bigotry isn’t going to keep getting you from kicked in the head by the dark horse that surprised millions on Election Day. It feels so right and so good to be on the winning side of history. There are people so lost in their bigotry and fear that we can’t reach and whom we will need to leave behind as we try to reshape the world for the better. But focusing on that vision at the expense of dealing with the on the ground reality of where we are holds us back from accomplishing that work.
I hate it too: it’s hard to accept that a sizable chunk of Americans are either outright bigots or so scared that they find comfort in one. This is hardly new to the most marginalized among us or anyone who has spent any amount of time watching our political discourse. We should expect better from everyone: it is ludicrous that anyone — regardless of political affiliation or station — sees Donald Trump as anything other than a narcissistic, amoral, apolitical con-man with a racist streak surpassed only by his unending capacity for venal opportunism. That some people voted for him at all as a rejection of a political establishment that they very understandably feel has failed them will always be incomprehensible for me. A self-professed and unsubstantiated billionaire who commissions portraits of himself to hang in buildings he shoots reality TV and beauty pageants in, who shamefully exploits his workers, his celebrity and our laws — this is not someone who is the cure to what ails… anything. He is an odious representation of our country’s worst id.
Resisting such an obvious clown shouldn’t be something we even needed to expend brain cells on. Whether or not he is our fault — and yes, Dear Reader, that includes you — he is our problem we don’t have the luxury to merely mock anymore. He’s here because we collectively did not do enough to nurture and protect the civic institutions that would otherwise have rejected him outright. His sensationalism bought him billions in free advertising from our media. His celebrity has shielded him from the blowback of scandal after scandal and scam after scam. But ending the conversation there ignores a fundamental reality: he will be in the White House because millions of people in this country feel increasingly scared in a world they feel has left them behind. A world that has them so scared they cling ever harder to guns and a rejection of otherness to maintain some semblance of control that they feel slipping away from them. It is only through this lense of fear that I’ve found a way to make sense of this result, because I sure as hell am not going to come to an understanding of it through demographics polling statistics alone.
Some part of that fear are because of -isms, which we need to stand up and reject louder than ever. Some part of that fear is undeniably and tragically human. That is the part that the part that our love can beat back. That is the part that our collectively empathy and compassion can reach. It won’t always succeed. But it must be attempted. That is what “Love trumps hate” means.
The manifestation of fear we’ve seen from a stereotypical Trump supporter is hugely different than the kind of fear and anger that motivated Occupiers in Zuccotti park, but is it really at its core all that different? Maybe we can’t find common ground in what we fear or how we fear, but can we find common ground that we fear? Can we all challenge ourselves to do what so many couldn’t in the last eight years and look beyond our fears to translate our emapthy into real concrete action and policy?
When Trump glided down that escalator, I not so secretly hoped he would win the GOP nomination so that he could get crushed in the general. “Finally”, I said, “finally someone can unambiguously force the GOP to see what so many of us see when we look at their policies and values.” The election result made me realize that this is not work that we can ask only half the country to do. I’ve been in a very introspective place for the last week and I have come to accept that I did not do enough.
It seems so obvious in retrospect: why would being informed, voting, and tending to your local community ever be enough in a country to vast and so diverse that few among us can hope to ever even see more than a fraction of it? What did that do to really engage with the deep divides that we talk and feel so passionately about? What did “being right” do to help people those so lost in their fear that they cling to it and act in ways that are so wrong?
Truly meaningful change is hard and it rarely feels good to get into bed with. But right now, we collectively don’t have a choice but to lean the fuck into it. I know I’m going to. I don’t know what my specific contribution will be just yet, but all I know is that I never felt more compelled to put my money where my mouth is than right now. If that means moving to Kansas and running for dog catcher so that I can be a voice for change in an otherwise red district, so be it: this all needs to be on the table now. Forget my cozy liberal enclaves I’ve lived in all my life, it’s time to get my hands dirty and make some changes. Maybe it means more traditional political activism. Maybe it means finding something else entirely. I don’t know what my answer to this is yet.
This is NOT normal. This isn’t “my gal didn’t win”. This is horribly frightening. The best case scenario here is having someone with no moral compass, no convictions, no experience, no allegiance, no empathy, and no dignity taking on the task of learning to be our representative to a planet with deep turmoil and painful wounds that millions of better men and women haven’t solved yet. All the while hoping that he can be expected to resist his and his entourage’s darker impulses to wantonly exercise the immense economic, social, and military arsenal at their disposal. Make no mistake, we are all right to be concerned and we need to recognize that what we are facing is unprecendented and terrifying.
I have little hope that Trump will be anything other than a disaster but I am hoping that he becomes the most important president we’ve ever had. I hope he’s the one that teaches all of us the cost of not being able to lead with love. So please, let’s get through the next four years by being better, kinder and wiser than what we saw from congressional republicans for the last eight years. Resistance is not the same as intransigence. Take a page from Cory Booker’s incredibly necessary playbook and work to find ways to love together as a country again. Maybe start with finding a way to love the world around you for a minute instead of just being afraid of and for it.
It’s stomach turning: Trump is going to be our president. Protest what he represents. Protest what he does. Protest what he says he will do. Figure out what you’re willing to do and sacrifice to really make the world a better place. But never lose sight of the fact that this fear that we feel right now is how a lot of people have felt for 8 years, however irrational and alien it seemed to you before. Fear paralyzes. Hatred narrows. Fear cannot be an excuse to hate, but to not acknowledge that fear is real it is to never heal it. You cannot invalidate the experiences of half of the people around you and expect them to want to work with you.
Love. Commitment. Sacrifice. Those are the antitodes to fear. I am heartened that there is so much of these qualities on display from so many protestors lately. Let us please hang on to that, because it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.