Here’s the thing: It’s not about politics.
Before anything else, let me get this out of the way: I’m a Democrat. You, as a Trump voter, are probably a Republican. We’ve likely got different views on the way the country should be run.
There are things I’m a little more conservative about. For example, I don’t have a problem with private, responsible gun ownership. And I’m sure, if we were talking face to face, I’d be able to nail down a thing or two you — as a Trump voter and probable Republican — are little more liberal about. But by and large, we differ on a number of very big, very important things with regard to American governance. And that’s fine.
I don’t want to talk about Democrat vs. Republican. I also don’t want to give you yet another angry anti-Trump rant, because I feel like the election cycle gave us more than enough angry rants on both sides of the aisle, with the end result being nothing but more anger.
As a Trump voter, maybe you’ve been the target of some of that anger. Maybe you’ve lost friends or family — in your day-to-day life or just on social media — to the heated atmosphere surrounding the election and its aftermath. Maybe it made sense to you, or maybe it seemed inexplicable. Hell, maybe some of it was inexplicable. A lot of people are very, very angry, and some of them are going to lash out irresponsibly. That’s immature, unproductive, and unfortunate. I can’t make an excuse for it.
What I want to talk about is the backlash to the backlash: the way I’ve seen huge numbers of Trump voters or supporters responding to the reaction of folks on the left. I want to clarify something I think is hugely important if we’re going to move forward as a country and better understand one another.
As has been covered time and time again, us Democrats were blindsided by the election results in part because as a party we didn’t pay enough mind to just how much hurting, poverty, despair, and hopelessness is out there. The message “America is great because America is good” doesn’t really resonate with people working three part-time jobs just to keep food on the table because the local factory shut down. That’s a reality the party’s going to have to tackle going forward, and only time will tell if we’ll be successful.
But what I’ve noticed since the election is a similar blindness on the part of a whole lot — not all, by any means, but a lot — of Trump voters, who write off post-election anger from the left as entirely a matter of political disagreement.
I’ve already taken too long to get to the point, but here it is: A significant chunk of that post-election anger isn’t about politics, and dismissing it as simple political difference of opinion is every bit as unproductive and short-sighted as the Democrats’ pre-election ignorance.
I’ll put this out there: I wasn’t wild about Hillary as a candidate. I came around to her, definitely, but it took me a while. There are a few Republicans I can think of who, had they run against her, might have even had my vote. Ultimately, though, the moment Trump accepted his party’s nomination was the moment I knew I was voting for whomever the Democrats put out there.
I say that because I want you, as a Trump voter, to understand that my decision wasn’t as simple as “Republicans bad, Democrats good.” Rather, it was a repudiation of the rhetoric Trump made a part of his daily output: the anti-Muslim sentiment, the anti-immigrant sentiment, the decades’ worth of misogynist or sexist statements, the engendering of hate speech, his breaking bread with a notorious anti-Semite, the lack of respect for veterans, the fact that he was being supported by hate groups nationwide…you’ve heard it all before.
The thing I want to point out to you is that none of those things are political in nature — they’re personal. They pertain to ideals and beliefs and principles, not political standards. To me, they directly target people I love, care about, and respect: my minority friends, my LGBTQ friends, my immigrant friends, the Jewish members of my family, the veterans in my family, my wife— so I’m inclined to take support of someone firing off that kind of rhetoric more personally, especially if it’s coming from other folks I love, care about, or respect. When I see a family member talking about their support for Trump, it doesn’t read to me as that family member expressing their support for the Republican Party, it reads to me as that family member saying that all of the rhetoric spouted by Trump during the campaign was completely okay. Not just okay, actually, but preferable. Worthy of promotion.
And so it feels like a personal insult, not just a difference of political opinion. And so it gets an angrier response than a normal difference of political opinion would. And so dismissing it as a normal difference of political opinion is underestimating just how much it’s impacting the individual with which you’re speaking.
Put another way: You might be reading the situation as, “Well, I’m a Democrat so I’m just angry my side lost big,” when in reality the situation may very well be, “I’m angry because you’re directly or indirectly supporting discrimination, hate speech, and bigotry.” There’s a significant gap between those two things, and writing the latter off as the former isn’t going to fix anything.
“I didn’t cut people out of my life when Obama got elected,” I’ve seen some of your fellow Trump supporters say — and I’m positive plenty of them are telling the truth. That’s fine. But as much as you might disagree with Barack Obama’s politics, his campaign never fired off the kind of rhetoric Trump’s did, and that makes all the difference when we’re talking about the root of the anger here: For many Trump voters and Republicans, the disagreements with Obama in 2008 were were almost entirely political. For many of us on the left, the disagreements with Trump are personal. You may not see it that way, or you may think politics are personal by their nature, but that’s the rift.
So what do we do to fix it? How do we start communicating again, instead of just being angry or frustrated with one another?
We’ve got our own stuff to get over, on the Democratic side of things. Obviously, the election was a hard loss, and it’s going to take time to recover. But in the meantime, we — Democrats and Republicans all — could start repairing some of the broken bridges between friends and family by understanding where each side is coming from.
To Democrats: There’s a good chance your friend or loved one who voted for Trump doesn’t actually hold the kind of hate in their heart that you might think is required to make the choice they made. In fact, there’s a good chance they just wanted a change in political direction and didn’t see the rhetoric as anything that’d actually come to fruition.
To Trump voters: There’s a good chance your friend or loved one who has expressed anger or dismay at your voting for Trump sees the choice you made as something much more personal than political, and dismissing their feelings as the product of a difference of opinion is a surefire way to alienate them entirely. Be patient with them, and try to understand where they’re coming from, so you can respond to them in a productive manner.
To everybody: We’re never going to see eye-to-eye on politics, and that’s totally okay. We should, however, strive to communicate our differences more effectively with one another. It’s the only way forward, regardless of which side you’re on.