Empathy Without Forgiveness

Since Trump was elected President, I’ve seen a lot of posts and think pieces dedicated to dissecting exactly why and how this happened, and who the large group of Trump supporters are that aren’t racists or bigots or sexists who voted for him anyway. If you’re interested in some longer thoughts on this, I recommend this article, but essentially, these people are white, blue collar, rural Americans who feel left behind and forgotten by a system that has abandoned them.

For years, manufacturing jobs have been flooding out of the US. Coal mines have been shut down. Entire towns in rural America have lost their jobs and their means to provide for their families. Though many aspects of our economy have bounced back since the great recession, these people’s lives have remained largely unchanged. They feel abandoned. They feel forgotten. They feel like no part of the system is actually working for them or cares about them.

So what happens? Along comes a candidate who says “I will bring your job back.” Whether its through reopening a coal mine or renegotiating a trade deal to bring manufacturing back to the US, he tells them exactly what they want to hear. And that’s all they hear. And that’s all they care about, and it’s what drives them to the polls. Not the racism and hatred, but in spite of it.

I get that. It is truly awful what has happened to these people. They deserve better lives, and they deserve a voice in our system. Here’s the thing though: I empathize with them, but I do not forgive them.

You do not get to pick and choose the aspects of a candidate your vote supports. We don’t get to say, “Well here’s part of my vote to support these things you said, but I don’t agree with these other things.” It is all or nothing. When you cast a vote in our system, you accept everything that comes along with the person you voted for, so when that person is a hate-filled monster, you don’t get to just focus on the parts you liked and that spoke to you. You enabled all of his hatred and bigotry; you sent a message to the people that thinking and saying these things is okay; you sold out your fellow Americans who lie in his crosshairs.

The underlying message, then, is that your problems and the things that concern you are more important than the well-being of wide swaths of people. Maybe you purport to care about the ones Trump “others” and actively seeks to harm, but you don’t care enough. You pretend his darkness doesn’t matter. How much damage could a President really do, after all? Turns out, unsurprisingly, quite a bit, the beginnings of which we are starting to see as Trump’s cabinet unveilings just get worse and worse. It’s a who’s who of deplorables and Washington insiders you probably actively voted against.

It didn’t have to be this way. In fact, a lot of the problems you face are shared by communities of color. This could have been your opportunity to empathize, to gather a better perspective on the plights of Americans who have been pushed to the sidelines for hundreds of years, as you feel you have now. We could have come together and built a better understanding of one another’s problems, even some of our shared struggles, but instead you chose the easy way. You chose to listen to a snake oil salesman who promised to solve your problems on the backs of the disenfranchised. The sad irony is that for all the damage Trump will inflict on the poor, on immigrants, on people of color, on the queer community, on Muslims, he won’t fix your problems either. In fact, he might make them worse for the benefit of himself and his rich friends.

You sold us out for a lie. You sold us out because of your hardship; one that is not negligible, I will grant you that. You deserve empathy. You deserve a voice. You deserve better. But I will never forgive you.