“It seems so clear now…there are a lot of terrible people in America. Thank god I live in Manhattan and not America.”
So said my college roommate, philosophy buddy, and one of my dearest friends in New York the day after the election. I knew who those “terrible people” were that he was talking about…people in dreaded Flyover States, and even worse, southern states too far off the path of a direct flight to L.A. to even fly over.
This posed a problem for me: I now am one of those Flyover People, living in his version of Plato’s cave, watching the flickering shadows of Fox News, or perhaps as a Morlock waiting for Tucker Carlson to tell me when to come out and feed on Eloi in Manhattan. This is only a slight exaggeration of what educated Clinton voters seemed to be thinking and feeling after the election, continuing for months. I’m not certain that anything has changed even now, after a year of emotional and intellectual distance to reflect about “what happened.”
“What happened” on election day is a lot of things. But what happened in the aftermath is important too. Many of us strained and lost friendships, acquaintances, and even relationships with family and partners. If the experience of my friends and I is any indication, this was mostly a one-way street, Clinton supporters horrified at what kind of people they believed they had discovered themselves to be living among. I can only imagine the horror they felt when they realized they were floating on their urban islands in a sea of people who would actually vote for Trump. To quote the old saw, “How could he have won, I don’t know a single person who voted for him?”
Over the course of a day, I lost my college roommate as a friend, for the crime of trying to explain why other people voted for Trump on his Facebook page. He had some horrified things to say reminiscent of our last president’s attitude about ignorant people clinging to their guns and religion. As I tried to explain what values people who don’t live in Manhattan believe in and care about, he was getting messages from his friends asking if he was “actually friends with me” and how could he be friends with “someone like me.” A relative of his piped up that she had lived down south for a while, and had seen how blatantly racist they are down there, as plainly revealed in this election. Finally he deleted all of the comments and blocked me from seeing his posts.
I wish I could say this was an anomaly. But it was instead the norm. A coworker who I considered a friend and who I had spent many hours on the phone with having light-hearted conversations about politics blocked me from Facebook and Twitter for again trying to explain why people might have voted Trump, or arguing that the media and Democrat visions of “the end of democracy and free speech” might be exaggerated. Another friend simply took me off Facebook, having not even had a conversation about the election, and I faced various and vehement accusations of bigotry over the course of multiple discussions.
Having experienced this consistently online and in face-to-face conversations over the last year, I’m not sure where this leaves us as a country. I have found that just to be a Republican is too toxic for many Democrats to even deal with and face a conversation with me as a human being. I’ve seen this creeping into conversations for the last decade, and this election seems to have opened a floodgate of political hatred and shameless vitriol for one’s opponents that I haven’t experienced in my lifetime.
If the reaction to this election continues to be ferreting further into our political bubbles, building better cultural walls, and hating those with different views ever more, what does this mean for the future of our country? I fear we are moving dangerously close to the sort of partisan divisions that precede historical periods of fascism, political street fighting, and worse.
What if we did something different? What if we sought out people who disagree with us to have civil, respectful conversations about why they voted as they did, why they believe what they believe, and who they are as people? What if we asked them what they believe or why they voted a certain way rather than told them, or told ourselves we know without stooping to talking to them? We don’t all have to agree with each other or approve of each other’s choices, in politics or elsewhere in life. But we should, at the very least, try to understand where others are coming from and have enough empathy to try to appreciate why they might believe something different, in good faith and as good people.
I’m not holding my breath though. I just asked my old colleague how she feels about removing me from her life one year later, which should be plenty of time to reflect and cool down. She said she has no regrets about doing so, and to the contrary seems rather proud. Rather than invest in reconciliation, perhaps I should invest in something more practical: beans and bullets.