Donald Trump Election: Part II

“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.

Donald Trump Election: Part I

I am a conservative. I am a Republican. I am mixed race. I am educated. I am not a Trump voter, nor a Trump supporter. If you talked to me or saw my social media in the wake of President Trump’s nomination, you would know that this is in fact a rather significant understatement. If you saw me engage in political battle with Trump voters in my own local caucus (proudly in the only state to nominate Rubio), you would probably wonder what I could possibly have to say in support of them or their candidate.

Quite a lot, it turns out. One year later, after The Unthinkable actually happened, the fact that I have to start every political conversation with some sort of semi-apologetic preamble such as the above to even be listened to (or perhaps not), has rubbed me the wrong way enough times to start thinking of ways to explain to people not just who I am as a non-Trump-supporting Republican, but to explain also those who support him, or supported him, or may support him in the future.

Because one thing I do have in relation to Trump supporters that many of his critics on both the right and left do not, is empathy. Empathy for them as fellow Americans who carefully weighed the decision of who to vote for in a presidential election and came to a different conclusion than I. Empathy for them as people with good intentions who simply have a different vision of the world than me, or a different vision of who the lesser of two evils was in one particular case. Or just plain old empathy for them as human beings.

Perhaps this has something to do with the people close to me who voted for Trump. The first person I know who supported President Trump, even before the Republican convention, was an Indian immigrant relative who is the embodiment of the American Dream: educated, successful, and self-made. Over dinner, he explained not only why Hillary Clinton was awful beyond words, but why Donald Trump had qualities he admired that made him think he would be well-suited for the position of president.

At the time I assumed he was just an anomaly, like every other step Donald Trump took towards first the nomination, then the presidency. But a few months later, I met another self-made immigrant who was also a Trump supporter. And not the “holding your nose while you push a button” Trump voter, but a genuine Trump supporter. Through him, I became aware of a whole network of successful, educated immigrants from all over the world who both supported and admired candidate Trump for his business success, his frame control, and yes, his sheer “winning,” and who understood or even heartily supported his stances and comments on immigration.

I think the stone that finally shattered my glass house of incomprehension and incredulity was thrown by my friend from Harvard Law School, originally from Mexico City, who told me the night of the election that he had texted all of his relatives in Florida and told them to vote for Trump. Like I had with every step of this process, I laughed it off like the hilarious joke it was, and the even better joke it was going to be in the morning.

And then the morning came.

And the joke was over.

And suddenly I had to actually figure out what had happened.

In the year since, there has been a lot of discussion of disenchanted white working class voters, about subsets of such voters who voted for both Obama and Trump, about opioids, systemic cultural depression and economic despair, about what the Republican and Democrat establishment got wrong and didn’t understand about rural or red (and sometimes blue) America. There has also been a substantial phenomenon of far too easily attributing it all to the common bromides of racism, ignorance, backlash against a black president, etc.

But I think we need to take a hard look as well at the number of educated, minority, and even immigrant voters who not only didn’t shy away from Trump, but supported him exuberantly, at least compared to the alternative. There may be something going on here besides a lingering sadness stemming from the death knell of Norman Rockwell America, because that alone does not explain Trump voters or the actuality of this presidency. And if we don’t figure out what it is, and don’t think and act with empathy to understand why, we could very well be having this same conversation three years from now, wondering how it happened twice.