History, human nature, and an open door
This post is about finding a way to move forward with — not in opposition to — my fellow Americans who voted for and elected Donald Trump. The “open door” of the title, however, is a very literal door. Stay with me through the story of the door.
Privilege Acknowledgement: I’m a white man. I don’t have to deal with the historical and continued inequities of our country. I am speaking as an ally to other allies. YMMV; take from this what you will.
My “office” is in the kitchen. I don’t mean that in a gender role-reversal sense (although that is also true. I spend most of my day in the kitchen as the adult who does 99% of food preparation in our household). My desk sits in the corner of the kitchen, furthest away from the west-facing windows. It’s not a dreary location, by any means (even if it does get raucous far too often from hangry homeschooled kids prowling for a snack). Even so, it helps to brighten the room and my spirits to open the side door to the outside, to let more natural light come in.
It’s usually the first thing I do when I get up in the mornings, and the door generally stays open until after nightfall.
I say “generally” because this is a recurring conversation I have with my wife, bless her heart:
ME: Why are you closing the side door?
HER: (throwing her arms in the air) I DON’T KNOW!
For some inexplicable reason, Heather has an unconscious desire to keep the side door closed, even though she also loves having natural light in the room, and is rarely in the kitchen except to eat or to humblebrag about having gotten an email “from my agent”. She can’t explain what drives her to do this. It has now become a habit: the accumulated force of so many unconscious, unconsidered, tiny actions.
And here comes the big seque, in the form of a metaphor.
In the light of the Trump victory, not just in the White House, but at so many levels of the election, what is our next step? Let me start with what our next step should not be (which involved no small amount of finger wagging at my own posts from election night).
“Fuck you” and “hate wins” and #NotMyPresident are all valid feelings, but not valid responses. They are not a path forward, they are the path towards further division, further enmity, and emotional obstructionism.
This is hard to hear, I know. I don’t like hearing it myself, and it was my own words to Heather this morning. It sucks ass. It is slapped-in-the-face-by-a-nasty-dick-covered-in-sloppy-seconds disgusting.
I apologize for putting that image in your head.
But seriously. Aren’t we the people posting #LoveWins when the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality? Don’t we preach from the Gospel of Inclusivity? As Jesus once wrote in a letter to The Buddha, “It’s easy to love everyone you agree with. Bringing those who anger you into your heart is a much tougher sell.”
Let’s dissect the Trump victory: a crap-ton of white people, especially white men, voted for a guy with no experience, no clear policies, and a history of bigoted and misogynistic actions. WHY? WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT? DOESN’T THAT MAKE THEM RACIST ASSHOLES?
It sure does feel sweet to think that way. And probably some of them are, even those not named David Duke.
But what is it that we want, we progressive-minded allies? What is our goal?
To make this better, more just, right? Can we accomplish that by continuing the rhetoric of us-versus-them? By dismissing the feelings of nearly half our country as the simplistic, backwoods, provincial yearning for the 1950’s era of white male supremacy?
That would be simple, but wrong. Sometimes, when I have trouble reconciling my thoughts or principles with my emotions, my wife will say, “You feel what you feel.” Which is a way of saying that our feelings, ALL OUR FEELINGS, are valid. How we act on those feelings may or may not be, but when we feel something, there’s a truth there that needs to be acknowledged.
And that’s what Trump did that no one else was doing. I know you’ve read or heard about it elsewhere, but let’s revisit it briefly. White, working-class Americans have been hurting. Their real income has been stagnant or falling for decades, and that’s when there were jobs to be had.
And in place of these disappearing jobs and vanishing economic mobility, what have the parties given them? They hear the Democrats talk almost exclusively about the lack of economic and social mobility for minorities and women (an extraordinarily important topic, don’t get me wrong). They see affirmative action helping minorities and women secure better educational opportunities. They hear about “white privilege” and “male privilege” while getting taking a job stocking shelves at Wal-Mart because there are no openings for manufacturing control system specialists anymore.
They didn’t feel heard or appreciated.
Whoa, Imma stop you right there. I get it, and I agree with you. Privilege is a real problem and one that has created enormous systemic advantages for white people (and men in particular) at the expense of women and minorities. Yes. Yes. Yes. All of that. Yes.
About that door
Remember the door? The one that Heather keeps wanting to close, though she doesn’t know why and can’t seem to stop doing it unconsciously? That happens to all of us, and that’s happening to these American’s I’ve been talking about.
We could post back and forth all day about how people should recognize their privilege. We can put up stats, charts, viral videos, and TED talks about the gross inequities between what these Americans are going through and the issues facing women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, etc.
And that would change nothing.
I’m sorry, but it’s true. And if change is our goal (rather than simply being morally right), then it’s time we acknowledge how humans work. How our brains react to change, to being called out, to feeling like we’re not being heard.
It’s going to feel ridiculous at first, like we’re having to coddle the one demographic that has controlled all facets of American life since its founding (and before). But put aside your distaste for a moment.. we need to take a moment to say to them: we hear you.
Changing minds and changing ideas isn’t about what you ought not to have to say.
Creating real change means meeting people where they are. “Going high” doesn’t simply mean refraining from punching the snot out of the arrogant ass who whines about Christians being “the most discriminated against group in the country.”
It is the blessing of the liberal mind to see through the barriers of difference to recognize the humanity in everyone. It is the curse and the responsibility of the liberal mind to put aside ego, to dust off our own pain and rejection, and to reach across the chasm to say, “OK. I see you. I hear you. I value you.”
If we really want to “be the change we wish to see” then it’s up to us to extend the olive branch of reconciliation. Reconciliation doesn’t mean accepting bad legislation or condoning hateful actions or letting them off the hook for bad thinking.
It’s time for us to put up or shut up. If we believe in respect, inclusivity, the importance of dialog, the primacy of democracy and a civil society, and the value of diversity, then let’s do the hard work of acting on those beliefs. Let’s stop perpetuating the vitriol of the opposition that was rampant under Obama (and, to be fair, was pretty substantial under Dubya). Let’s pull back from the brinkmanship of demonizing the other for their (admittedly poor) political choices.
Let us be that light that drives out the darkness in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Instead of focusing on losing the election, let’s seize the opportunity to engage with the other side at a moment when they may be the most open to dialog — even if we have to hold our noses to do it. Because it is that important, and because only we can do it.
Don’t close that door.