United We Stand, Divided We Fall
by Ted Miller
(originally published December 2016 in Tumbleweird)
I don’t remember a more divisive presidential election. There have certainly been periods in our country’s history when we have been more divided as a nation, but I don’t remember a time in my life that my friends and family have felt so alienated from each other. Liberals are living in fear that hate speech has become normalized and that civil rights gains will be undone. Conservatives who voted for Trump feel hated and labeled as racist, homophobic, misogynistic or anti-immigrant by their liberal friends. Third party voters are being demonized for voting their conscience. Families are splitting over politics and Facebook unfriending has never been so rampant. Instead of coming together, we seem to be retreating further into our own camps.
I, like many, was shocked at the results of the election. I knew people who planned to vote for Trump, but I thought they were a minority. I thought the terribly divisive campaign rhetoric, the mocking of the marginalized, the threats to our democracy, the hateful language, and the clear lack of understanding of government would mean that there was no way Donald Trump could win. How wrong I was.
My immediate reaction that Tuesday night was disbelief followed by fear for the future of my country. I thought that our democratic republic was in jeopardy and that Trump was a real threat to the constitution. Many of his campaign promises were unconstitutional or illegal. But the constitution still stands, and the checks and balances put in place by our founders were designed to prevent any one individual from becoming too powerful. As President Obama said to his staff following the election, “This is not the apocalypse.” I’ve come to realize that things may get dark and difficult, but this isn’t the end of the world as we know it.
We are a diverse society. We aren’t just red and blue, but a remarkably varied people with every shade of belief, politics, race and gender. Trump voters are no more a monolithic demographic than Clinton voters. If you call everyone who voted for Trump a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic hater, you are not listening and have closed your heart off to much of America. Yes, many of Trump's supporters are some of the worst in our society as evidenced by the resurgence of groups like the KKK, neo-Nazi fascists, and white-supremacists who are celebrating his victory. We’ve seen an uptick in hate crimes and bullying. But just because those groups are fans of Donald Trump doesn't mean that everyone who voted for Trump shares their values. Claiming such a thing just continues to divide us and shuts off dialogue.
I had a dear friend tell me they are afraid to attend the same social events that used to give them joy because they were vilified for their politics and no longer feel welcome among the same people who otherwise profess to be open, loving and inclusive. I have family members who feel hurt and ostracized for their conservative Christian views. These are people who give to the poor, who volunteer in local charities, who support equality, and who have never shown any sign of racism. But they are being called the worst of our society simply because they voted for Trump. I still believe that most people are good, yet I see so much hate and division around me. And I think it is driven by fear and misunderstanding.
On Wednesday morning after the election I reached out to a good friend who is almost my polar opposite in politics and religion. We have known each other for years and had never really talked about politics or religion. I told him I wanted to understand why he voted the way he did, and he said he wanted to understand my perspective as well. We met that Friday and again a week later. During our hours-long conversations, we have come to understand that we both want the same thing for humanity, but our approach is very different. We see the role of government differently, but we acknowledge that there are multiple ways to work for the common good. There are many things we will likely never agree on, but that doesn’t make one of us wrong and the other right on those topics. It just means that we have different perspectives. We can acknowledge those differences and still remain friends. And with a better understanding of each other, we can be better informed citizens in voicing our opinions on public policy and advocating for change that makes the country better for all.
The nation isn’t broken, but many of its citizens are hurting. They feel left behind by their government and don’t think either major party speaks for them. To heal we need to come together and seek to understand those with whom we disagree. We need to get out of our social media echo chambers. We need to listen to those who feel their government no longer represents them. We don’t have to agree on everything in order to agree on some things. Of course we need to continue to call out hatred whenever it rears its ugly head, but we must also advocate for the marginalized, push for social justice, and protect the progress we have made toward a better nation for all.
Lashing out with name calling and bullying of those who disagree with us will never change anyone’s mind. We are all in this together. Let’s work together to make the world a better place, one respectful conversation at a time.