We watch, experiencing various states of dismay, anger, outrage, overwhelm, and discouragement as the president flagrantly contradicts himself, acts poorly, works to dismantle regulations that protect the downtrodden, the planet, and the children, has cozied up with a hostile foreign power, is cavalier about war, and is stunningly ill-informed about the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about lately the broiling anger that I see toward people who voted for Trump. I completely understand it, but I also think its the worst thing we can do right now.
I truly believe that most Trump supporters love their children, they want bright futures for themselves and their families, they expect drinkable water from their tap, they’d like to catch a fish or see a bird once in a while -- they don’t want all the other species to die. They hope that their grandchildren will be able to laugh and play and marvel at a magical moonrise, a lush tide pool, or a piece of art that makes them choke up with emotion. They love their dogs. They are not evil peoople. Most Trump supporters have a different understanding than I do of the way the world works, based on the news they read and the biases they’ve been exposed to. There are also some, the “bucket of deplorables”, who are excited about the racism, misogyny, and bullying represented by this president, but I think those are a minority. There are deplorables on the left as well, like the woman who wrote a nasty article wishing that John McCain would die. We can disagree with someone’s politics without wishing them ill.
One of the hardest things for the humans to do is to admit that we’ve been wrong; that we’ve made a mistake. I don’t think it’s fruitful to blast the 45 supporters; it’s not getting us anywhere. In fact, it’s making it harder to begin working together to solve the problems of the world. They will believe what they believe, and launching facts that they consider “fake news” only deepensthe divide, and makes it harder for Trump supporters to change their mind in a face-saving way.
As we can see all around us, the truth has it’s own life to live. People can believe whatever they want, but the truth doesn’t particularly care. We don’t have to believe in climate change, but glaciers are melting. CO2 is rising at an unprecedented rate, and the implications are dire. We can think vaccines are harmful, but the measles and smallpox rates suggest otherwise. And so on. Our beliefs direct how we respond to the world, but not believing in something doesn’t change the facts. Our country is in a huge crisis, lead a president who has demonstrated again and again that he doesn’t care about anyone but himself, isn’t concerned with the truth, believes he’s above the law, and isn’t very well-informed about world affairs. He is behaving in a small-minded, vindictive, mean-spirited fashion. This is new behavior for a president, and terrifying.
But I think it’s time to stop being angry with Trump supporters. Think of them like that friend who’s dating an asshole. Feel genuinely sad for them. Resist the temptation, when they show up with a black eye, to pounce and say, “I told you so.” Instead, let’s try to respond with compassion. “It looks like your eye really hurts. I’m so sorry.” It’s going to take acknowledging the pain and disappointment in a generous way to allow people to move on and begin to solve this crisis together. That woman whose husband has been cheating on her for years? She doesn’t want to know. She will ignore until she absolutely can’t anymore, not because she’s an idiot, but because the truth is so painful. Showing her snapshots of his car in another woman’s driveway, or his body in another woman’s bed will only cause her to be pissed off at you. That’s what’s happening here.
Let’s give the Trump supporters the chance to come to their own conclusions without feeling the need to defend themselves. If we put down our end of the rope, we’ll open that possibility. And if they do, we can offer genuine condolences. We’re so sorry your guy turned out to be so disappointing. I know you expected good things. I know you dreamed of a bright future for our country, and you didn’t expect this disaster.”
I can hear the resistance to this idea. “I’m never going to make nice with the people who put us and the rest of the world in this terrible, dangerous, embarrassing position.” And, “I’m not okay with racists and mysogynists. I will continue to speak out against the people who are for that.” And I get all of that, and I agree. I’m not asking us to be okay with racism, or to shy away from our deeply held values. I’m just saying that there is an embarrassed minority out there that needs a face-saving way to get on board with impeachment or whatever else it will take to rescue us from this crazy, terrifying time.
I think we need to try being the sort of people we want the world to be full of. We want the world to be compassionate? Let’s show compassion. Let’s truly raise the bar. As hard as it is to acknowledge our own mistakes, it’s almost as hard to resist rubbing someone else’s nose in theirs, but we can do it. Trump supporters are likely feeling heartbroken and embarrassed now: their republican party, which used to stand for family values (or at least white heterosexual Christian family values), has become the party of greed and deception. It used to be the party of law and order, and now it’s the party of violating laws. It used to be a party of patriots, and now it’s a party of treasonists. Can you imagine? We’ll never get anywhere if we lord this situation over them. Not to mention, it’s good to practice to be loving and generous with people who make mistakes, because isn’t that what we all really need?
But most importantly, we are in a crisis. This isn’t an intellectual debate about how to make sure everyone who’s sick can see a doctor, or what the best response to our increasingly polluted planet is. We can't even see that debate from here. This is about stopping this fraudulent, dangerous, crazy narcissist before he wrecks the whole planet. We need to work together. If we want the world to be peaceful, we need to promote peace amongst our neighbors and friends. If we want compassion, we need to rise above our opinions, and meet people of different view points with courtesy. If we want to encourage healthy intellectual debate, we need to make it safe for people to change their mind.