Sunday, November 20, 2016

Across Enemy Lines

Well, well, well. Here we are again (I started writing this about 3 days after my initial post-election post, but then finals happened). This presidency got me like:


But seriously. First, I want to thank each of my friends who answered my plea for help from my first post-election post. I've said yes to everyone who wanted to talk this stuff out, even though I haven't always wanted to, and I've gained something of worth from each one. One of the most touching things was a friend of mine who voted for Trump who reached out to me (even before my initial post) and said that she wanted to understand why I was so hurt. Even though it seemed glaringly obvious to me and I was tempted to be offended that she would even have to ask that question, her gesture was more than I have ever extended to anyone who I would have categorized as a Trump supporter in the past 8 years. I did not think their hurt worth asking about, yet to have someone genuinely inquire after mine softened me immeasurably.

Another friend (not a Trump supporter) encouraged me to search for the good in Trump. The internet says that it's almost impossible (seriously, I Googled it), but I must say that that frame of mind has led me to some little floating chips of open-mindedness in the sea of lava that is my indignant soul. The verdict is still out on whether there's anything good about him as an individual to be found on the internet, but one thing that at least peaks my interest is his relationship with his children. Not all of it has been outstanding, and I understand the concerns of nepotism in having ones children as business partners and advisers, but I also don't often see parents who respect their children's council to the extent that it appears Trump might.

I've been reading my brains out, but the piece that most helped me empathize with one of the largest groups of Trump supporters was this one from Cracked about the differences between world views in the city and rural areas. I'd highly recommend it, as it is both hilarious and insightful. I could go on and on about this article (many thanks to my friend Zachary for passing it along to me!). If you don't understand how so many people could find Trump an acceptable option, make this the one article you read of all the ones I link to. I've even been reading articles that I know will make me furious because even if I can't see eye to eye with the reasoning or politics, I don't want to shut out the voices of people who feel like liberal white elites don't give a damn about them. That seems to have been largely what got us in to this mess, and I don't intend to let it happen again if there's any way I can help stop it.

The Cracked article was valuable for me because it put something that I don't understand into terms that I'm familiar with. It does a good job of explaining the economic woe as well as the liberal ridicule that Trump supporters have faced in the past 8 years. it confirms that yes, their way of life is dying. And of course that is scary and painful. It also has some excellent illustrations of how we all excuse the yuckyness in people who we feel are accomplishing "the greater good." It touches on how we can be civil, or even kind, to people who are different when they're right in front of us, but still lump "those people in that group over there" into a category that we feel free to fear or hate or ridicule. It talks about the Church as a place where people in rural areas congregate for community when there are few other options for that sort of network and support. As a Christian, I believe that the Church should be available for that purpose, but church can quickly become more about culture and agreeing with one another inside of safe walls instead of focusing on Jesus's mission, which is to take love and community outside of the church walls. That distinction is at the crux of my heartache over the Church's support of Trump.

I've told plenty of people why I'm upset about Trump, but most of them already agree with me. As a writer, but also just as a reasoning person, I ask myself, "so what if I can make people who are like me nod their heads in agreement"? If that's all that I can accomplish with my voice, why bother? Nothing will really change. Instead, progress in my own mind and heart happen when someone else is able to present an idea to me without belittling my opposing view. That's what I want to be able to do too. While my grief over Trump as president is real, pitting myself against Trump supporters won't make it all go away.

Even though I wasn't a fan of Hillary, I think that if she had won, I probably would have privately rolled my eyes at the protest of Trump supporters and gone on with thinking that America was headed in the "right" direction, in many ways. For that reason, I'm thankful for Trump's presidency. He's provided a stark reminder to fight for what is right and to genuinely care about the situation of all kinds of Americans.

I must start by confessing that I truly did not care what argument a Trump supporter might come up with in his favor prior to his win. I said as much in my first post. Although my views on politics and even ethics have not changed, I've come to see that my complete disregard for the voice of Trump supporters is basically no different than what I perceived as their complete disregard for what I held so close to my heart in this election and considered to be of utmost importance to the fabric of our nation. I contributed to this rift, and thereby Trump's triumph, and I now see that very plainly. I try so hard to be "in touch" with what's going on around me, but somehow I managed to be very, very out of touch with what a lot of people were feeling. Clearly they have felt unheard, and I was one of many who thought they were better left ignored.

As most of us do, I broke my world and this election down into very simple terms: "I'm moving in the direction of good, and it's okay to be out of touch with what is bad." I've taken pride in surrounding myself with progressive thought and input, which are to me "good" ideas. Ideas that push me in a direction that I want to see myself go, because I view the gospel as fundamentally all-inclusive, which is what I want for America too.

But I failed to remember that all-inclusive means people that I don't like, too. People that baffle me and even infuriate me. People who've ridiculed me and people who make me feel stupid or say things that hurt me. God loves them too, and he offers them grace just as much as he offers it to me. Imagine that! Also, let us pause and thank God that I am not God. Because there are a lot of people who would not receive grace from me.

I heard part of an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the heavily tattooed recovering alcoholic female pastor of the Lutheran church called House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She's a badass. She became ordained and started this church with the express purpose of making a place for those generally left out of the Church, and it's became a truly beautiful thing. In fact, it has been so successful that she gained national media coverage and "normal" people who heard about her church on the news started attending her congregation.

She said that it upset her at first because these "normal" people were messing up her demographic of outcasts and weirdos. She even called a fellow pastor to complain about it, but her pastor friend gently reminded her that perhaps these normal people needed the message of an all-inclusive God too.

In many ways, the Trump supporter - especially the Evangelical Trump supporter - is my mission field. Not because I am better than them and therefore I need to save them with my superior understanding of the gospel, but because they are the ones that I struggle to love, and therefore the ones I am called to love.

Something that disgusts me about my preconceived notion of the Trump-base is that they lump the immigrant, they non-heterosexual, the black or brown into these giant categories that they see as standing in the way of a better life for themselves. But that is how I've viewed Trump supporters too - if we could just cleanse "those people" of their brutish and twisted generalities, then America would be good.

I've read over and over about how "people without a college degree" are much more likely to have voted for Trump. Even to me, who is the "type" to have a degree (though technically I don't), there's a not-very-subtle message that, "smart people vote liberal" and "stupid people vote for Trump." When was the last time someone calling you stupid made you want to agree with them? I've unthinkingly gone along with the idea that because my side is better educated than the other side, I'm smarter and therefore righter. It's what John Oliver calls "a liberal echo chamber". I do happen to believe I'm righter on the issue of Trump, but I no longer think that the alternative to being right is being stupid.

Let me be the first to admit that over-educated white people are the WORST. You probably didn't need me to tell you that, because we all have at least a few of them in our lives. There are few things more miserable than being talked down to by an incredibly well-read philosophy or political science major. It wreaks of privileged and pomp, and it makes me feel like this (grumpy cat). Honestly, what was that expensive education worth if no one can bear to listen to you?

I apologize if I've talked down to anyone in that way. I am very snobby about what constitutes good literature (not Twilight), and I'm quick to write off any opinion if it's not stated eloquently, properly formatted, and error-free, rather than being able to set those things aside and focus on the message that someone is trying to communicate. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever has bad grammar should not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.

I'd also like to posit that "higher education" goes beyond book knowledge. What education does is provide us a way out of our bubbles. Exposure to new ideas and new people does help you grow, and in that sense, "more educated" can make all the difference. But you can get education like that in more than one way.

I may have actually gone a bit overboard with my quest to put myself in the shoes of the Trump supporter. I am, after all, a poor white person living in a rural area without a good job, not owning a house, on government assistance, with mostly white friends. If it were not for my childhood abroad and my elitist media leanings and my breakup with American Church culture long before this election, I might have voted for Trump.

I say this to other people all the time, and then sometimes it bites me in the butt: the easiest/best way to stop fearing or hating a category of people who aren't like you is to simply get to know one.

It's much easier to be disgusted by people I don't know and will never know than it is to completely write off someone I already have a relationship with. I confess that it was a small blow to realize that some people I know and love voted for Trump, but it immediately helped me too, because I already knew them to be loving and multi-faceted people and so I could not write them off as giant dummies without trying to understand how they could have come to this conclusion that I fundamentally disagree with. I don't want to be friends with Trump supporters, to tell you the truth, but I already am, and that's been an excellent reminder that I can and should loving toward Trump supporters.

I understand that many people have felt trapped in an America that is shifting, and perhaps it is true that America used to be Greater for some of us before we felt so much heartache or anger over issues of immigration or being reminded that there's a lot we can no longer say as white people without someone being upset and calling us racist. I feel like being reminded of those things and being pushed to change does me good, but change can also be hard and painful. I understand that many people see Trump and his lack of concern for whether he's saying "the right things" as the only path to something beside their misery and a collective sneer from progressives. My understanding doesn't change my politics, but I'm trying to let it change my heart.

The struggle is real, as they say, but we must remember that in many cases, the struggle of the immigrant and the non-heterosexual and the African American and the disabled has been even harder than the economically flattened working-class white person. So much of the what we love about America is only available to us because of the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants who have gone before us. Actually, we owe literally all of it to immigrants, some white, some black, some brown.

I've been asking myself whether my dismay over Trump's election and his subsequent actions since the election are simply a reflection of my liberal-ish politics, but I'm convinced that there's more to it than that. I have many conservative friends and friends from various socioeconomic backgrounds who are as frustrated and confused - particularly by Evangelical support of Trump - as I am.

I've worried that maybe my public heartache will seem pathetic to people who felt relief that maybe their hardships would ease with a Trump presidency. Maybe I am being bougie for feeling so sad. But to over-empathize with Trump supporters would belittle the genuine pain and fear felt by all of my friends who are gay, Muslim, recently immigrated, and those who recoil at the support of the Evangelical church. I think moral outrage is allowed, it's just that it can be genuinely coming from both extremes at once and I've only been willing to see it as truth from my own end.

To many of us, this was a spiritual election as well as a secular one. The funny thing is that my spiritual values led me as far away from Trump as possible, and what I believe to be sincere spiritual values on the part of others led them to vote for him. Once again, only the fact that God is God and not man could account for such a thing.

I tend to fixate on the racist aspect of a vote for Trump. I read something that resonated with me, "not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn't a deal breaker." When I quoted this to a friend, he commented that "I get very hung up on the racism aspect". No shit. He further noted, "you are very saddened that many Trump voters did not think racism is a deal breaker. To a Trump supporter, they may not even see racism in the equation. To you that is inherently racist."

I would like to point out that I am right on that point (passive racism, of which I certainly take part in at times, is still racism), but I still have to wrestle with, "so what?" Ok, so someone I love (or even someone I don't know at all) is a racist. That doesn't let me off the hook for loving them as much as I love the immigrant. I don't think my bristling at passively (or openly)-condoned racism is wrong in the slightest, but I can admit that it's given me tunnel vision to the detriment of understanding the feelings (of which most are not evil) of the Trump supporter at times.

Some of these passive-racists that I truly love and even respect have tunnel vision about their own political stances. I can give you a well-reasoned rebuttal to every "Christian-valued" reason to vote for Trump (and be sure that I will froth at the bit to get them to you if you request them of me), but I realize that you probably don't care and/or don't agree. Instead, my goal is to LISTEN, and shut up about how I'm more right.

If even one of us thinks we're not a part of the problem, you, my friend, are mistaken. I'm still trying to learn to see the racism in my own ways that I've failed to recognize (I wrote a bit about this before). We must strive not to be offended when we are confronted with parts of ourselves that do not align with the gospel of our Lord.

This election and its aftermath has led to me a lot of outbursts (if mostly inward) of, "who are you to offend me?!" And it's true, I find Trump and support of Trump to be deeply offensive. But so what? My job is not to slam everyone who has offended me (ahem, Donald Trump re: cast of Hamilton). In fact, it takes a much bigger person to not only brush off the genuinely offensive, but to be humble and gracious and not plot revenge for the wrong said or done to you.

(not to put the actions of all listed above on equal footing, but simply that the people we fear the most, whether they are illegal immigrants, Donald Trump, or extremists, are all made in the image of God)

Every time I read something that calls me stupid or entitled or whiny, I want to fire back, but instead, I'm trying desperately not to feed the fire. I try and grit my teeth and understand why such and such an argument is so important to someone who thinks I'm stupid for not agreeing. And when I think that misinformation or misrepresentation is being spread (this seems to happen frequently in articles about how liberals are idiots for not seeing the frustration of the right-wing Church) I speak up as gently as I can. I urge you not to repost anything that calls people names. Don't repost things that dehumanize your opponents. Don't respond to other people's posts with "how lame" or "that doesn't matter". The more we're hurt, the less we want to listen. I've not always been guiltless on this front, but ridiculing (even in a joking way) never draws hurting people in, it only pushes them away.

Sometimes I start thinking that extending God's grace to everyone means liking everyone. But it doesn't. We can and should stand up and speak out against the wrong we see going on around us. I wish that I had spoken up more about what I disagree with about Democratic politics over the last 8 years, because then it would be a bit more balanced as I criticize Trump and his cabinet. Even though my emotion has died down slightly since the days immediately after the election, I probably will be talking and writing about life in America under Trump for at least the next 4 years. To let it go is to become comfortable in a climate (no pun intended) that may not be very threatening to me personally, but that others will have to struggle with every day for at least the next 4 years.

I want to take one more crack at what was so troubling to me about Christian support of Donald Trump. Even though I will never agree on the reasoning, I believe that some of my Christian friends who voted for Trump did so after much thought, and after coming to the conclusion that he was the lesser of two evils. It was not always in blind support of his hate speech.

From a gospel perspective, there was not a good option between Trump and Clinton. They are two sides of the same coin, as my dad says. One is careful and calculating in order to appeal to her base, the other is crass and loud in order to appeal to his base. I believe both of them are dishonest and self serving. In that light, I have to reexamine my disgust at the Church for voting so heavy handedly in favor of Trump. Would I be making the same argument if the Church had whole heartedly supported Clinton, with all her deep flaws and counter-gospel attitude? Probably not, because I lean left and her rhetoric of championing human rights appeals to me. But again, that's just politics. I realize that it is unfair to demonize Christians who thought Trump was the lesser of two bad choices. Still, not liking Clinton was not a good enough excuse to vote for Trump if we're talking in strictly moral terms. Hillary is staunchly pro-choice (which is not the same thing as "wanting to kill full-term babies", for the record) and militarily hawkish, stances that seem to me to be at odds, but incidentally both stances that I disagree with.  

What I can - and do - blame the Church for is not that they voted for Trump, but that they endorsed him and sung his praises. It's understandable to grit your teeth and make the choice you think is best (which is certainly how some people came to vote for Trump), but to sing the praises (I can come up with better "singing the praises" examples if you need them) of a demagogue who has specifically targeted groups of people that Jesus calls us to protect? THAT is anti-gospel behavior. As one reporter wrote, "I think Trump votes are the result of pain — but they’ve also created deep pain." And for the Church to cause pain without remorse is not acceptable.

The support of Evangelicals remains an issue much harder for me to digest than why the greater working-class white population voted for him. Even so, I've come here to say...

Dear Trump supporter. Dear friend, 

Forgive me for ignoring you because I thought I was so much righter that you did not even deserve my honest curiosity. Forgive me for thinking that being right meant I was excused from loving. Forgive me for always making you the butt of the joke. I pledge to learn your name instead of seeing you always as "those people", and I pledge to acknowledge your wounds. To listen to you and bite my tongue, even if I want to prove my capability of rebuffing your arguments point by point. I pledge to see you as a complicated person, not a single label.

I think I owe an apology to immigrants too. I do not know very many recent immigrants, but I use them as my battle ax against ideas that I don't like. I commiserate with their hardship for a moment, in intellectual debates, but I always put off helping them on a local level until tomorrow. As SNL and this prose piece noted, this sickness in American society was not news to the African-American community, and the fact that I'm shocked by it shows how I've failed to engage with the African American community or the immigrant almost as much as I've failed to engage with the Trump supporter.

It's funny, I always feel like I'm on firmer footing as a writer when I'm repenting instead of admonishing. It always gets a better response, too. I believe that both democracy and the kingdom of God need both me and the Trump supporter. We will reach different people and can serve in different facets. We must also challenge one another to keep our eyes on our common goal: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-3(NIV))

(artwork by Penelope Dullaghan)

Some other articles that helped me adjust my head and heart:
Why calling people racists doesn't help
Why some women voted for Trump
Empathy isn't a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways.
A modern creed for those who can no longer call themselves Evangelical
(although I don't think "Common Good Christian" is quite the right alternative)

1 comment:

Related Posts with Thumbnails