Last night, before the election was called, I watched John McCain’s 2008 concession speech, which had evidently resurfaced in viral fashion. I found myself tearing up as I watched this man graciously urge his supporters to support the President Elect, Barack Obama, and work together with those they disagreed with for the betterment of the country they all loved. 2008 was the first election I could vote in. I voted for McCain.
It was the first and last time I voted along any political party lines. In 2012 I supported Ron Paul from start to finish, and have proudly been nonpartisan since, voting sometimes for conservatives, sometimes for liberals. I’ve experienced the phenomenon of my stances on certain issues evolving, such as LGBT+ rights and gun control, and my understanding of the complexity of others becoming more nuanced, such as abortion and immigration. By 2016, I supported Bernie Sanders, yet ultimately voted for Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate.
I’ve made no secret about the fact that for the last four years, I’ve hated this administration. The chaos, the lack of professionalism, the lies, scandals, and hypocrisy… and that’s PUTTING ASIDE politics.
As someone who has grown and changed and has never neatly fit into a political box, I’ve always firmly believed people can bridge political differences. Some of my closest friends and I disagree on key issues, yet I have always believed we ultimately want the same things, and merely disagree on the means to achieve them. (Yes, this even goes for deeply emotionally charged issues, like abortion.)
But my problems with Trump and his admin have never been––primarily––political. (Yes, I’ve of course taken exception to his stripping of environmental protections, the awful treatment of migrant children, and rolling back protections for LGBT people. But I would take issue with those acts under any administration, as we all should.) My issue with Trump was more centered on him as a person; his proud Philistianism, intellectual incuriosity, bullying tactics, disrespect, pride, boasting, arrogance, misogyny. As others have said better, his White House had no pets, no music, no poetry, no cuisine. It was like watching Biff from Back to the Future hold the highest and most respected office in the land.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the arguments for this ridiculous bully. Yet I still have a bad taste in my mouth when I see posts or sentiment saying everyone who voted for him is a racist or upholds what he stands for. This is partly because I have been Republican in the past, and partly because I know and love many people who are Trump supporters, people who would and have been there for me through thick and thin, who don’t ask who I voted for before offering me a helping hand. I think shutting the door on those people is harmful, and we’ve seen the results of such divisiveness for four years. Voting for someone you disagree with; even someone you find personally disgusting, doesn’t automatically mean the person is evil. While I think the issues with Trump go far beyond politics, most people who supported him that I personally know didn’t do so because of his personality or rhetoric. For many people, it’s because they feel trapped in a two party system that doesn’t represent much of anyone (Heck, I don’t know any liberals who actually like Biden––the best anyone can say about him is that he’s not Trump), or because they are single issue voters in a time when dissent from party-towing just isn’t allowed. I know a lot of people who vote Republican ONLY based on one or two issues, like abortion, even if their other leanings are actually liberal. (Heck, I used to be one of them.)
The point is, I think this is a complicated time for us as a country. Yesterday, I went out by myself for the first time since having our son, and the atmosphere was positively festive. It really did feel like Christmas––everyone was happy, excited, and friendly––all because Trump was voted out. And while I’m excited at the prospect of this immature tyrant leaving office, I also think it’s narrow-minded to think the things he brought to the surface in this country are going to go away with him. We’ve had these problems forever, we just see them more clearly now that they’re all over an official government Twitter feed. And we can’t swallow the lie that there’s no middle ground possible, no way forward for a divided country.
This whole year we’ve seen the message that “we’re all in this together” and laughed at it. We aren’t all in this together. Rich people don’t know what poor people go through. Men don’t know what women go through. White people don’t know what Black people go through. Washington liberals don’t know what blue collar conservatives go through. But we have to keep trying to bridge those gaps, remembering that we are all people, first and foremost.
During the last election, a friend of mine, someone I considered close, unfriended me––not just digitally, but in real life––not because I voted differently than him, but because I had the audacity to suggest that we could love and find common ground with people who supported Trump. He essentially rage quit on me because I called for grace. It’s stuck with me for four years and I’ve never stopped mourning it. I was as disgusted as the next person by Trump’s behavior, rhetoric, refusal to denounce domestic terrorists, family separations. But I also get why some people, good people, felt they had no other choice than Trump. The first step to working with those people is trying to understand where they are coming from.
When we dehumanize our political opponents and transform them into enemies, it’s easy to pretend we are fundamentally different creatures. But we aren’t. We all want security and justice and safety. We just disagree on the means and methods to get there. And as the rhetoric surrounding those things becomes more divisive, things will only get worse, no matter who is in the White House. We can’t fix this country, its latent sexism, injustice, racism… until we recognize that. They’re part and parcel to the same damn problem.
I’m happy Trump will soon be gone. More relieved than I thought possible. But he’s a symptom. We need to start treating the disease.
Suggested reading: I Love You But I Hate Your Politics by Jeanne Safer