I think Trump supporters who are facing incredible challenges in their lives deserve a lot of empathy and understanding.
Huge swaths of this country lack reliable internet access. People are struggling with poverty, drug abuse, and despair. A whole lot of people have no space in their life to care about politics one way or another and they fill in those bubbles with minimal information, not because they are willfully ignorant but because they have more pressing things to focus on. It’s honestly amazing they make the time to vote for anybody.
The MSM published hundreds of profiles of these people over the past four years, humanizing their struggle and helping to provide context for their choices.
However, in terms of income, the GOP vote share currently leads in one category and just one category – households that make between $100-200,000 a year.
That’s not despair.
My biggest familiarity with Trump supporters are of the evangelical kind. To be sure, especially among Pentecostals and some minority churches, there is a strain among them that faces a lot of economic anxiety. But again, that’s not the community I know best.
The community I know best are people who are doing ok. Many, in fact, are quite affluent and successful. Materially, they have little to worry about no matter which political party controls the White House.
Even of the people I know who support Trump who do not have college degrees, a lot of them chose that path. They didn’t not go to college because they couldn’t or they had no hope or no guidance, they didn’t go to college because they decided there were better paths open to them for professional and financial success. A lot of people thought that they were smart enough and knew enough and didn’t need it. I have no problem with that choice!
But they aren’t illiterate, and they aren’t suffering, and they made free choices to be where they are, and they are all definitely capable of moral reasoning.
Not that you need a college degree or a high intelligence to see a man like Donald Trump and decide that you want nothing to do with him. Or to listen to Rudy Giuliani and decide that he needs rehab and retirement, not a megaphone to spread unfounded conspiracy theories.
You really don’t need higher education to see this and there are millions of people in this country who prove that you don’t – they might not be what we would deem well educated, but they have really admirable convictions, ethics, and intuitions. If you’ve never met people like that, well, get out more.
The people I know who support Trump are fearful.
But they are fearful of things like red Starbucks Christmas cups. They are fearful of not being able to express their faith and their culture as a clear majority. They are fearful of having to share governance and civic endeavors with people who they have long demonized and labeled as evil. They are fearful of how people who live differently than themselves have a lot of social and political influence – enough to compete with their own immense social and political influence – and they don’t like how that makes them feel.
These people like and frequently patronize Starbucks. They just want Starbucks to reflect them and not other people who are different than them.
There are real concerns about protecting religious liberty in this country. But those concerns are often not how much of conservative media explains it to them.
We should debate the proper reach of government. But people who want to legislate their very specific religious morals or notions of proper patriotism probably shouldn’t be crying about the perceived “big government socialism” of the other side, a side which is not actually proposing to permanently nationalize the means of production in any industry (DSA/Bernie aside).
I think there are so many issues we could and should work together on. I have some ideas about how we could re-frame government and politics and political debate to help make that easier.
But when people say we need to better understand Trump supporters or just get along with them in a Kumbaya moment, I think we should add a strong dose of reality about who the average Trump voter is and how they ended up embracing him.
When I was consuming conservative media I was not at all introspective or nuanced about other points of view.
How many profiles do you think conservative media published about Obama voters or Biden voters which is empathetic and aimed at humanizing and understanding them and their political preferences? It’s definitely not a genre I am familiar with!
Reconciliation is a two way street.
Extreme progressives or liberals or leftists, the kind that get profiled on a handful of college campuses or at a few elite social/political organizations, can have major problems with doing this.
But those people are not representative of the majority of people to the “left” of the Republican Party. And there is a large number of committed liberals who are working hard right now to counter the extremes of “wokeness”.
I cannot think of a similar effort on the right, minus a few Never Trump or libertarian voices who have emerged in recent years and who have been given no credibility to speak to people still ensnared in the patriotic and religious correctness of the modern GOP.
The “liberal” media absolutely struggles with bias. But they are constantly working (albeit not always effectively) to address that problem and to offer alternate perspectives. I genuinely believe in the past five years the impulses of traditional media outlets to appear fair frequently led them to overcorrect and to do too much to make the illogical seem rational and the cruel or criminal sound justified.
I really cannot think of how an effort for bringing people together works in this country without a major shift in perspective and media consumption on the political right (which is honestly quite co-mingled with the theological right).
So, be kind to all people out there in the real world. Read outside of your ideological comfort zone. Look for areas of compromise or common ground.
But also be realistic. Some people move around this earth with a very insular and exclusive view of what is acceptable or what they might ever consider to be good, not just in political policy but also in people.
That view is often reinforced not just in their political spaces, but in their friend groups and their churches and in their schools and in their places of work.
I realize a lot of people want this to be only about politics (and therefore wave it away and move on) but why would people, of any political persuasion, get worked up to the point of fear or despair over politics if our political system and rhetoric didn’t touch on conflicts and circumstances and emotions that go so much deeper than just policy?
My Facebook feed is so much less abusive right now.
That’s because I culled out people who adopted a worldview that is built on abuse: encouraging it, enabling it, and mimicking it. That is political but it is also spiritual and it is also ethical.
By cutting this little tie with people who adopted an abusive political answer to their fears and wishes and ideas I also see so much less abuse on here in how people are talking about their kids or how people are talking about God.
I am still seeing a lot I don’t necessarily agree with, I am still seeing a lot I wouldn’t necessarily post myself.
But the abuse – across the board – is disappearing.
I want to learn how to love the people who hurt us. To pray for the people who hurt us. To live in peace with people who think I am wayward or silly or untrue. I want to live in a country where we can still respect each other and respect people’s right to be different and even respect their right wrong.
But I can tell you it is a process. It can take a monumental internal effort that is maybe something we will be refining for a lifetime.
I don’t need Trump voters to automatically love how this has turned out, I am grateful that so far the worst kind of unrest or violence has not materialized – a credit to everyone – and I hope things get better.
But no one needs to reach out to people who hurt them without first establishing a groundwork for safety or allowing for the passage of time. It takes time.
And when the people who embraced abuse don’t own up to that abuse, it might take more time.
Evangelicals have started to face a reckoning for how they have mishandled abuse in their communities.
One common thread you see in those stories is a forced reconciliation between parties.
For example, a female student at a Christian school says she was groped without consent or raped, and then we see a pastor or two involved intervene and sometimes just DAYS later orchestrate a meeting between the two students to “bring about forgiveness and healing.” Uh. No.
There should be consequences, small or symbolic ones or serious ones – as the conduct merits. Forgiveness does not preclude consequences.
We can make peace, find spaces to move forward, and learn to embrace true forgiveness.
Political leaders from different parties can still negotiate and vote on compromise bills. Religious leaders can find ways to come together, encourage one another, or even pray together.
But true reconciliation involves repentance and contrition.
Without that, never let anyone force or guilt you into a space or a meeting or a sentiment which is untrue.
I am sure people who opposed Donald Trump have work to do and things to apologize for. I probably do too.
Yet if we want to avoid this situation in the future, we are going to need a whole lot more introspection and repentance from the side who created him, who enabled him, who defended him, and who empowered him.
Fox News or other conservative media outlets going “back to normal” is a big part of the problem.
Church leaders or parishioners pretending like it never happened just to keep on insisting that the GOP – whatever the manifestation, whatever the leadership or policy – is uniquely righteous and on “God’s side” is a big part of the problem.
Unless and until they can grapple with how we all got here in the first place, both national healing and relational healing will be limited.
Let’s not tell lies.
A lot of people chose to vote for Donald Trump because in one form or another they like him and his way of mistreating those who are perceived to be their enemies. Or they were just ok with the worst of it because his power served other personal needs or desires, and all that rampantly bad and abusive behavior was deemed acceptable so long as it was personally beneficial to them.
A lot of people have almost nothing to fear but the phantom evils in their minds.
A lot of people saw this moment through the lens of me-first or me-only and then drenched it in church talk (which they learned in church, not just on Fox or Breitbart) to white-wash their sepulchers of wealth or security or racism or social dominance.
True healing, one day, will address all of that.
Originally posted here on Facebook, November 8, 2020.