The guy I voted for seems to be on track to become the next president of the United States, but I’m not feeling particularly celebratory.
While I indeed feel a measure of relief, I’ve also taken a step backward and inward and observed some things that make me greatly afraid for the future my children stand to inherit. The darkness I sense, the rancor I see, the divide I feel, isn’t coming from the left or the right of the political spectrum … it’s coming from us, and it’s going to destroy us.
Full stop: I am speaking from a place of white, male, heterosexual, cisgender privilege. I acknowledge it, and I acknowledge I have the luxury of speaking of these things from the detached safety of my small-town, middle-class American life, in which I don’t fear being shot during a traffic stop or beaten because I hold hands with my wife in public or any of the things so many of my friends have to deal with on a daily basis. Those struggles alone are enough for many of my friends on the left to dismiss, carte blanche, any and all Trump supporters. I know so many Democrats and liberals who, while grateful now for Joe Biden’s apparent victory, are still stunned, dismayed and horrified that Trump still garnered so many votes. That he still has so many supporters. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that many of the people they share space with in their communities, their churches, their jobs — even in their homes — don’t see the same America they do. And so they react with fear, with sorrow, with rage. And they’re entitled to every single emotion.
On the other side of the spectrum, I see conservatives who are absolutely convinced that this election has been rigged. Some of it, I’m sure, is because of misinformation, but even that is dismissive of their own grievances. Because when it comes down to it, they, too, are absolutely stunned that so many of the people they share this country with feel differently than they do, so much that they elected a man they’re absolutely convinced will destroy everything they truly believe Donald Trump has worked so hard to build.
That is what I see: Two Americas, one in which each group of people wears the title but cannot begin to wrap their brains around how the other side sees things so differently. We reach for feeble excuses — I was told this week that while I was a good dude who happened to vote Democrat, I didn’t understand that the people I voted for are planning to enact socialism and/or communism. By the same token, I’ve felt the very same thing about personal friends on the right: that they’re good people, but they’re obviously blind to the authoritarian aspirations and outright cruelty of those who lead them.
None of that is so simple. We try to make it so, to the point that we go so far as to police one another’s friendships and alliances: “If you’re friends with someone who voted for Donald Trump, you’re making excuses for racism.” “If you’re friends with someone who voted for the Democrats, you’re friends with someone who hates America.”
By and large, I could go down the list of my Trump-voting friends and pick out qualities that I admire. Qualities that make them three-dimensional. Qualities that make them good and decent human beings with whom I am honored to share the world with, regardless of our differences.
By the same token, I hope they stop to consider that the progressives who are part of my circle are just as three-dimensional. I’ve been told on more than one occasion, when I’ve engaged in political debates, that I’m “not like those other liberals,” whatever that means. I’m sure they mean it as a compliment, but let me tell you something about those “other liberals:” They run circles around me, both in terms of knowledge and activism, all of it done out of a sense of moral and civic obligation to make the world a better place for other people.
And that, I think, is the rub. We’ve been convinced of so many things about one another that just don’t have a basis in reality, and we refuse to ask for clarification. We refuse to engage in conversation. We refuse to take a step back and think through what we say and how we treat one another. We resort to passive-aggressive, or even outright, insults. We dismiss one another’s humanity, and in so doing, we retreat further into our self-reinforcing isolation tanks, in which the jeering masses who echo our feelings and our views bolster our self-righteousness.
I am no different. I am one of these very people I’m writing about, and I have no idea how to even begin to heal these wounds. They feel so deep, so visceral, so permanent, that they make me afraid … so very afraid … of what’s to come.
Not from Washington. Not from Trump. Not from Biden. But from us, because at the risk of sounding like a Hallmark commercial, we’ve forgotten what love looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.
Whether we remember remains to be seen, but I hope so very fervently that we do. To again quote the great Jules Winfield: “I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying … real hard … to be the shepherd.”