In the days and weeks after the 2016 election, many of us on the left were shocked. Some blindsided, some devastated but not surprised, others bewildered.
After months of putting Trump’s racist, ableist, sexist remarks—and only those remarks—on a 24/7 loop in our left-wing, self-created echo chambers, we couldn’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump unless they were raging, unapologetic racists and misogynists.
So we pulled ourselves out of our shocked states by releasing a damning, name-calling tirade against anyone who voted for Trump.
It felt good, didn’t it?
It felt so good to hurl invectives and vow to fight till our dying day those awful, horrible people.
Because they’re hateful. And we’re not.
“Love Trumps Hate,” we told ourselves as we looked down on them and reduced them to one-dimensional caricatures so we can generalize about who they are and what they’re capable of—effectively dehumanizing them.
We’re the good guys, we told ourselves.
But some voices, including Bernie Sanders, have piped up out of the morass of indignant anger to argue that Trump wasn’t just making racist and sexist remarks—he was saying other things as well, things we didn’t register because we only listened to his incendiary rhetoric.
Some have pointed out that Trump struck a chord with people who feel left behind by our current economic system, people who feel angry that their lives and their values are being forgotten, if not demeaned.
But we won’t stand for that, now will we?
No. If you voted for Trump because he said he was going to shake up Washington politics (yes, I know, he has failed on that promise), because he wasn’t part of some entrenched political dynasty that has been failing our country for decades, or because he adamantly opposes the “free trade” deals that have eviscerated much of our working class, no matter. If you didn’t NOT vote for him because of his racist and sexist remarks, you’re a racist and misogynist and that’s all you are.
And just as we don’t watch your news shows and read your news sites (and thus don’t see what they’re emphasizing, what they’re saying, how they’re shaping your perception), we’re not going to listen to you and we’re not going to talk to you because, we say, hate is unacceptable.
We will shut you out and shut you down and shut you up…because love trumps hate.
Meanwhile, an African American named Daryl Davis has made it his mission to reach out to, talk with, listen to, and ultimately become friends with members of the KKK and other hate groups. The process has been slow, and I’m sure it’s rarely been easy, but as a result of his willingness to see them as people, to listen to their viewpoints, to open a door between himself and them, 200 of them have changed their views and renounced their memberships in the KKK.
Martin Luther King said, “You cannot drive out hate with hate: only love can do that.” Davis’s efforts exemplify this.
If just 1% of us were willing to enter into spaces where we are perceived as the cultural enemy and instead just show them that we are human—complex, flawed, products of our environment and circumstances, and yet capable of love—and that we see them as human and worthy of compassion and empathy, imagine the impact we could make.
No, we won’t convert everyone. But we could shift the balance. We could change the narrative.
Conversely, recently singer Kim Burrell was disinvited from appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show after she called the LGBT community “perverted.” DeGeneres said she chose to not allow Burrell on her show because she did not want to “give her a platform after she was saying things about me.”
I get it. Talking with people who say racist, sexist, homophobic things is hard. Listening to them with a level head and not reacting in disgust and condemnation is even harder. Having difficult conversations with people who hold not just different but socially destructive views and trying to see where they’re coming from—how can anyone do that? After all, if we see where they come from, will we become racist, sexist, and homophobic too?
But if you don’t know where someone is coming from, don’t understand where they are, then how can you bring them to a better place?
Many have argued that it doesn’t matter that millions of rural and working-class white people struggle economically and culturally. That we should not care about the white rural and working-class perception that they are being left behind while minorities get special treatment (yes, I know, this is a distorted perception, but it’s their perception nonetheless) and their financial duress (after all, many of us feel that same duress, and yet we refuse to discriminate, so they should too, even though there are myriad other circumstances affecting how each individual processes their own reality).
They say we should not try to empathize, should not listen with compassion and respect because we know their perception is distorted and their values are based on hate. They say we should disregard Trump voters’ pain, struggle, and isolation. Because we’re right, they’re wrong, so what they feel is invalidated.
But we disregard and dismiss their lived realities at our own peril. As we scare ourselves shitless drawing comparisons between Trump and Hitler, we forget that Hitler came to power as a result of the combination of draconian international sanctions and punishments on the German people following WWI and widespread anti-Semitic propaganda. If the German people’s lives had not been reduced to desperate penury and cultural ostracism within the European community, there would have been very little fuel for the anti-Semitic propaganda that elevated Hitler and the Nazi Party to power.
When people muse about going back in time and killing young Hitler in his cradle, they imagine that if they separated the head from the body of the beast of Nazi Germany, then the horror it wreaked never would have happened.
As though Hitler, and Hitler alone, caused the infectious hatred, the devastating inhumanity, the widespread destruction.
Instead, what if you could go back in time and change the Treaty of Versailles. What if you could prevent the post-WWI punishment of the German people? What if you could remove the body from the head?
It’s easy to condemn Trump voters. But when we do that we are not only strengthening the arms and legs of the Trump beast; we are also lying to ourselves when we think that we are not being hateful as well.
We can and must love better.