an open letter about the 2016 election
This week has been hard for me and many others in our country, and I suspect it would help us heal if I tried to explain why. After spending time with college students and talking with a few of you, I realize that many who voted for Trump misunderstand our weeping and gnashing of teeth. I am reaching out because I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am reaching out because I want you to have every chance to understand. I am reaching out because I need to heal and believe developing empathy for each other is a crucial part of that process. If you also want to heal, if you are willing to see me as a thoughtful person whose feelings and perceptions of the world are valuable, then read on. Although I think many will resonate with me, I don’t want to generalize or make assumptions, so I will only write for myself.
I am disappointed we elected a President who, in my view, does not have the experience to excel at the multiple aspects his job will require. I am disappointed we chose to believe he will surround himself with wise council, even though he repeatedly thwarted opinions--even in his inner circle--that did not confirm his own. I am disappointed we chose to trust him most of all with our economic future, even though he has repeatedly filed for bankruptcy, refused to pay bills, and has chosen to make the vast majority of his products overseas rather than in America.
These truths disappoint and frustrate me, but they are not the reason I have cried every day, or look with pride to some of the protesting marchers, or feel betrayed and shocked by my country. The reaction I have had to this election has nothing to do with red or blue, my candidate getting defeated, sour grapes or even frustration with policy positions. My deep sadness comes because I feel alienated from my country given what a vote for Trump necessarily affirms. Let me be clear: He has openly encouraged behavior and statements that portray
Women as gratifying objects whose primary value is demonstrated through their physical attributes.
Muslims as radical, unwelcome terrorists who are not to be trusted or made welcome, and who cannot be loyal to America even if they die defending our freedom.
Hispanic immigrants as thieves and criminals who have come to ruin American livelihoods, who cannot function as professional Americans in any environment.
Disabled people as objects to be mocked.
Please hear me say that I feel confident that you, the majority of Trump supporters, disagree with and loathe these statements. I do not think you are racist or misogynistic in the way you approach others. I also know you might feel judged and attacked by those protesting or weeping for our country. I am sorry to have lumped you in with voters who enthusiastically endorse the statements above.
Here’s the deal though, and this is the key to understanding the tears and despair: By voting for him, you did endorse his perspectives on the value of others. With zero intention on your part, you confirmed a perspective which negates the value of about half of our country. For a female survivor of abuse, a Muslim, an immigrant, or a disabled person, our country’s decision to elect Trump was an irreversible statement screaming that we find them unvaluable, expendable and not one of us. I believe you when you say you didn’t mean it, but this is the message that is rattling around in the hearts of half of our society. I am a white Christian profession woman, and I am devastated that I can’t pull that message back. I can’t unring the bell. My students and friends and African-American daughter will have to live out the consequences of all of us saying these statements aren’t bad enough to be absolutely rejected. They have to face the rest of us, wondering if we love or hate them. They have to get up and go to work and school in a country that elevated a man who said they were not and never would be his equal. Can you imagine leaving your house this week if you were a minority teenage girl or boy? We had the chance to say, “no”, and instead, by electing him, we said, “more please.” This is why I weep.
I have heard many reasons a person might have voted for Trump, and none of those include bigotry. I hear you, and am trying to understand the dignity of your choice. For a person of color or for a female, these statements are not just about personality or a gaffe, they are deadly sentiments which ruin lives, and I weep because our country voted to affirm them. I know these ideas are already out in the world, and I know voting for Trump didn’t cause them to exist. However, I am deeply wounded that we had the chance, as a people committed to liberty and justice, to say, “Absolutely not. I will not allow comments like that to go unchecked at my dinner table/workplace/playground.” We missed it. Instead of saying we want to heal as a country with a terrible track record on race and gender, we decided deadly sentiments like Trump’s were not a problem. This ability to overlook the danger in his comments reveals to me that my community either does not know any immigrants, Muslims, disabled people or victims of abuse, or that we just don’t care. This is why I weep.
I am not interested in blame, but in helping articulate a path forward so that we can stand up as a people and say, “Absolutely not!” to words that inspire violence and exclusion. In light of that interest, here are my commitments to you:
I commit to not speaking of all Trump voters as bigoted misogynists, as if you are all the same. I will believe that you do not and did not support or minimize the damage his comments would cause many in our country. I commit to working hard to finding empathy for those whose value system allowed them to vote for our President-elect.
I commit to giving our new President an open mind and my respect, even behind closed doors.
I commit to confronting my own despair and to finding and celebrating moments of hope and healing.
I commit to making it my daily mission to reach out and affirm every person marginalized by the power of the majority. I will go out of my way to listen and to actively value people who are different than me.
In our commitment to healing, I ask you to consider the following:
Will you commit to finding empathy for those whose lives feel endangered by trying to build relationships with people outside your race or gender?
Will you commit to standing up and speaking out against jokes, stereotypes and comments that undermine the dignity and value of all God’s people?
Will you follow your vote up with action that affirms life, liberty and equality for ALL, to look beyond your own interests in order to rebuild the fabric of our society? Will you reach out to those who might feel marginalized or endangered and let them know you are an advocate for them?
I am committed to making this the moment when we agree as a people not to blame each other for our own failure as a society. No matter who you voted for, can you commit personally to moving toward those who are weaker than you, who have less power or comfort? If we say yes, Trump’s presidency will be one of healing and hope for all of us.