Earlier this week I walked up a mountain and met some gorillas. By the time I got down, America had elected to put an ape all of its own behind the most powerful desk in the world.
Donald Trump has casually incited so much hatred of every kind imaginable: racism, misogyny, bigotry, ignorance and just plain nastiness. It would be easy to allow him to trigger the most potent and basic brand of hate to bubble up in ourselves.
It is much harder to avoid hating him, and yet I think it is urgent that that is what we must endeavour to do.
I am not an apologist for Trump’s behaviour. I can’t imagine what it feels like this week to be anything but a straight, white, able-bodied male in the U.S. Trump’s ideas must be condemned in the strongest way imaginable.
But by attacking and vilifying the people who fulfilled their democratic duty to vote the way they wanted, in the same way some have done in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, a wedge is driven further between huge groups in society, making it ever harder to unite us again.
Most people who voted for Trump are (probably) good people
It is disturbing that significant numbers of Latinos voted for Donald Trump. As a white woman I’ve been especially troubled thinking about the ~40% of voting white women who swung for Trump.
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, I think people voted for him in spite of his hate speech, not because it resonates with their own ideals.
Putting Trump on the ballot paper at all was a dreadful error – akin to putting someone in a plain, empty white room with a huge red button with ‘do not press’ on it.
As I am often being reminded, the voting electorate for any candidate/party is much bigger than, and does not necessarily have much in common with the cross-section you see at a rally.
For me the villain in this piece is inequality. I know, again. People who feel worse off than others in society (whether they earn £16K or £150K) feel hard done by and consumed with ‘charity starts at home’ protectionist mentality. Maybe when you’re in the room with the big red button you think, fuck it, why not?
Put yourself in the shoes of a Trump voter. Maybe you liked Trump’s lack of gloss and the fact that you could vote for something other than a politician. Maybe, you didn’t like some of what he said, sure, but then he’s an entertainer, saying things to get attention.
Maybe you read comment pieces in the media asking who Trump supporters are, as though they are some kind of sub-species, and you read distasteful things said about people, who sound like people that you know. Maybe you read and hear the same things said about Trump, and you feel closer to him.
You vote for Trump, and he wins, which you didn’t expect could actually happen. You feel hopeful. But it seems like everyone else is in mourning. You read more labels attributed to you that you don’t recognise. You read that you are ignorant, uneducated, racist, a blind follower of celebrity culture. What do you feel now? Anger? Betrayal? Isolated? Disenfranchised? Jubilant? Scornful?
The polarisation of Trump and Clinton voters, or of Leave and Remain voters, and the vicious fighting BTL of articles makes me more uncomfortable than the result of either vote. We need a radical empathy movement – not more division.
Besides, making a joke, or a punch bag, out of Trump hasn’t really worked out too well so far has it?
What do you do with a bully in the playground?
This is another episode of 2016 bullying that makes me glad I don’t have young children.
How to explain that even though we have a duty to help people in need, in reality it is fine to demonise the poorest people in the world in national newspapers? In fact, if anyone stands up to try and defend the weakest, they become fair game too.
How to explain that, even though it is good to share, tell the truth and be yourself – in reality politicians and people who suggest these ideas and qualities are weak fools to laugh at?
How to explain that even though bullying is wrong, and that if you encounter a bully you should ignore them and deny the oxygen of attention – in reality bullying gets you lots of attention, headlines, money and even the most powerful job in the world?
While it’s hard to ignore a bully who has been elected president, you can avoid fanning the flames of his hatred by refraining from hating back. What we need is listening to each other’s sides. Reassuring and reaffirming your neighbours, networks and all you meet that you do not engage in, or give in to hatred. And calm, determined, organised protest that appeal to our sense of common decency and shared values, against policies that threaten to harm us in our countries and around the world.
What you could be doing instead of hating Trump supporters
You may or may not like the way democracy has worked out this time around. Yes, the rules weren’t fair, it’s now OK to lie unchallenged in a political campaign and the Electoral College system is weird and rubbish. But it has happened.
My wish for the future is that no matter our political colours or preference, we will stand firm against hate and just try to increase our understanding of each other.
Things to do when you feel like hating Trump/Clinton/Leave/Remain voters:
- Take a deep breath
- Don’t type a pointless comment or reply online if it doesn’t add something genuinely useful
- Try and imagine how the other person might be feeling
- Ask questions
- Explain your own personal reasons for thinking the way you do
- Invite questions
- Try and channel it into doing something positive for someone – especially someone who might be feeling more scared now because of their racial origins, gender identity or sexual orientation or any other matter
- Do something practical