Scanning some of the posts on social media this morning after the election, I was struck by the vitriol that some progressives hurled at those who voted for Trump, and I was baffled by their astonishment that he had won. Then it occurred to me that the tone of their posts provided at least a partial answer for why they were caught by surprise. The venom unleashed in their posts seems to be accepted by progressives as appropriate for anyone who dares to express opinions contrary to their own. Consequently, many people just kept silent to avoid the ignominy, and their silence was mistakenly interpreted by the progressives as agreement.
For the past 10 years western culture has undergone a radical reordering of social relationships and cultural conventions, and along with and in service of that transformation the major culture-makers like the media and mainstream academia have cultivated a climate virulently hostile to contrary opinions. Behemoth institutions like the NCAA punish states and municipalities by refusing to hold events there because a majority of the citizens have deigned to exercise their democratic privilege in favor of an ordinance requiring people to use bathrooms consistent with their biological sex. Business executives, police chiefs, and college professors lose their livelihoods for politely and civilly expressing opinions that fall afoul of the current intellectual fashions. College campuses, once places where the free interchange of ideas was valued, have become “safe zones” where speech codes define acceptable speech (generally progressive ideas) and well-meaning students and professors are attacked for their inadvertent “micro-aggressions.” Those who are out-of-step with the “spirit of the age” must shut up or suffer social and economic isolation.
As radicalized Islam wreaks havoc in the Middle East and acts of terror become more common in Europe and the U.S., and while European nations struggle to mollify immigrant populations that will not assimilate but rather demand that westerners alter their lifestyles to suit Muslim mores (see the issues in England and Sweden, et al), many Americans have become understandably apprehensive about open immigration policies. However, if anyone expresses that concern, she risks being labeled a racist or xenophobe. The effect has been to silence the voices of those who disagree with the fashionable ideals, but silence doesn’t mean they have made peace with the new order. In the solitude of the voting booth they had the freedom to strike back with impunity. I’m surprised that anyone is surprised.
Trump’s supporters (Trumpkins) may not necessarily be right, but they are afraid. Their world is coming undone. They are suddenly social pariahs for favoring ideas and customs that not long ago were embraced by all respectable people as they saw it. Though they struggle to explain the nuances of global economics, they know that it is difficult to make a modest living and pay the bills. In partnership with the insurance companies the government overhauled the healthcare system promising affordable care, and now their premiums are skyrocketing. They know that they used to have more choices and those choices were less expensive. People vote their guts. They vote in terms of their own self-interest. Trump is not a threat to his constituency. He may be a self-serving, lecherous, bastard, but he is a self-serving, lecherous, bastard who has promised to restore and protect their way of life.
The Clintonians are just like the Trumpkins. They are scared. When they look at our past they see racial segregation and oppression. They see the disenfranchisement of women and the marginalization of female voices. They see a social hierarchy with white men at the top perpetuating policies designed to maintain an unjust status quo. For them legalized abortion and access to affordable childcare are essential to the progress of women because those options allow women the freedom to pursue personal goals and realize their full potential. Homosexuals, transgenders, and others remember the emotional torment and social isolation created by what they perceive as repressive social structures, and they are rejoicing in the greater openness of 21st century western society. Clintonians also see the planet warming, the polar ice caps melting, and the dying off of wildlife due to industrialization and human infringement on animal habitats.
The Clintonians seem to perceive Hillary as embodying the ideals that they hold and hope to see shape the future: full gender equality, full civil rights for all, economic equality, and a compassionate ethic toward other marginalized people like immigrants, Muslims, and the under privileged. She may be a lying, self-serving harpy, but she is a lying, self-serving harpy who has promised to protect their way of life. They are voting their self-interest.
So when they hear Donald Trump vilify immigrants and brazenly objectify women in the crudest terms, they are reminded that a return to the “old days” is not an impossibility. They fear a restoration of a national climate in which the social and political progress made by women, minorities, and other formerly marginalized groups is undone. The mocking Facebook posts and graceless portrayals of Hillary Clinton and her constituency in defeat only aggravate these fears.
If the tone of our nation is to change, we all need to stop. I have grown up and still live among social and political conservatives, so I find the caricatures of them by the progressives rather odd. No one I know wants to return to the days of Jim Crow and segregation or prevent their wives and daughters or any other woman from developing to their fullest potential. I am aware that there are fringe elements on the right who may violently assault or try to intimidate immigrants and minorities, but I can guarantee that the vast majority of Trumpkins I know would gladly put themselves in danger to help anyone being assaulted or mistreated. The progressives need to drop the overwrought rhetoric as if at any moment gangs of “brownshirts” will pour into the streets and begin assaulting immigrants, minorities, and homosexuals. Likewise, I know many Clintonians, and they are not hoping to effect the collapse of America, outlaw Christianity, or establish a Muslim Caliphate in North America. They want a more just society for their children to grow up in. I’m sure they are equally baffled by the caricatures of them by the right.
The systemic oppression of the Jewish people in Europe lasted so long because they were forced to live in ghettoes and forbidden from interacting with the rest of the population on equal terms. Consequently, they appeared as subhuman and odd to most Europeans who blithely tolerated their repression. However, the enmity that often exists between groups of people quickly evaporates when they begin to intermingle and realize that they share basic human desires and problems. Someone has to be willing to take a blow and not reciprocate if there is to be any hope for peace. This is what Jesus modeled on the cross. Get to know the people on the other side even as they criticize what you believe. Make an effort to understand their perspective. Ask them about their ideas and anxieties, and listen with the intention of empathizing rather than rebutting. Let’s stop the posting of crass, mocking slogans and memes and begin thinking of those with whom we disagree as human beings worthy of respect whose concerns are legitimate. If we aren’t willing to do that, then there is no hope for a better future.