Posted by: minnow | November 17, 2016

At the End of the Day

cropped-img_36431.jpgTrump won.

Wow.

My FB feed is full of “how did this happen” questions followed by a ton of finger pointing.  Friends are grieving, lamenting, de-friending people, celebrating, and planning their next course of action.  Some call for unity.  Others call for resistance. Most simply feel stunned.

In the last few days, I ‘ve wrestle with these few thoughts.  1). More people do not walk in my shoes than do.  2).  A huge disconnect exists within the Democratic party between the leadership and the voters.  3).  Four very different groups voted for Donald Trump.  And 4). The next four years cannot merely be an echo of the last eight.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote I couldn’t comprehend how anyone, especially those I thought of as friends, could support Donald Trump. My frustration leading into the election increased with each on-line conversation. My arguments, facts, documentation didn’t matter.  These people simply chose to be ignorant, unreasonable, and stubborn.

For some my judgments were accurate.  But not for everyone, at least not in the ignorant, unreasonable, and stubborn way I chose to read the situation.

My life experiences, biases, and priorities color my perception. The same is true for you. At the same time, most people have not experienced life the way anyone else has experienced life. Thus, if we are going to correctly interpret how another person sees the exact same situation, we need to put that individual’s shoes on and walk around a bit. The best way to do that is to ask questions, listen, and silently observe the people we hope to understand.

As I wrestled with these thoughts after the election, I had an ah-ha moment.  Most in my community might be “ignorant” in the sense of the type of information they consume on a daily basis. After all, they get their news from the guy at the hardware store, their pastor’s sermons,  and the radio they play in the background while they do their chores or run their errands. But, they are not ignorant about their own lives or the lives of their neighbors.  They know when Joe down the road got laid up and sold off part of his meadow it meant things were bad.  Like my Dad, most have worked since they were 12 and could see over the dashboard to drive the hay truck.  Unlike my Dad, most didn’t go to college, didn’t transition to the white collar world. These people realize a mild winter might mean a higher fire danger but they also know a harsh one can cost them livestock. If they’re told regulating industry might affect weather patterns but will cost someone his job, well, they see a friend suffering and a neighborhood falling apart.  Weather isn’t a theory to them; it’s personal and present. And we, in the Democratic party need to realize today’s community crisis trumps tomorrows possible one, every time.

Democrats experienced these types of disconnects all across the country. As a middle-aged, Christian, white woman from a small town in a red state, making less than $50,000 a year I technically belong to one of the demographics that went to Trump.  So, what about his message resonated with those voters more than Hillary’s?  To begin with, most have lived with subtle sexism their whole lives. It’s their norm and people prefer what they know to what they don’t. “Get over yourself” is a way of life. Secondly, these women have watched their husbands struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. They may have intentionally limited their own earning potential, in part to avoid embarrassing the men they love and in part to meet the family’s other needs. Yet, tough economic times often force them to work outside their homes and they resent it.

Now we can pontificate about inequality hurting men as well as women all we want, but if we want to reach these men and these women we  have to change our tactics and understand their priorities.  Maybe trump did sell them a pack of lies about bringing back jobs and lowering their tax burden, but our bold faced truths don’t matter until we begin to speak their language.

Most Trump supporters, in my community and hundreds of other communities around this country, are good people. Though they may be people of faith and they may have some preconceived ideas about strangers, they don’t belong to the other three groups of Trump supporters: the racist, sexist bigots and bullies who blame Mexicans and Muslims; the wealthy elites who voted to increase their advantage, or the theocrats like Franklin Graham and Ted Cruz who want to legislate morality according to evangelicalism rather than justice according to the Constitution. Sadly, our attempts to lump all four groups together and call them ugly names only manages to create more distrust and animosity.

We have heard a lot about how Donald Trump has destroyed the Republican party.  But, what we haven’t been willing to acknowledge, yet must, is how Washington destroyed the Democratic party. The people’s timing may stink, but good, hard working middle-class Americans blame career politicians for their tight belts and precarious futures.  And they responded to their perception of their situation with the strongest, simplest language they have.  With their votes they shouted at all Democrats: You don’t understand us anymore.  We reject your candidate.  She (and you) failed to convince us she was OUR candidate.  And we’ve had enough! 

If Democrats are to overcome a Trump election, we must return to our roots. We must relearn the language of the working class, and prove ourselves worthy representatives. Certainly we must call out evil–greed, inequality,  racism, the destruction of the planet, and fear mongering. But, we must also recognize and stand for what is good–family, diversity, community identity, pride of place, accountability, the contributions of the individual, and hard work!  If we fail to accomplish BOTH then we will fail to regain the public trust and I fear the Great American experiment will be over.

 

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