I’ve been wanting/dreading to write about the Donald Trump phenomenon for months now, but I kept delaying, hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, that I wouldn’t actually have to face what it says about us as a country that he may win the Republican nomination. As each primary day approached, I would think, “Surely, this time, people of ___fill-in-the-state ____won’t vote for him.” And yet, each time I was proven wrong. I was SO very wrong about last Tuesday’s five states. Thank you Pennsylvania, Delaware, et al, for fueling up that crazy train and pointing it West.
The Donald finally arrived on my own Southern California shores on Thursday night. His first rally ended in violent protests, destruction of property, physical and verbal assaults and seventeen arrests. Welcome to the Golden State! But Trump didn’t seem worried in the slightest; in fact, he seemed to enjoy it, which is just another sign of his unsuitability to be President. He has taken on the persona of a WWF promoter, not the leader of the free world. The President of the United States needs to be able to solve problems though consensus, and regardless of how well you think our current, or past presidents have done it, things will not be improved by stirring the public to violence and hate speech. Sadly, based on the rally’s turnout and recent polls, it looks like Trump is going to win here in California too. And all I can think, as I look out my window at my sunny palm tree-lined street, is “Et tu, Brute?”
When Trump’s campaign began to take off, I, like many others, thought his popularity was an anomaly. But as the weeks and months passed by, my incredulity grew and as did my curiosity about his supporters. I just kept thinking, “What is wrong with these people?” But I’m not asking that anymore. Although I don’t agree with them, I don’t think there is anything wrong with them. They are simply speaking their truth and giving voice to their pain and frustration, in rallies and at the ballot box. I may not agree with them, but they are not fundamentally different from me.
Whatever’s wrong with them is what’s wrong with our whole country: classism, consumerism, racism, sexism, cynicism, and a whole bunch of other things. We are deaf to each other’s cries for help and blind to the painful realities facing Americans of every race, gender, class and age in this brave new world of ours. No one is immune. For the most part, we are poorer, sicker, less hopeful and (coincidentally?) more suicidal. We are afraid for our safety, at home and abroad, and afraid for our children and their future. (This is especially true if you are one of the minorities that Trump demonizes regularly.) The winning lottery ticket entitled “The American Dream,” used to be handed out freely with a high school degree (at least if you were white). Now, it seems like there’s a 1 in a 100 chance, even if you play by all the rules. I don’t know anybody who isn’t affected by these fears, either consciously, or unconsciously, but our future and the future of the world will be defined by how we face them.
Trump wants us to face them kamikaze-style, by clinging to an out-dated idea of who we are as Americans – a colonial power: all-white, all-knowing, and all-powerful. For some Americans, that vision is a dream come true, but for many, it’s their worst nightmare. However, I don’t know that any of the candidates, on either side of the aisle, have significantly better appeal. Cruz was recently called, “Lucifer in the flesh “ by the former leader of his own party, (although that was more of a pot-and-kettle situation). Hillary has serious credibility issues and serious ties to Big Money, which is a huge problem for many voters. Kasich, whom I have been rooting for since Day One, is apparently too nice of a guy to be taken seriously by the general public. (Jimmy Carter anyone?) Bernie is a kamikaze in his own way, calling for such radical economic and social changes, that the country may crash and burn in his hands as well. (Based on the age of his supporters, I have a feeling that Bernie’s flight plan is where we will land eventually.)
The late civil rights activist, Vincent Harding, said, “For me the question of democracy, also opens up the question of what it means to be truly human. My own feeling is that when it comes to creating a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, democratic society, we are still a developing nation.” We aren’t used to thinking of ourselves in that way. We are used to believing that we have “arrived,” that we are “evolved,” that we are a model for the rest of the world to follow, but this election cycle has shown that we are just getting started.
The first thing we can do is have a little humility. We aren’t the cool kids on the block anymore, like we thought we were when we elected Obama in ’08 and’12. Apparently, we are in that awkward phase of puberty, with angry red pustules popping up all over, revealing the infections beneath the surface. We stink in all sorts of places, reminding us that we have some dirty laundry to take care. God knows, no one is going to do it for us.
Because this is such a painful revelation, the second thing we have to do is remember that “No situation is improved by going berserk.” It might feel good in the moment, but it is neither helpful, nor kind.
The third thing we can do is speak up, with decency and respect, to the people with whom we disagree. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of avoiding politics with people who I think might be Trump supporters. While I haven’t actually swallowed my words, I’ve certainly done everything I could to avoid the subject. I’ve sat through dinners, thinking, “Please don’t say anything. Please don’t say anything.” I am ashamed to admit my own reluctance to engage in challenging conversations on this subject. I don’t have to convince anyone of my point of view, but my silence might be taken as tacit agreement.
Well, today I got my comeuppance on that point from two different sources. The first was from Michelle Alexander, author, lawyer, professor and activist. In an interview she gave recently, she said, “We’ve become a nation of stone-throwers and it’s not enough to just drop your own stone.” I may not be holding a stone in my hand, but I certainly haven’t been active in convincing anyone else to put theirs down. Over the course of the next six months, I’m going to work on that, starting with this post.
My second source of inspiration and conviction came from an open letter, published on CalledtoResist.org , which was signed by over fifty members of the clergy across denominations. (I am more than a little sad that only one Catholic priest signed the document.) The title is “Called to Resist Bigotry – A Statement of Faithful Obedience.” In it, they make clear that while voting “differences must be respected in a democratic and civil society… Christians from across the political spectrum [must] come together around political realities that threaten the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself.” They are sympathetic to people who support Trump. Clearly, “the failures of both Washington and Wall Street have created legitimate citizen anger and alienation across the political spectrum, and many of us are empathetic to the many people who feel marginalized and unheard by economic, political, and media elites that don’t serve their needs,” but that doesn’t offer us an excuse to support a candidate who “promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion.” Please read the letter for yourself and see what you think. If you agree with them, consider sharing it on Facebook, or emailing to family and friends, those who will agree with it, as well as those who won’t.
This far into the primary season, we can no longer ask, “Who can trump Trump?” It seems that no one can. But we can still ask, “What will trump Trump?” because we just might have the answer to that one and it begins with the courage to speak up.
We have to put down our own stones and look around. Who of our family members, friends and neighbors are still holding one? How can we encourage them to put their stones down as well? How could we listen to them with compassion and how could they best hear an alternative point of view? Ultimately, we may not change anyone’s mind, but at least we will have engaged in civil discourse, instead of simply yelling at each other, or avoiding the subject all together.