The Zax: Our Country’s Future Without Unity

the-zax-standoff

In November I voted for Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States and as the world saw last month I — along with millions of others Americans — did not get what I want. Instead the country’s electoral system chose a man whose candidacy was built upon the foundations of  pseudo-nationalism, fear mongering and genuine misogyny.

For 16 months Americans watched a campaign that overthrew the power structure of one major political party and revealed the arrogance of another. When condensed so crudely it sounds like an astonishing feat of political will. But the devil is in the details.

We know too well what was said on the campaign trail. It has left a burning scar across the country, the likes of which have not been seen since General William Tecumseh Sherman burnt his way from Atlanta to the the sea.

But to write about the outcome would be dull. Smarter and wiser people have written better commentary with more insight.

But it is worth mentioning that the scar is not the steep influx of hate crimes, but the incredible polarization that both sides have been persisting for decades.

During the campaign I went to Nevada and Wisconsin which went to Clinton and Trump respectively. I also phone banked and called people in North Carolina, which voted for Trump.

In Wisconsin, I spoke to a woman who supported Trump said she and her husband hadn’t worked since the factory closed. She couldn’t afford to drive her kids to school in the town over — everybody was out of work and the school district could only afford to send one bus.

A man in North Carolina told me that he was going to vote for Trump because he was tired of “the same shit.” He went on saying that he hated everything that he said during the campaign, but that it wouldn’t matter if he ended up changing “the system.”

But the experience that will stay with me the longest is when I spoke to a woman in northern Nevada. Her daughter was sexually assaulted but her prosecutor decided to plea bargain with the assailant and he walked free. She felt wronged by the system and that her child got no justice. She reluctantly voted early for Trump,  because she felt that for just that moment she could give her daughter some justice. Then she ended it with, “You didn’t hear about this because it didn’t happen in LA or New York. It happened in who-gives-a-shit Sparks, Nevada.”

After hearing them I made no effort to argue. If they were at peace with who they’re voting for then so was I. We were going to win anyways, I arrogantly thought to myself.

After the election I delved into deep thought and began asking myself a lot of questions:

Are my family and I going to be safe? What does this mean for us?  Why has my country let me down? How did this happen despite all of the things he said?

It’s safe to say that I wasn’t alone in these thoughts. After a brief moment of panic, I called an old friend who had conservative views. He was just as shocked as I was — then again a lot of us were shocked.

“Maybe people just wanted a change,” he told me.

His response baffled me. What did that mean? How did Trump represent change? Even though his cavalier attitude towards the results infuriated me, I still valued our friendship.

I decided to look at it from his perspective. I let his words rattle around my head as I slept. The next morning I went onto Facebook and was disgusted by the posts.

There were two reactions among liberals after the election. The first was genuine fear among people of color and other marginalized people. This fear stems from both history and what people of color reported immediately followed after the election. This reaction was justified.

The second disgusted me beyond measure. In addition to not being justified it was just as fear mongering as Trump’s campaign. Well meaning whites began posting the link to Twitter’s “Day One in Trump’s America” series and used it as examples of why there needs to be another civil war. Others began blaming Republican voters, saying “If you voted for Trump, fucking unfriend me.”

That’s when I remembered what those Trump voters and my friend told me. That morning I posted this.

As a response to my very public “Facebook meltdown” from the night before, here are some thoughts.

I’m seeing a lot of posts saying “I can’t believe half this country is racist and sexist and homophobic,” “We should just not include Florida anymore,” and “F**kin rednecks ruined this country.”

And that’s when it hit me. Maybe the reason Trump won was because for years we have been ignoring a part of the country that is just as poor and just as disadvantaged as other groups.

This didn’t happen because half the country is sexist, racist and homophobic. This happened because in our pursuit of progress and inclusiveness, we forgot to include them.

For decades they saw on their televisions as liberals fought for the civil rights of minorities and LGBTQ+ folks while poor whites were characterized as country bumpkins, rednecks and hicks who were all racist and homophobic.

Meanwhile globalization has taken their manufacturing jobs out of the country and the new interstates made small towns in the heartland and Rust Belt forgotten.

It’s hard for anybody to explain why a job they had for years went somewhere else. Why the economy globalized, why prices would go up if manufacturing stayed where it was.

So nobody bothered to explain it to them and the frustration was left to fester as they saw the same liberal activists on TV talk about creating more opportunity for minorities. All while opportunity has been taken away from them.

And then we mock them and their way of life.

We demonized religious folk in media by characterizing all Christians as gay bashers or all Mormons as judgemental; and we mocked their beliefs and implied that their way of life, their spiritual comfort, was a joke, that if you believed any of that you were dumb.

They were finally fed up with all of it and this is the consequence.

Some of my more liberal friends read this and commented that it just didn’t make any sense, or that in the spirit of another comment, it’s true but not really.

When I made a post about my experience talking to Trump voters another comment read, “If that’s truly the reason so many people voted for him, then they have only shown themselves to be gullible fools.”

Even though we’re supposed to be more accepting than the other side, we are so quick to dispose anyone who poses a threat to the binary of our political bubble.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend that identified as somewhere to the right on the political spectrum.

They told me that after the election they began posting articles and think pieces that took up an optimistic tone for the coming four years. They also told me that since posting these things they have lost a considerable number of Facebook friends.

This person, also told me that they grew up in the American south as a person of color with an “Arab” sounding name. Though chose to not go into detail of the remarkable bigotry and hate they faced. Instead they simply stated, “The [racism] that the media complains about is kindergarten racism.” They also noted that the people who unfriended them were all white.

NOTE: The following is a direct address to young liberal whites.

People of color are all trying to find ways to cope with what happened last month. Some are incredibly happy, others are incredibly scared. Some are trying to find some hope in this, others are getting ready for battle. But apparently the ones who are trying to find the light in darkness have no place in your world.

If Trump turns out to actually be the American Hitler, you’re not going to be the victims. The worst that will happen to you, if you stay quiet, is that you’ll just watch your friends of color and their families suffer.

You personally do not know what it feels like to be racially discriminated against. You will never understand the level of shock and disappointment I felt when somebody in the grocery store called me a fat chink.

What you will do is say stuff like “I’m here for you” and “I’ve got your back.” This is all well meaning except your definition of being “here for us” is shutting down anybody who disagrees with you.

I consider myself to be very liberal, but the lack of understanding among liberal people is astounding. Aren’t we supposed to be the accepting ones?

Acceptance starts with understanding. Waiting for “the other side” to understand us leads nowhere. The best way to understand somebody else is to listen to them. Not only does it give us perspective, but also makes them feel validated.

Stop disregarding other people’s emotions. It is important to remember that while we were all upset by the election results, another half of the country was happy. They’re emotions are valid. We don’t have to like Donald Trump, but that should not translate to not liking half the country.

Stop thinking in monoliths. Saying that “half the country is racist” or “half the country is lazy” fogs over the fact that there are 300 million people living in the country all with dreams, cherished memories, concerns and fears.

Finally, stop viewing different struggles as more or less important. Struggle is not a competition, it is what unites us all. In fact the only monolith that is correct is that we have all experienced struggle.

It is possible to be a decent person and not have a decent president — we’ve done it a lot. If enough people in the country believed that, we wouldn’t be as divided as we are now. So let’s start.

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