Two days ago, while smoking in the alley behind my apartment, I collapsed onto the broken remains of an old bench, broke down, and wept into my hands. I had gone out to cool my nerves after getting into an ill-advised and heated Facebook argument. I had made the assertion that there was no middle, no political moderates left in a post-Trump world. For this, I was labeled a “smug liberal” and proceeded to lose my shit.
As I paced back and forth it dawned on me just how easy it was for evil to prevail over good. Hillary Clinton was by no means a paragon of virtue, but in the broadest sense, she represented the moral high ground and she was handily defeated, in part because of the hubris of her party and its supporters, but also due to her opponent’s masterful manipulation of the political Game. It was just so easy for him to do it, so easy to get the uneducated and the angry and the hateful to join him in his narcissistic quest. It wasn’t that he won that made me cry like a baby, it was how he barely had to try to do it.
Since November 8th there is no telling how I will feel when I wake up on any given day. Sometimes I will go throughout my business feeling almost normal only to have the rage bubble up inside me without provocation. I am an of an opinion that seems in opposition to that of most of peers, that by voting for Trump, those 58 million Americans have rendered their opinions inert. I see others who share this view—women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community—but very few white men. I find this troubling.
I feel like I have been fighting my whole life to define my identity. I am perhaps not the best public speaker, and like my father, have a tendency to “stir the pot” as my wife calls it, to say or write something incendiary, something that holds a kernel of my true beliefs, but is sensational enough to get people talking. Some might call that trolling but I don’t do it to enrage, I do it out of an aching desire to engage in discourse with people I love and respect. This sensationalism, along with my pride, is one of my greatest faults, and it colors people’s opinions of me. It undercuts my true convictions, which are resolute.
I didn’t really care about politics until college. I didn’t like George W. Bush anymore than the next New Yorker, but I was a teenager, and I was apathetic. I marched on Washington in 2003 with now-Jill Stein supporter Susan Sarandon, but I didn’t do it wholly out of opposition to the Iraq War, but because it was cool. In college I developed a set of beliefs that generally seemed more progressive and left-leaning than those around me, who were of a more traditional Democratic variety.
I was no doubt naïve, but I believed what I said, even if those around me did not. I never felt like I was being taken seriously. I was called a bleeding heart, my opinions were scoffed at, and it made me feel like I didn’t have as firm a grip on the world as the friends I loved and respected. I think this is why the “smug liberal” accusation hit me so hard. It was so dismissive, to simply assume that I am a New Yorker trapped in his bubble, unaware of the rest of the country, of the people outside my own social circles.
This is why I have chosen to blog instead of repost memes and blurt thoughts out on social media. I used to roll my eyes at people who said they were quitting Facebook but now I think the choice is valid. As John Oliver pointed out on Last Week Tonight earlier this week, social media is part of the problem. Mark Zuckerberg may be in denial, but he has helped Trump win. Social media creates the echo chambers that have led to this divide, and as a platform, it’s almost as if the site was designed to spread misinformation. This means that for most of the nation, there is no such thing as a fact anymore. Fact is opinion, and no one wants to take a stand anymore. If I dismiss the shitty opinions of the American right, I am called “smug” by fellow liberals, people who are supposed to be my allies, because there exists this nonsensical notion that all opinions are equal, that there is no true morality, that being racist is just as valid as being empathetic.
I don’t think people realize just how much of the world and our nation I have seen and experienced. I acknowledge that my privilege as a rich white man is what has enabled me to do that, but I do not think lacking that privilege is an excuse for ignorance. Every time I hear something Islamaphobic, I recall a vivid memory from my trip to Morocco. My parents and I were exploring a Medieval garden, full of beautiful columns and fountains and the geometric patterns Muslim culture is known for. The gardener was taking a break and was basking in the sun, reading the Qoran. My father took an interest, and while neither shared a language, the man still took joy in showing my father the beautiful calligraphy in his copy of the holy text.
I don’t like religion, I think it is the root of many of the world’s problems, but at the tail end of college I came to the realization that I had to tolerate religious people even if their belief in God was utterly preposterous. They may be misguided, but they are still people, and despite everything, I still believe that most people in this world are good at heart.
But I refuse to tolerate hatred, and this brings me back to my original point. Despite my worldly travels, despite having befriended people of all races, religions and sexual orientations over the years, the fact of the matter is that my social group is insulated and throughout the years has been primarily comprised of white men. Which is why I find it so frustrating how easily my fellow white male liberals have jumped to the conclusion that we must work with the other side, that we must tolerate their hatred and find common ground.
The opinions of my friends vary, and I respect them all, and many have almost convinced me to change this view. But every day that rage strikes me again and I realize that I cannot. I cannot forgive those 58 million people for doing what they did, for ruining the country my father came to because he hated Apartheid and wanted to live in, a land whose values he shared, the land I was born in, that my son was born in. I do not think a white male liberal’s race discounts his opinion, but I do find it very telling that the only people I hear this line of thought coming from is white men.
I think there are a variety of factors. For one, the country is sitting on a powder keg and I think a lot of white male liberals see themselves as mediators. They want to heal the divide before it becomes a chasm and as most Trump supporters are white men, they feel they are the ones who can reach them. I don’t mean to insult anyone, but I do think many white men are simply not afraid enough as they don’t stand to lose anything in the next four years. Their lives are not likely to be affected by a Trump presidency, and thus they feel they can “wait and see” or “give Trump a chance” because they aren’t the targets of the hate crimes happening all over the nation.
A lot of white male liberals I know are also transplants living in liberal havens like Los Angeles and New York, hailing from places like Michigan, central Pennsylvania and other areas that are less diverse ethnically than where I grew up, but perhaps more diverse politically. They know people who voted for Trump, high school friends, family members. They don’t want to look at those people in an unfavorable light, even though deep down they know what they did was wrong.
I can relate. I spent all of high school hearing “your dad is racist,” “how many slaves did your dad own,” “did your dad like to beat your slaves?” It was infuriating because despite his faults, I loved my dad and knew he rejected hate, that that was why he came to America. But there was some truth to the jibes—I no doubt had family members who supported Apartheid, or at the very least, were okay living with it. My father couldn’t, anymore than I can stand to live under Trump. It’s a hard thing to accept—that some of your ancestors might have been terrible—but it’s something almost all white men have to accept if we are to move forward.
It is easier to make the argument that Trump supporters are “not all bad” and that we can still work together. And there is truth in that; as angry as I am, I am not so naïve as to think every single person who voted for Trump is some kind of monster. But what they did is monstrous, and that’s where I draw the line. We cannot normalize that vote. We cannot normalize Trump’s behavior, and if those 58 million believe, even for a second, that there is some validity in their choice, then progressivism has lost. If the Left decides to shake hands with the people who made racism culturally acceptable again, then we have forsaken the very core of our beliefs.
Because people think I am blinded by my bubble, they think I have never met a Republican in my life, let alone a Trump supporter, but I have. I am dreading Thanksgiving with my in-laws because many are Trump supporters. My wife’s uncle was a particularly fervent follower, and I have this vision of walking into the dining room, seeing him wearing that abominable red cap, and once again, losing my shit.
Every day I go to work I have to be reminded that Trump supporters are people and not animals because one of my favorite coworkers voted for him. We have an unspoken agreement not to bring it up because we both like each other and enjoy playing board games in our free time. But it hurts to look at him now, it hurts to know that someone I like and respect could still vote for such a hateful movement.
I know my language has been incendiary because I am angry but I want to set the record straight. I do not want to fight fascism with fascism. I do not want anyone’s rights stripped from them just because they voted for evil incarnate. When I say “they deserve to be ignored” I don’t mean they should be thrown in jail or something authoritarian like that. What I’m saying is when they cast their ballots, they threw their lot in with white supremacy. We cannot let them think this is acceptable, and if we cater to their beliefs, it will only help to solidify them further. I hope someday we can heal the divide, that we can convince those people that what they did was wrong and get them on our side, but today is not that day. Today is a day for anger and horror, and it saddens me to see so many white men growing complacent. They want to “move on” when there is no turning back now.
I think a lot of my passion comes from having a child. He’s only three months old now, but I think about his future, when he’s a boy and is beginning to understand the world. I cannot stomach the thought of looking him in the eyes and saying, “I forgave the people who voted for the racist, xenophobic, misogynist, anti-American fascist.” As I said in a Facebook post, others may be able to see their better angels, but I cannot. I cannot forgive. I cannot forget.
I don’t want sectarian violence and global cataclysm anymore than the next person. I have a son. I don’t want him to live in a world like that. I know it is scary, but I truly believe we are living in 1936 all over again. And in the years to come, I think you will all see that today was the day to draw a line in the sand.