To Move Forward, Progressives First Must Listen

11/10/2016 11:34 am ET | Updated Nov 10, 2016
Brett Carlsen—Getty Images

Donald Trump’s ascension to the Presidency has elicited well-warranted despair among those who deem tolerance and inclusion touchstones of a flourishing democracy. What was expected by so many to be a day of jubilation as the first female was ushered into the country’s highest office has turned into, as one Twitter user put it, “my least favorite episode of Black Mirror.” (Black Mirror is a television series, now on Netflix, depicting various dystopian visions of our technological and political future.)

This despair, as anyone who has mourned a tragic loss knows all too well, may never fully dissipate. It may also transmute into rage, anxiety, depression, and the hunger to fight.

But what it must not ever do is undercut the willingness to listen.

It is easy to dismiss those who voted for Donald Trump as bigoted xenophobes who will stop at nothing to reinstate their cherished vision of America in its heyday—an America rife with racial inequality, where government was lucky to have a single female sitting Senator, and lynchings were as common as mass shootings are today—or, in Hillary’s own words, as “irredeemables.”

But before progressives begin an obstructionist program of government commensurate with that undertaken by Republicans at the dawn of the Obama administration, they might first consider taking a moment to open their hearts and minds to what David Axelrod on Tuesday night called the “primal scream” running through the heartland of America.

There is real pain here: pain on par, perhaps, with that experienced by precisely those marginalized groups from liberal enclaves in modern America who also feel their basic rights and ways of living are under attack. The pain of exclusion. The pain of isolation. The pain of being misunderstood and underestimated.

The men and women who voted for Donald Trump, less formally educated though they may be, deserve to be treated first as the decent, hardworking people they are, with a sincere—or, at least, sincerely derived—vision for the future of this country. Should that vision fail to materialize following good-faith efforts and dialogue, then it may be subject to re-evaluation. But, as we undergo a transition of power from one ideology to another, it is important to remember the age-old philosophical principle of charity to initially construe a speaker’s statements in the best possible light.

As progressives nurse their own wounds and despondently attempt to collect the pieces of their broken dream, it would be a natural, even forgivable, recourse to collapse into intractable pessimism and stony numbness. But the spirit of that movement, and the force of its recent rejection, demands a more judicious reconsideration of who is, and is not, deserving of championship.

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