On Election Day, I left work ready to celebrate Hillary’s victory. My friends and I had planned on going to the Yale Club of NYC later that night, where we were sure the spirits would be sky high after our alma mater produced our nation’s first female president. It was going to be the kind of night that we would one day tell our children about.
But as the map turned redder and redder, it became clearer that there would be no such celebration. Simultaneously, my Facebook newsfeed also became angrier and angrier. My friends were posting anything from their dramatic decisions to unfriend all public Trump supporters to announcing their Canadian emigration plans, the entire gamut of what you’d expect from upset Hillary supporters.
I’m used to statuses like these. I just finished four years at Yale, one of the most elite and liberal echo chambers in the country. Immediately after graduation, I moved to Silicon Valley, an even louder liberal echo chamber. My friends and I use words like “intersectionality” and “positionality” (I still have no idea what this word means), we repost “woke” pieces by Junot Diaz, and we ask for summer research grants to go help the sick in Africa instead of Alabama, but at the end of the day, the vast majority of us all come home from jobs at Goldman, McKinsey, or Google. We are the epitome of the “liberal elites” that Trump supporters hate so much.
In the days following Election Day, the atmosphere of my newsfeed was still generally angry, but it was mellowing out into a calmer second phase. People were still posting links to petitions and protest events, but they also started posting statuses that were hopeful, ones along the lines of “it will be ok.” By the time the weekend rolled around, my newsfeed had evolved into a third phase — Hillary supporters urging everyone to “engage in conversations with the other side” in order to “understand Trump supporters.”
I found this third wave of posts ironic. These same liberal elites who are now asking for some vague “engagement with the other side” condemned me for attending a Trump rally back in November 2015. They condemned my curiosity about Trump’s phenomenon and the psychology of his supporters. They called me crazy and offensive. They sent me “what are you doing?” texts.
I went to that rally not because I supported Trump but because I genuinely wanted to first-handedly meet and talk to his supporters. It was a bizarre experience and I felt like I was in a completely different universe for an hour, but I ended up gaining a better understanding of his base’s reasons for supporting him. I witnessed the pains of being jobless and blue collared, the humiliation of having fought for your country but still disrespected by a faraway liberal elite in Washington, and the visceral fear of being replaced by people who don’t look like you. I saw an elderly woman reduced to tears because she was so happy and hopeful about a Trump administration.
I explained to my friends the value of the experience and encouraged them to also attend a rally sometime, but of course my suggestion was met with mainly backlash and shaming. Everyone just continued liking and commenting on each others posts and photos within our insulated bubble until the unpleasant shock on Election Day.
Throughout this past election cycle, I went to a Hillary speech, two Trump rallies, a GOP debate, a Bernie rally, and subscribed to both Hillary and Trump emails. I did all of this because I wanted to experience all shades of our complex political spectrum. I especially enjoyed the Trump rallies and the GOP debate the most because these environments were so different from Yale or Silicon Valley. I learned so much, and I wish that my friends and acquaintances had been able to do the same. What better way is there to engage with “the other side” during an election cycle than to just meet and speak with them at their event where they would be excited to speak about their candidate?
But obviously what I did isn’t the only way to engage. There are plenty of other options such as teaching middle schoolers in the Bible Belt or volunteering at a health clinic in rural Michigan, but I don’t realistically expect any of my friends or acquaintances to actually act upon them. We all know that the vast majority of us aren’t willing to make such large sacrifices that would halt us from proceeding forward with our comfortable 1% lives. I honestly have no idea if there even is a way for us to ever truly understand people outside of our elite liberal echo chamber, but maybe if we try, we’ll asymptotically get closer and closer.
I hope that every Hillary supporter who is just now calling for open engagement and dialogue will realize that this call requires more than just posting lengthy Facebook statuses. It’s uncomfortable and not easy to find and engage with others unless we quite literally walk out of our echo chambers. But if we really mean what we say, it’s something that we should all start doing, one small step at a time.