Note: I had started working on a different piece about the aftermath of the election, and after seeing the discourse which followed November 8th, began working on this. Due to the immediacy of the topic, I present this as part one of my election commentary, with part two to follow within the week.
Since even before the last state was called in the waning hours of election night, the people in my circles and on my social media feeds were trying to figure out what the thing was that cost Hillary the presidency. Writers, friends, humorists, family, elected officials, colleagues, pollsters, pundits--all of us, trying to or haughtily naming what that one thing was.
"No it's the battered and broken and ignored white working class of rural America!"
"F*** them, they're just racists and homophobes!"
"It's the Bernie Bros! Those damn third party voters repeated 2000!"
"It's the media!"
"It's the Democrats, they brought this on themselves!"
"It's that 46% of the country didn't vote!"
"It's because people who would have voted couldn't!"
"It's Hillary--she was a flawed candidate!"
"It's a white lash!"
"It's the electoral college!"
And since election night, we have all been screaming at everyone else about how their one thing isn't the culprit, our one thing is.
A note: I am a white woman, early 30s, born, raised, and living on the north side of Chicago. My circles, my information sources, my social media feeds, are probably what you would expect: a lot of white liberals, a lot of city folk, a lot of college-educated people, and a lot of millennials. This is the group I see having these arguments, as many have been, since the onset so many eons ago, of the 2016 presidential election.
The squabbling continues even as I write this. Everyone's one thing is the right one, and everyone else's is wrong. And I look on, bemused as to why so few people are saying it.
There is no one thing.
This is a time of multiple truths. Probably, all time is a time of multiple truths, but this is a moment in time when we as white people, and especially white liberals/leftists/progressives/what have you, had seriously better understand that.
Of course this election is about racism. And sexism. And ableism. And homophobia. And Transphobia. And it is a white lash to a black president and a rapidly changing country. Of course this election is the product of a corporate, curbed, and apathetic media. And it is a robust failure of both major American parties, but very specifically the Democratic Party. The party which supposedly champions voter rights, but as the DNC email hack showed, which actually isn't interested in giving a democratic primary process a fair shot.
It seems the only thing that might not be a thing is third party voters, as there wasn't a state in which a third party candidate got any more than 5% of the vote.
That notwithstanding, it is troubling to me that so many people are so incapable of holding multiple truths in their minds. I know my circles are infinitesimal pieces of the world, but I still find this deeply concerning because in the fights coming, and there will be many, understanding multiple truths, or at least accepting that they exist, will be essential. I was spurred, after a year of being too silent, to write about the election because of this.
When I started reading articles like "Stop Shaming Trump Voters" and counters such as "Stop Asking Me to Empathize With the White Working Class", this reality of multiple truths, which I had been thinking about for a while, came rushing back to me.
It is the truth that some percentage of the people who voted for the now President-Elect are unapologetic, outright, misogynistic racists. They supported him because of their racism and his promotion of it. It is also true that some percentage of the people who voted for him did so not because he championed racism and hate, but in spite of that. It is also true that impact matters more than intention, and so that is an inconsequential difference. Those supporters still endorsed racism. It is further true that this is an important difference for some of us (who I'll get to in a moment) going forward.
It is absolutely true that anyone who is Muslim, or gay, or an immigrant, or transgender, or is black, or has a disability, or is Mexican, or is a member of any other group (with one exception--again, I'll get to that) that the President-Elect has threatened or insulted or otherwise made to feel that their very existence is unacceptable, is under no obligation to empathize with anyone who endorsed his hate by voting for him or refusing to speak out against him.
It is also true that it is absolutely the obligation of white people, including white women (told you I'd get to us) to understand what drove those voters. We do have to try to empathize, because we must understand what drove those white working class and rural voters to support this man. We have to understand what drove 53% of white women to vote for someone who champions sexual assault. We college-educated white liberals living in cities need to stop treating rural citizens as "country yokels" and understand what drove them to support someone who promotes hate and violence. Because whether they are overtly racist or decided it wasn't a deal breaker, they endorsed racism. And we helped, because we didn't stop them. And we, white people, will be continuing to help promote racism if all we do is shout about rural Americans being ignorant racists who we wouldn't deign to speak to. If we don't understand the issues (rampant substance abuse, loss of manufacturing jobs, etc.) that drove them to their support of the President-Elect, those issues are not going to go away. Those issues will linger and those supporters will vote for hate again if it promises the change they are looking for.
For those of us (and again, I am referring specifically to white people, because it is not the job of people of color to fix racism, it is ours) who want to counter the hate of this administration and its supporters, we cannot simply focus on protests in our cities and article-sharing and fruitless arguments with like-minded people in our own echo chambers. I have seen too many people take to Facebook in a fury demanding that anyone who agrees with racism or voted for the President-Elect should unfriend them immediately because they can't be bothered with your ignorance. I have heard too many friends say "I won't even talk to my family/neighbors back home/what have you because they are just racists." I understand the impulse, I do. I have had that impulse from time to time myself. But to that I say: "How f***ing dare we?"
How dare we, as white people who are enraged and scared and heartbroken and who know how wrong this all is, simply turn away? How do we, as white people horrified by the ugly truth that we have not put an end to racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/xenophobia/ableism in this country turn away when it is our responsibility to fix this? We can't. It is unacceptable. We do have to stare hate in the face. We do have to have compassion for the white people whom we have ignored and labeled ignorant bigots without ever having listened their stories, and without ever having taken a moment to think about what happens when we ignore entire swaths of the population.
I am guilty. I know the fall of the auto industry forever changed life for the residents of places like Kenosha, WI. When my work as a nonprofit consultant took me on road trips through central and southern Illinois, I saw the empty store fronts and boarded-up houses lining streets in once vibrant towns. I watched Park Forest, IL, the beloved hometown of my father's family and one-time beacon of post-WWII promise fade into a village without so much as a grocery store. Yet, I get outside the Chicago city limits and I start making a lot of Texas Chainsaw jokes. I have to be better too. I have to be less glib and more compassionate. I have to engage white people whom I have written off as lost causes too. Amidst the environment of celebrated bullying and toxic discourse, I have to find a way to converse (and I do mean converse in real life, not online) with not only people I do not typically interact with, but also with my own family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. It is going to be difficult but I am going to do it, because it must be done. I'll even help you do it. I'll accompany you on road trips to have coffee with long lost relatives and friends. I'll help organize. I'll brainstorm ways to navigate the toxic discourse so that we can talk about racism in a way that is effective as opposed to only accusatory. I will listen to your ideas for how I can help. I will continue to learn how I contribute to systems of oppression and how to change my behavior and attitudes so that I stop.
It is true that this is about racism. And sexism and homophobia and ableism and transphobia and xenophobia. And the environment. And the economy. And the legitimate concerns of hundreds of thousands of people. It is true that those concerns do not excuse endorsing bigotry. It is also true that we, white people, do not get to excuse ourselves of the work we need to do by screaming 'racist' and doing nothing more than hitting 'unfriend.'
We must acknowledge what has always been true: that there are multiple truths in this country, and in order to change some, we must address others.