Emotions were extremely high this election, and one only need glance at social media to see that. My regional, educational, and generational cohort swing liberal, so I’ve seen the gamut of raw, day-after shock and anger. Much of it calls for vigilance against further bigotry and hatred of the kind we saw during the campaign. And it’s spot-on. We will need to be vigilant in opposing further bigotry and ignorance out of Trump, or bigotry he might continue to inspire or expose. LGBT and racial minority rights and relations are literally a matter of life and death for many Americans, and directly affect the quality of life for the rest. We are in this together after all (and even if we somehow weren’t, every decent person still deserves a decent life!)
Some of the reactions go further, and blame Trump voters for being ignorant, racist, sexist, selfish, or hateful—that as privileged whites, they’ve demonstrated that they don’t care about the needs or aspirations of anyone but themselves, or people superficially like themselves.
But to the people who feel this way, who are assigning blame this way, please remember—people’s choices were constrained. Most of America wouldn’t have chosen Trump to be a nominee, and it should provide some small relief knowing that ~70% of America disapproves of him, despite the 48% (of people who voted) who voted for him. Most people are appalled by the disgusting, offensive, and hateful things he’s said, even those people who checked his name on the ballot.
The reason many people chose him over Clinton in spite of all that is not because they are white, or because they only care about themselves, or only care about white straight men. Starting from that premise assumes far too much about their motives, and assumes the worst about them—its the least empathetic interpretation of their decision, and is thus an extremely inaccurate interpretation in most cases. It’s also thus a non-starter for building understanding and working together to move forward as a country.
What would you say to the 29% of Latinos who voted for him? Or the 8% of blacks? Or the 29% of asians? Are they all “white” on the inside? The very notion is offensive.
What would you say to the 14% of LGBT voters who chose him? Are they simply unaware of who they are? Do they not care about their own rights?
You have to be willing to understand someone’s decision-making before you judge their motive, or before you assume they made such a decision out of prejudice, ignorance or callousness—or even privilege. Many of the people who are appalled by some of Trump’s attitudes, also have fears about war, or the balance of power in society, or terrorism, or the economy, or malfeasance in government. Those are life and death matters too. Decisions about war and peace are clearly a life and death matter. And the health and accountability of our institutions intimately affects everyone’s opportunities and quality of life. Many of the same people who voted Trump are themselves economically down and out, disadvantaged, suffering because they have been beaten down by society in one way or another, held back by a government that is corrupted, or left behind by established interests and institutions that enrich themselves at others’ expense.
A thought experiment: hypothetically, if Hillary Clinton fueled a war in a smaller foreign country that Donald Trump wouldn’t have fueled, and 100,000 people died as a result, and a million ended up in refugee camps—is all that death and suffering “worth it”, to have a president who is a bigger proponent of LGBT rights for four years? What if the actual resulting policy difference, or cultural difference, between candidates around those rights is minimal, or non-existent in those four years? What if the war was with Russia, and the prospect of war actually threatened your life and livelihood, and your family’s?
Now, you may disagree with the premise that Clinton would be more likely to fuel war than Donald Trump, and you may hotly contest and debate that premise. Good! Society needs such debates. But that debate gets off to a really bad start if you assume someone believes such a premise, or gives it the weight they do, simply because of the color of their skin.
So please do not fret, about this, at least: the results of this election do not mean bigotry has won. It does not mean half of America is okay with bigotry. If we understand that, we’ll all be better equipped to operate in the political arena in the coming years, to work together to make the world a better place for all, and a better place particularly for the most disadvantaged among us.