On this third day after the election, I’m tired of hearing that racism, misogyny, and xenophobia had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s election. This boggles my mind. The guy openly ran on a platform of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. That is some ugly, ugly stuff, so I can see why we’d all (whether we voted for him or not) like to conveniently and quickly dismiss it by sweeping it under the rug of jobs and authenticity and desire for change. But in the few days since the election, it’s fairly clear we’re not going to be able to do that.
If Trump’s victory had nothing to do with racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, how do we explain the bold, public display of those hateful behaviors across the nation in the past couple of days? Threatening notes left on the homes and cars of gay families, shouts of “go back where you came from” as people of color simply try to go to class or commute to work, swastikas painted on dugouts where our children play baseball, Muslim women physically assaulted, “black lives don’t matter and neither do your votes” scrawled across public spaces, school children openly chanting “build that wall, build that wall!” while their Latino classmates cry – the uptick (and I think that might be too gentle a word) in hate speech and crimes is crystal clear. Trump openly encouraged this behavior throughout his campaign and at his rallies; now we’re reaping the results.
I do not assume the people committing these vile acts represent everyone who cast a ballot for Trump. In fact, I’m positive that isn’t true. People I know voted for Trump. People I like very much voted for Trump. I’m fairly certain people I dearly love voted for Trump. My sadness and anger at the outcome of this election will not cause me to turn my back on these people. I certainly won’t stop loving friends and family who voted for Trump and I don’t intend to “unfriend” anyone who voted for Trump – unless, of course, they make it clear to me through hateful words and behaviors that they are of the ilk who find it acceptable to belittle and terrorize, and to bring that despicable behavior into the public spaces of my community. Sadly, there have already been a few of those.
Like many people who are vehemently opposed to Trump, I’m experiencing quite a bit of dissonance, trying to reconcile Trump’s hateful messages with the good people who voted for him. My coping mechanism has been reading everything I can get my hands on – I’m wading through information and opinion pieces from a wide range of sources and ideologies, hoping to gain insight. Much of what I find leads me on tangents of further questions and confusion as I read words like “authenticity” and sentiments like “he tells it like it is.”
My good friend Merriam-Webster defines “authentic” as real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate. While the dictionary definition doesn’t suggest a value judgment – it doesn’t say authenticity is inherently good or bad – we generally apply the term to “good” things: Authentic New York-style pizza – yum! Authentic Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag – no knock-offs here! She is such an authentic person – no pretense! But can’t authentic things also be bad? Do we always want people to say exactly what they’re thinking? Sometimes I see someone wearing what I consider to be an unattractive outfit. I may have a snarky thought like, “What was that person thinking when they got dressed!?” But I would never openly mock; I would be horrified if the person could somehow hear my unkind thought. I keep it where it should be – to myself. Does that make me inauthentic or does it just make me a kind human being, participating in the maintenance of a civil society?
Maybe Donald Trump truly believes all the horrible things he has said about women, people of color, and differing religions; it certainly seems like he does, based on his documented behavior. In that case, I suppose he fits the dictionary definition of “authentic,” but we shouldn’t be celebrating that as a good thing. Is it acceptable to be an awful human being as long as you’re open, even boastful, about it? Some things are better kept quiet. Didn’t all of our parents teach us, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” That old adage is arguably simplistic but it gets at the root of an important societal truth – there must be parameters and norms around words and behaviors if we expect to maintain a functioning society.
I’ve also considered that perhaps Donald Trump doesn’t really believe all the hate he spews, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. It would certainly tarnish the “authenticity” that many voters seem to value in him if he was just spinning a storyline to whip the truly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic into an activated frenzy. In my more optimistic moments, I hope it would mean perhaps he’ll change his tune now that he’s been elected. Maybe he’ll dial it back a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s so easy to close the lid of the awful Pandora’s Box he’s opened, authentically or not.
While many of Trump’s voters don’t support or participate in racist, misogynistic, or xenophobic behavior, they do own the inevitable results of Trump’s election, and I hope with all my heart they will not sweep it under a rug, that they will acknowledge it and stand up with me to fight against it.