Recently, the BFF and I were at a concert. We are always giddy when we get to see our favorite band live, but this night we were even more excited because a friend of ours (whom we met a year ago at another show) was going to be proposing to his girlfriend on stage, during the band’s set. (It was beautiful, she said yes.) Being in such good moods, we struck up a conversation with the man standing next to us. He was there with his sister and they were both lovely people. At some point, a couple of vodka & tonics later, our conversation turned to politics. Dangerous territory, I know. I don’t know how, exactly, we got on the topic- I think we were comparing our kids to Republicans- but our new friend (we’ll call him “S”) admitted to being a Donald Trump supporter. His sister (we’ll call her “D”) shook her head in disapproval and joked about not knowing how S turned out this way because the rest of their family did not share this affinity for Trump.
I love when this sort of thing happens, when my assumptions are proven incorrect. It’s not that I enjoy the taste of humble pie, but I have written before about living in a bubble and how I am not always sure that is a good thing. And maybe it’s because I live in that bubble that I find myself so often in need of reminding that people are incredibly complex; nobody is just one thing. I suppose even Donald Trump is more than a misogynistic and racist narcissist.
Here’s where things get complicated for me, though. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I could be friends with a Trump supporter I would have given you a very emphatic, “Absolutely not.” Obviously, it was a real “Holy shit!” moment to admit I actually could envision being friends with such a person. Yes, it was one evening, but I consider myself to be a good judge of character and S & D most definitely registered as “good people,” and I genuinely hope we have the good fortune of being among each other’s company again. (And the BFF agrees.)
Oh, but Donald Trump. I can’t write about Trump with as much eloquence as other writers who have perfectly articulated the many problems associated with this vile man. And I think the argument that he shouldn’t be given any attention is valid. I’m just a little speck on the Internet, though, and I doubt that my words are far-reaching enough to make any real difference one way or another. But after the latest black-person-attacked-at-a-Trump-rally story, I’m left feeling helpless and the only thing I know to do is write.
Let me go back to my new friend S for a moment. S told us that he didn’t feel like it was his place to comment on what it’s like to be black because he, himself, is a white man. That whites should not claim to know what it is like to be black might sound obvious, it should be obvious, but of course, it’s not. It is, without a doubt, quite an exercise in white privilege to know you can choose to ignore racism, but in this case, S has my utmost respect for not making any crazy claims about whether or not racism exists, or that it would go away if black people would just…I feel like there is no shortage of whites claiming to have the solution to racism, none of which involve any action on their part, so hearing someone acknowledge they may experience the world differently because of their whiteness felt like a revelation.
It is exchanges like the one I had with S that leave me feeling confused. Similarly, I have family members who I think are some of the kindest people I’ve met, but they will espouse some of the same rhetoric I hear from Trump supporters. And that is to say nothing of the endorsement Trump recently received from Charles Evers. As much as I would like to declare Trump’s followers a bunch of crazy a-holes, it can’t be as simple as that. People are incredibly complex; nobody is just one thing.
Last week Vox.com ran an article, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism,” which does an impressive job of explaining Trump’s appeal. Excuse me while I butcher that excellent piece of journalism, but apparently the fear of change is responsible. (That’s an awful and incomplete summary so take some time to read the article.) I think I understand being motivated by fear on some level, but I can’t quite grasp it completely. It looks more like fear mixed with cruelty, obscenity, and a staggering level of ignorance. Besides, I can’t help but be amazed by the fact that people seem to be afraid of all the wrong things.
Personally, I am very afraid of a Trump presidential victory. I have been saying I was scared of him for a long time; he has frightened me ever since he called for a ban on Muslims. Not until last week, though, when Shiya Nwanguma was physically attacked at a Trump rally, did it start to feel deeply personal. And that feeling has only grown since video surfaced this morning of the attack on Rakeem Jones. I am literally afraid for my child and myself because this person has a legitimate chance of becoming POTUS. That seems like such a preposterous thing to say, but time and again Trump has done everything shy of throwing the punches himself. How am I or any persons of color and/or Muslims supposed to feel remotely safe? Who will be the next group to go on his list of the hated? And how is it that seemingly decent people can support this?
I feel, perhaps, our country is on the brink of something big. Maybe we are slowly laying the foundation for a long overdue revolution. Clearly, we are desperate for it. Of course, it could also be that we are about to implode, that we cannot sustain this level of fear and disdain for one another. I want to be optimistic; I like to remind myself that progress is slow. But I haven’t felt so personally threatened by a presidential candidate before so optimism doesn’t quite sit well right now. Even if Trump does not become POTUS, his supporters will still be here. Then what?
I don’t know what to make of the fact that I befriended a Trump supporter. Maybe that’s my comeuppance for being so judgmental in the first place. I refuse to believe Trump is anything short of a real danger, but I guess maybe I am slightly comforted by the fact that not all of his followers are deranged lunatics. There’s probably a bigger lesson here somewhere about not getting wrapped up in all the divisiveness. Right now, though, I’m just going to focus on being grateful for my bubble.