Sarah

My last conversation for this phase of my project speaking with female Trump voters would be in person with Sarah, born in 1963. As I drove to our meeting spot, I had time to reflect on what this experience had taught me. It hadn’t made me more of a Trump fan, but it had done something important—though I was still trying to figure out what.

As a university professor who practices yoga, attends a Unitarian church, and lives in the Pacific Northwest, Sarah is not your typical Trump voter. In fact, just about everyone in her social network is opposed to Trump. In the weeks leading up to the election, she took a yoga retreat with a group of girlfriends. The campaigning was in full swing, and the audio of Trump’s comment about “p—y grabbing” had just become public. Perhaps emboldened by the assumption that everyone in their midst felt the same, the women spent much of the weekend criticizing Trump.

Sarah found herself in an awkward position. She did not feel safe speaking up. She would have liked to engage in a conversation about the reasons she would be voting for Trump—her preference for his party’s stance on abortion, what she believed was his more serious approach to homeland security, his focus on keeping jobs—but she worried about her friends’ reactions. She thought it unlikely that level heads would prevail, so she kept her mouth shut.

Had the women on the retreat known that an alternative perspective was in their midst, would they have wanted Sarah to speak up? Or was it better to maintain the impression that they were all on the same page? Certainly that illusion was more comfortable. But since when did failing to acknowledge a point of view ever benefit society? Isn’t that a big part of what has made the current socio-political climate so painful—the biases that are being revealed? And not just that they exist, but the force with which they have come forward?

In the days after the election, Sarah’s town organized a “peace” vigil. (Perhaps this was code for “anti-Trump”?) Regardless, Sarah took the event’s label at face value. Among the candle-holding attendees, she spotted an acquaintance from her church. She approached and greeted the woman who she considered a friend. On this evening, the friendliness was not returned. The acquaintance, who knew Sarah had voted for Trump, asked what she was doing at the vigil and told her that she should to leave.

As she recalls this encounter to me, Sarah’s eyes well up. She does not strike me as someone who cries easily, and I can tell how hurt she was, and still is, by this encounter.

Several days after our conversation, I’m still thinking about it.

I suspected that this blog project would circle back to what I learned during my explorations into religions. At last it appears the eagle is landing. During those years of worshipping with Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims, I came to understand that the one truth each faith points to is humanity’s interconnectedness. If this is so, then each of us is, in our own way, accountable for the ideas and actions of the collective. It’s an uncomfortable notion, but one that challenges us to do better.

This endeavor has been a personal test. Can I tolerate viewpoints that differ from my own? Perhaps even some I dislike or might consider harmful? Can I sit calmly with the discomfort that acknowledging these ideas may create within me?  Am I strong enough to admit when aspects of those ideas exist within me? What if I thought that ideas denied—forced into hiding—only gather potency? What if the light of attention works to diminish an idea’s ability to do harm? What if listening is a radical political act?

Trump does not take this approach. He lashes out at opinions or viewpoints that do not support his own. He seems unable to give opposing thoughts the space or respect they need simply to exist. What he does not appear to understand is that he empowers the ideas he denies.

I want to take Trump’s example in this regard and do the opposite. If humanity is a singularity, as religions tell us, then whatever thoughts and feelings some of us are having are part of the bigger picture. No amount of rejection will change that reality. The challenge, then, is to tolerate the discomfort of disagreement, even if it means uncovering in ourselves some of the same characteristics we find distasteful in others. There is no hope for peace if we can’t even listen to one another.

Patty

“Hello.”

The no-nonsense voice at the other end of the line offered the greeting as a statement, not a question.

Patty was born in 1926. At 91, she still lives on her own.

I told her who I was. Her grandson, one of my longtime friends, had prepped her for my call. He said the only thing I had to do in exchange was to start the conversation with an enthusiastic statement about his awesomeness.

“I know that,” Patty said in response to my extolling of her grandson’s virtues.

“Why did you vote for Trump?” Patty didn’t seem like one for superfluous chit chat.

“I live in Maine,” she said as if that should provide sufficient explanation.

“Ok, but why…”

“We all did. Maine voted for Trump. He said he’d help with jobs here, so we voted for him.”

I wanted to say, “You believe that?” But I bit my tongue. That was my own cynicism talking. I find it hard to believe any specific promises politicians make. For most of my adult life, our representatives in Congress have been battling one another as if their jobs are to keep legislation from being passed.

Patty obviously did believe Trump’s campaign promise—and that, by itself, struck me as significant.

I tried to get Patty to tell me other reasons she voted for Trump, asking this way and that. After a few minutes, I could tell she was getting annoyed.

She had given me her answer. What more could I want?

It occurred to me how Patty must see this endeavor to better understand Trump voters as a supremely ridiculous use of time.

When I thanked Patty and said goodbye, it was relief I sensed from her. She could hang up and not waste another second looking back.

Rebecca

“There was an inevitability to it,” Rebecca says, referring to Trump being elected. Born in 1965, Rebecca is a lifelong Democrat who lives in Ohio. At the start of the campaign, she was a Hillary supporter. Last August, she began to question her choice. In September, she seriously weighed not voting for Clinton. By October, her mind was made up to vote for Trump. The steps were that quick and decisive.

Rebecca is single. Most of her adult life, she has worked as a nurse’ aid and caregiver to people with autism and physical disabilities. In 2004, she began to pursue an interest in alternative approaches to wellness. Since then, she has taken courses in metaphysics to acquire the skills to work with people whose suffering has less tangible origins. Today, she assists clients in identifying areas of dysfunction in their bodies and lives and helps to repair them.

Trump strikes me as a person so firmly rooted in the material world that it’s an odd juxtaposition to be talking about him and then switch within seconds to auras, chakras, and energy channels. Rebecca’s thinking is progressive in the true sense of the word: pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, pro-civil liberties.

I’ve heard many times during my conversations with female Trump supporters that they cast their vote to see change or shake up the status quo, but no one I’ve spoken with has articulated it quite like Rebecca. She sees the time in which we are living as one small step in the evolution of humanity, and Trump as a catalyst, a means to a better end.

To hear Rebecca speak of it is to understand that she sees our political system as a sick patient. It suffers from corruption, lack of transparency, and inertia. Even small-scale changes take great effort, and politicians resort to secrecy and sabotage. Our society is riddled with deep resentments, festering anger, boils of hate. These are all indicators of lack of health—and, yet, many of us have come to accept them as normal.

One side has had power of attorney over the suffering patient and has been trying to apply therapies here and there, the deep breathing of broader healthcare coverage or positive visualization of marriage equality. But the side without power of attorney is frustrated because it thinks those things are not helping or don’t address the real problems.

Perhaps what matters now is not whether the remedies they have in mind will work or not, but that they have a chance to try them. If coal jobs are saved, if migrant workers are blocked from entering the country, if the Supreme Court reconsiders abortion—will we be better off? Will working-class Americans have better job opportunities? Will we pay more attention to caring for vulnerable populations? Will we be civil to one another? Or, will it become clear that real solutions lie elsewhere?

Rebecca explains that what we’re in now is the “chaos stage,” which, in both a real and metaphysical sense, is the precursor to rebirth. If our society were a forest, this would be the point at which a fire is raging. It seems destructive but it’s actually part of a healthy process. Dead branches and leaves are being turned into nutrient-rich ash, clearing space for the sunlight to get through.

This phase forces us to examine our values, to speak up and get engaged in protecting the ideals we hold dear, to participate in crafting a government that reflects its people, to become a democracy in a truer sense of the word.

“We had no choice because we couldn’t stay on the path we were on,” Rebecca says. “And Trump may be a dictator, he may end up being the worst thing in the world, but we’ll be better in the long run because of the young people. We’re clearing the way for new growth.

Is Rebecca right? Will we ultimately be better off for having had Trump as president? He may question every piece of legislation passed in the last 8 years, he may force the courts to reconsider previous rulings on civil rights, and he may try to build a wall. But maybe in some mysterious big-picture way, these challenges will help us clarify who we are and build greater solidarity with one another. And if all else fails, I think Rebecca is right about the young people. The people coming up today are the most tolerant and fair-minded our country has ever seen.