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.