Illustration of a Facebook post from 2016

Jon’s Adventures in Being Very, Very Wrong.

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 Four years ago, I posted the message below. Personally reeling and stunned from Trump’s win, I did what I do: I tried to right myself by being level-headed and empathetic and trying to understand the other side. This was despite the very obvious fact that Trump had traded in racist dog whistling, misogyny, the belittling of differently abled people, and on and on. This was ALL before he was elected. Now, I don’t think my impulse here was wrong. I want to try to understand the other side. I want to try to understand why you believe the way you do. I don’t want to run to one corner while you run to the other. But I had no idea. I had no idea at all. As bad as I worried it might get, it got worse.
Most people who read this don’t need a run down of all the terrible, inhumane, and downright evil things Trump and his administration have done. And, for the people who still support Trump and read this, you would probably not believe the list if I attempted it. Also, this post would be longer than it probably already is going to be…

The problem with empathy and trying to see the other side is that this only works if you’re dealing with (for lack of a better term) normal people. There’s a modicum of humanity that’s presumed to exist with “the other side.” But let me tell you, the last four years exposed to me that there are people who will only prey on your empathy. They will do whatever they want to do, laugh at your empathy, and then be the first to request it when they “lose.” The reason for this is—I believe— in the age of Fox News and misinformation campaigns, the “other side” are, by and large, NOT normal people. They’ve been sucked into a cult. There are people that I loved and had great respect for that I’ve largely cut out of my life. Not because they disagree about “politics.” If you think the last four years have been about politics, then I can only assume you’re speaking from a very privileged place. The problem I had with these people is that they showed that they were more than willing to trade any semblance of morality, justice, fairness, faith… all to “win.”

The abuses and atrocities committed by this administration are so extreme, it makes YOU feel like an extremist if you call them for what they are. This is the game they play with us. If you call the regime racist and fascist, then people will cry “Oh, that’s far too much, you’re over-reacting.” But, you know… sometimes you’ve got to call a spade a spade. They have, literally, ripped children away from their parents, herded them into camps, given women hysterectomies–okay, I said I wouldn’t go into the list. I won’t. But this is just a SLICE of the inhuman things they’ve done. The rights they’ve stripped away. The illegal acts they’ve pardoned. And, note, I say “they.” Trump is a symptom, not a disease.
Part of my thought process when I wrote what I did four years ago was that I actually believed that the GOP were not so corrupt as to allow Trump’s ego to run rampant. That the people he’d attached himself to and their extremist, fascist ideas would be combatted internally. That did not happen. Oh, sure you’d get Susan Collins’s limp tsk tsking. You’d have Romney’s occasional “hey now, this isn’t very good.” But they were meaningless words. As long as their longterm goals were achieved, the GOP were willing to sacrifice every iota of their respect, civility, and—frankly—humanity. Even this I can kind of understand. In the cold harsh light of political workings, where humans become numbers and actions become marketing-driven poll influencing, there’s a certain horrible logic. 

But for the non-politicians? The religious aunt who compared Trump to Jesus…. the former friend who said they hoped the BLM protestors got shot… all the Christians who fund-raised for a murderer… I have a few options:

A) They have shown their true colors. They are monsters who want to see my rights and the rights of those I care about stripped away, who do not care about the children who will never be reunited with their parents, all the people who died from COVID because it was taken as seriously as it should be, etc.

B) They are misinformed/ignorant. This seems insulting. Is it fair to put this all on Fox News and the alternate universe bubble people create for themselves? I don’t know. This takes away people’s agency, for one thing. There are plenty of people who are “smart” and “informed” and I have to believe at least UNDERSTAND the counterpoint even if they don’t believe it. This group I can understand voting for Trump in 2016. But still supporting him four years later? Four years is a long time to remain that stupid. So it’s hard to buy.

C) They are in a cult. They have been brainwashed. Maybe they’ll wake up in 2021 and look back with embarrassment at their actions. But, more likely, they’ll feel robbed and double down on their belief. They’ve painted a picture in their head that all these horrific things were necessary, if not actually GOOD. I suppose there is a thin line here. This suggests they have lost their agency, too. They are being manipulated, yes, but isn’t it also true that they’ve played an active part in their induction into the cult of Trump?

What I come back to is that the majority of them are C. They are, basically, in a cult. Influenced and supported by B to be sure. And I’m sure there’s some percentage who are A. But I can’t make my brain or heart think that’s too many of them. Maybe the ones at the top. But not most people. 

I say all of this, on the cusp of change because there are calls for “us” to understand “them.” Wrapped in a message of empathy. “Your neighbors are going through what you did in 2016” is how the refrain goes. First of all, I believe these messages are from a good place for the most part. Although some of it, depending on who is saying it, is clearly attached to an agenda. Because, some of these people know how horrific the things they’ve endorsed, supported, or ignored are. They are so ready to “heal” because they want to absolve themselves of their sins.

I am ready to heal. I am ready for us to find common ground again. But the reality is that there are some ground rules. And if we can’t get to an agreement on those ground rules? If you won’t recognize the basic rights and humanity of vast swathes of the US population… if you won’t agree that great crimes have been committed and atoned for… well, then we have a problem.

The way to heal is to make sure our system doesn’t favor the bullies and the rule breakers. They it doesn’t favor the criminals, the men and women who will sell their souls for the almighty dollar. The way to heal is to establish the ground rules of what America is, again. To abandon the old ways that didn’t work. Limit campaign spending. Make voting more accessible. Fix gerrymandered states. I don’t have all the answers, of course. But there’s a LOT of work to restore faith in our democracy. To make sure it’s not so easy to lose. THAT is the way to heal. But, also, I think we need to hold people accountable for their actions. Not for revenge. But to put some teeth into it. To show that, if you cross these lines, you will be punished.

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