We all know the phrase “never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table”. We’ve all been told that we shouldn’t let political differences stand in the way of our relationships or dictate how we perceive the content of someone’s character. For most of my life, I’ve adhered to this principle. I either deliberately avoided conversations I thought would lead to disagreement, or I told myself that a certain view someone held was relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
But as I have gotten older and more exposed to my own identity and the identities of others, I have learned that for many people politics are more than just “discussions”. Politics are more than just tax debates, or fighting over the ideologies behind foreign wars. And what I’ve realized is that there is an inherent privilege behind this principle, behind this notion that politics shouldn’t be divisive because they are merely pleasantries or unimportant issues that don’t really affect our day-to-day. We were told never to discuss politics because there was no point in challenging each other—there was nothing at stake. Because whatever the political disagreement may be, everyone would be okay in the end (at least the privileged white people would be). But if we have learned anything this week, it’s that politics are more than just a discussion, they’re not just something you can “agree to disagree on” or swipe under the rug when things get tense.
Since the election I’ve seen this quote circulating around Facebook: “If you are someone who woke up this morning and is going to start seeing people as who they voted for, and not as the person you have always known them to be, then you are what is wrong with America”.
I suppose if you agree with “never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table” then you agree with the sentiment above. I think the underlying issue with this thought is that it implies that you can always see who a person is from the start, or know the values they hold in their heart. For me, it isn’t that I now see people as who they voted for, it’s that I see them more complexly than I had before. When I see someone who voted for Trump, I don’t see Trump—I see a person who may not fundamentally understand or empathize with the needs of women, people of color, Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people. I see a person who has lived within a bubble, who has done good and will continue to do good, but has never been exposed to how people different from them may live. I see a person who believes he or she may not hold bigotry in their heart, but who cannot understand how supporting a bigot makes you complicit in bigotry.
If you vote for a candidate, you agree with what they represent and stand for. You may not share all of their views, but unless you publicly denounce them, it is implied that you do. To some, Donald Trump stands for “economic prosperity” and “security”, but to others he represents misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and racism. And when it comes down to it, those who voted for Donald Trump have expressed to the world that they too share those ideals intentionally or unintentionally. To minorities, it does not matter whether or not someone voted for Trump for economic or security reasons because human equality and dignity are supposed to take precedence over policy. That is why people believe Trump supporters are racists, misogynists, and homophobes—because they prioritized policy over people. They said my personal comfort and security trumps the comfort and security of everyone else.
This past week I have cried. I have angrily un-friended every Trump supporter I know on Facebook, and I have told myself to cut ties with any person who supports him and his bigotry. My brain has fried cycling through grief, anger, disbelief, and disappointment. The optimist in me wants to believe in the inherent good in people, but the pessimist hates the world we’ve all helped cultivate. I do not want to give into hate because I still believe that love trumps it, but it is hard to resist. And I think the only way I can work to build bridges and rebuild myself is by letting myself grieve and lash out and be disappointed. Because at the end of the day we didn’t just put Trump is office—we put his ideas in office. We gave validation to groups like the KKK, and we made young children of color and immigrants feel like they don’t belong in their own country. And that is why I currently despise the people who voted for Trump, maybe even more than I despise him. Because they were the ones who put him in office. They were the ones who said, “we agree with this man and we want to give him power”, and that’s why this election is more than just politics talk at the dinner table.
My hope is that Trump supporters, the ones who say they believe in equality and human dignity, will rail against Trump when he asks them to stand up for bigotry. My hope is that they will listen to the pain that nearly every minority group is feeling in this moment, that they will question their own privileges, and that they will do their best to push him to do better. I also hope that I will show patience and empathy, that I will try to listen to and understand Trump supporters, and that I will be able to step outside my own bubble of privilege. I hope I can help alleviate the anger and alienation that many people across this country feel, and I hope I can push for democratic systems that do good by all. I am upset, angry, and disappointed right now, and that’s okay, but I need to decide to channel those feelings into something productive and meaningful. Because politics are more than just dinnertime discussion.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.