I’m writing this before I know the outcome of the election. It’s noon on election day, November 3rd 2020, and I’ve just spent 2 hours by myself on a kayak mostly crying. Cut to 4 hours later and we are making cookies and notes for our Trump-loving neighbors.
Let’s back up. I’ve never kayaked before but I closed my office for the day (because it should be a national holiday) and I figured I’d take some time for myself to process all the fears and negative emotions I had around the election. I put on Brene Brown’s podcast and started paddling. I got ambitious and thought I’d go all the way around the lake not realizing until 1/2 way around that it was 3 miles – a real feat for a first-time kayaker. My arms were so worn out that I had to stop for an hour, stranded, and all I could do was think. A lot.
I’ve been stuck in an emotional tunnel full of anger, disbelief, and disappointment and it’s been so toxic for my insides. While many people have so many reasons to be angry and I don’t want to diminish yours, mine was this: I was so mad that so many really good people, Christian/moral people, could align themselves with Trump. That they could physically check the box saying ‘yes, this guy. He’s who I want to lead our country’. I was MAD. I know I’m not alone in this which is why I’m writing about it. There have been a lot of ‘HOW COULD…. ” questions screamed externally the last, well, four years and it has not been good for our collective mental health.
We non-Trump voters have to figure this out to survive mentally and as a nation. BUT HOW? For me, I had to find what we have in common in order to get past this, and after a lot of searching I realized what we all have in common is fear. It’s always fear. Fear is the worst. What I’ve learned is that most (white people) who voted for Trump did so to preserve their way of life, and another way you can put it (very simply, boiled down) is fear of change. I know it’s more nuanced than that, but that if you had to simplify it, that. is. it. I think. Things are changing really fast and It can be scary. The power structure that has been so comfortable for so many for so long is being challenged. What I want to say to everyone is that there is enough power for all of us (thank you again, Brene Brown for teaching me this). There is a big fear of socialism, but I promise that 98% of Democrats just want some basic human needs like affordable health care, good education, racial equality and policy that prevents poverty and gives people more opportunity. We just want more fairness and equity and for things to be better, but that doesn’t mean that you will have less. You are scared of anarchy and are wanting more law and order and I get that – we all want law and order, just a more compassionate version and policy to help reform police and prisons, and more importantly to help prevent the problems in the first place. We need new systems that don’t make compassion and accountability mutually exclusive. Fear has been so weaponized and there has been so much disinformation, lies and polarization, but I’m trying to understand while i disagree.
But listen, I see you. I don’t agree, but I hear your fears. I’m scared, too in a million ways about Trump staying in power and I want to listen so I can help teach.
Once I framed it more as ‘we are all just really scared’ regardless of having very different fears and even seeing a lot of hypocrisy in some of them, I could start to have empathy. If I thought my way of life was going to change drastically I would be scared, too. If I thought that I was living in a country where people didn’t value human life and no one got punished for it, I would be scared too. If I thought that we were headed to socialism and anarchy, geez, I would be scared, too. I see you now and I want to say ‘We just want things to be better, more fair, more equal, I promise.‘ But when you want things to stay the same or even go back in time to when things were simpler for you, I understand how even ‘better’ or ‘progress’ can seem scary.
Now I know it’s more than that, and I don’t want to condescend to anyone or oversimplify, I promise, but I think if you ask yourself honestly the reason you checked that box it’s not his policy, it’s to preserve a way of life that is comfortable.
So this is where I’m at, literally 3 hours ago out in the middle of a lake when I started coming through the emotional tunnel, realizing I’ve been pretty close-minded and very very angry. Getting on the other side of the anger, while not even knowing who wins this election, was an unexpected election day breakthrough. Listening to Biden and Brene Brown talk about power and unity inspired me and made me feel ashamed for letting myself get so polarized, judgmental, and angry. While I will continue to abhore the racism in this country, and do my best to be anti-racist every day. Full Stop. But we simply don’t communicate deeply enough with each other in regards to complicated emotions and politics to find out what is driving the choices, mostly fear, so how can we find empathy? We all just watch the news and then scream into our own echo chambers. We are secretly so ugly in our private time towards each other. Maybe some votes could have been shifted as we popped our bubbles, and opened up the conversation earlier. I blame myself for that. I was too scared to talk about it and too scared of how I would react.
So what did I do? Well, first I had to get home from the other side of the lake. Instead of going around the outside, inside the buoy line which would have taken another hour, I bee-lined as fast I could, paddling maniacally across the lake (which is illegal and normally very dangerous but there was only one boat on the lake – the security boat, and they were far away but surely have ticketed me if they saw me). I paddled so hard and fast and finally made it, sweating, endorphins high. I biked home very excited about my idea.
I had a great idea: We would make cookies for our Trump-loving neighbors. When I proposed this, breathless from biking, the kids immediately said ‘why would we do that for them?’ and that’s when I realized how wrong I’ve been. I’m making things worse and have actually been such a big part of this polarization. While we likely will never agree on many many things, let me be clear, we can’t just keep ourselves in our bubble. Its not working. Trump supporters are not Trump, himself. I think we are all so angry at him that we take it out on those who voted for him. And listen, with the racism of Trump and many of his supporters I want to scream at people to not vote for him for no other reason than that he will continue to incite racism and violence and its terrifying for all of our BIPOC brothers and sisters. Then I get angry again and all empathy goes out the window……
Then I remind myself that he is pinning us against each other in order to divide and retain power….. its text book strategy. He then weaponizes with fear and we all lose when he does this. All of us.
We have 4 neighbors on our street that are ENTHUSIASTICALLY supporting Trump with multiple signs, etc. We’ve never really talked to them maybe partly because of this. They saw our BLM signs, we saw their Trump signs and kinda called it quits on any future friendship. Every time I ride my bike past the one that has a massive ‘KEEP AMERICA GREAT’ sign over the garage I would internally scream, “FOR WHO??? FOR F***ING WHO???? FOR YOU!!!!!! It wasn’t healthy, but it was my reaction.
When the kids would see the signs they would yell “MAMA! THEY LIKE Trump!!! WHY??” And while we would generally shelter them from our disgust, we genuinely didn’t know how to explain the fandom to our kids. They know that he’s a bully and that he’s not kind, but since we didn’t understand why anyone would be an enthusiastic supporter of Trump we couldn’t even explain it to them. There were times when they would see a sign and start chanting ‘Boo Trump, Boo Trump’, and Brian and I would stop them (after a few rounds) but not after proverbially patting ourselves on the back with a decent amount of pride and smugness. Oh good job, Emily, you’ve convinced your 4 and 6-year-old children to align with their own parents and despise someone. How impressive! Despite sheltering them from the bulk of the ugliness, I still knew that letting our kids judge others based on a sign in their yard was bad parenting but I didn’t know how to stop it and frankly I felt so vulnerable and scared myself that I kinda even wanted my kids on my team. Seriously. I’m just realizing this now as I write – I’m so scared of the world right now that I needed my own small children to be anti-Trump to help comfort me and re-affirm my own beliefs. (In case you are wondering this isn’t about politics and we typically encourage them to think for themselves – Trump is different, it’s about morals).
So yes. I had messed up and we had to make cookies for our enthusiastic Trump supporters in our neighborhood. I needed them and our kids to know that we won’t let a sign cut off our community. While we likely won’t share the same ideals, surely we have some of the same values. While we likely won’t ever be close friends, the fact is that we are neighbors. And I guess that’s my whole point. We are all neighbors. We are all human beings, imperfect and so fearful for ourselves and our family living next to each other without communicating those fears. And while I don’t want to self-help away all the truly ugly things out there that Trump and some supporters have said, done, and believe, I also personally have to get to a place of empathy in order to not only keep moving but also to create a much-needed bridge in my own life… In my own neighborhood and in my own family.
So despite who you voted for I want you to know that I see you, I hear you and you are welcome here if you are kind and respectful towards all Americans – more importantly, let’s start talking. Consider this me giving you some cookies with a note that says, “No matter who wins tonight or tomorrow, and no matter who you voted for, we are still neighbors. And if you ever need anything please know that the Hendersons are here for you. We are all Americans”. While I won’t give you my number to text as we did them. I mean it, too for you. And a week ago I would not have been able to say it and certainly not have meant it. We need more unity, more community, to find more in common ground and yes to put ourselves in other’s shoes and try to understand ‘why’ in order to empathize, move past and truly make more universal and meaningful change. We have to stop shaming and alienating people for voting for Trump or not using the right Politically correct language, it just shoves them further away and metastasizes their contempt for “progress” and “progressives”. Because if Trump shaming, purity politics, and cancel culture is part of “progress’ then I would be scared, too.
I could obviously write for hours about this, but I just got back from delivering cookies, and now it’s time to watch the election. Going from anger to empathy wasn’t easy and I’m not saying that you should feel the same way that I do or that I won’t have angry/negative relapses. I seriously don’t want to negate anybody’s emotions – please know that. This administration has inflamed, divided, and incited violence in ways that no cookies can ever ever ever apologize for. Be angry if you are angry. And yes I will likely relapse at some point and be angry, too.
But for now, I feel in a way better place than I have in months, and even dropping cookies off at our Covid neighbor with a note saying ‘regardless of who you vote for we are your neighbors and are all Americans’ felt GOOD. I’m settling in to watch the election with more empathy in my heart for every citizen in this flawed and incredible country than I have in the last four years, likely blinded by hope. We are all Americans. It’s time to become a community, a collective neighborhood who empathizes our way to getting better, together. Let’s make America Better. Full Stop.
**Also since my team is off for the day voting/self-caring no one edited this because it was a last-minute post, so excuse the grammatical mistakes. Also, I’m monitoring comments and anything that is negative or triggering to others won’t be published. I want to build a bridge today, not create more division or make this blog feel unsafe in any way, for anyone. I know I’ve said a million things wrong, or not quite right, or oversimplified or not recognized the extreme harm and pain he’s caused. I know that giving cookies to Trump lovers right now feels like I’m betraying my party. I know all of that. But I’m publishing this anyway without overthinking it because I want us to all find a way to unite despite this incredible division and, heck, maybe we really should start to not only “love thy neighbor” but “love thy enemies”. Or so I’ve heard. Let’s try that, shall we?
Y’all, WE CAN’T LET HIM PIT US AGAINST EACH OTHER ANY LONGER and that is exactly what is happening if we bash each other for being empathetic and trying to see the other side. We can’t let him win. We need to unite towards progress, against him, not cannibalize each other for showing empathy. The left does this far more than the right. Let’s NOT do that. xx