Last weekend I took a trip to visit family, and to discuss, among other things, the long-term care of an ailing relative. As if that wasn’t emotionally charged enough, some of us in my family are in disagreement about the aptitude and fitness of the presidential candidates. So we made a pact to avoid discussion of all things involving the election during our time together — rules of civility, if you will, to keep us focused on the task at hand.
After visits with my relative and meetings with the facility staff, we sat in the hotel room to debrief, trying to ignore the muted television in the corner — the nodding heads, furrowed brows, and moving mouths of CNN political pundits. We made tentative plans to meet again in the near future, said our goodbyes, and then I drove home through 5 hours of pouring rain. By the time I reached my home in Vermont, my shoulders had migrated up to my ears and my neck was so tense that I could barely turn my head from side to side.
I could chalk it up to the drive, I suppose, or the emotional challenge of why we were there in the first place — the contemplation of mortality and the indignities that often proceed it: adult diapers, depression, round-the-clock medical care. But if I’m honest with myself, I will admit that it was our silence, and my guilt about our historic silence around these matters and more that made me tighten into stone. There are so many difficult things to talk about in my family, so by default we usually don’t. Except when we are forced to; then we do it out of love.
After the last presidential debate, I posted a comment on Facebook about Donald Trump’s terrible debate performance, specifically his refusal to state that he would accept the results of the election if he didn’t win. After all the people that Trump has thrown under the bus during the course of his campaign, it enraged me to hear him incite some kind of conspiracy theory to cast doubt on his own independent failure to earn the trust of American voters. So I said something.
My comment got pushback from a friend (a conservative, but not a Trump supporter), who suggested that my crowing seemed a bit narrow-minded, unsportsmanlike, perhaps — that it’s easy to say these things when your candidate is winning, but that it’s harder to get into the minds of some of the really good people who happen to be Trump supporters. In other words, consider all of those nice folks with Trump signs in their yards. Most of them are legitimately disenfranchised with their government. Trump may not be ‘good people,’ but they are, and right now Trump is all they’ve got. In other words, be quiet.
We are both products of Ohio, this friend and I. Like him, I have conservative friends and family who lean right in their political views, and probably more than I care to know who have even donated to, or wear merchandise from the Trump/Pence “Make America Great Again” campaign. I have a history with these people. I care about these people; I even love most of them. Why do I keep insisting on stirring the pot? Don’t I care about how they feel?
I can tell you that I have spent most of my adult life with a buttoned lip and a careful eye on ‘caring about how they feel’ — and the only thing I can be sure that my silence successfully accomplished was the sustenance of an unhealthy environment, and a cultivation of a toxicity that served neither myself nor the people with whom I lived. It’s not that I don’t empathize with the struggles of Trump supporters; it’s that I take issue with the racist, misogynist, and xenophobic scapegoating that has been taking place inside that camp, and the general sociopathic traits of the person whom they have identified as their desired leader. To be blunt, I resent the expectation of my silence about all of the above, just because the people with Trump signs in their yards might be good people, friends or former neighbors, or even members of my own family. I have stumbled along this earth long enough to have at least figured out that love should not require silence, and that silence is not the same as love.
Much has been written this year about the “call-out culture” in our society — the act of publicly identifying individuals who have made offensive comments or taken actions of a discriminatory nature — and the pitfalls around the practice of progressive shaming. And while I agree that the reflexive pouncing that often occurs on social media can be counter-productive, I can’t help but be amused by the irony of people whose sensitivities are suddenly aroused once they have been scolded for their insensitivities.
But at least a dialogue is happening, right? Which is to say that although it may be messy, this is all an imperative conversation. We need to sit with our discomfort and acknowledge the pervasive rape culture that hovers over our girls. We need to talk about why using the term “Bad Hombres” during a presidential debate is right-to-the-bone offensive. We need to dissect the incongruities between “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter.” We need to face the tension between our country’s freedom of religion and our population’s fear of certain ones. Because the civil discourse in our country has been ailing for a while now, and it’s time we start thinking about its long-term care. We may not agree on how to avoid the demoralized, shit-filled bedpan state we’re currently headed toward, but we have got to figure this out. Our dignity as human beings is at stake. We’ve got to do this out of love.
Photo Credit: Huffington Post
I am an East-coaster and a West-coaster. I am an academic and a creative spirit. I am an environmental scientist who always wanted to write, and a writer with a nagging nostalgia for the complexities of environmental science. Above all, I am a mother — so whether I’m writing about the natural world, family, or place, I like to consider my work as environmental advocacy in the broadest sense.