Regret and Empathy

Original publish date: November 10 on Medium.

Like most liberals today, I am dealing with a lot of emotions. I’ve felt shock, fear, anguish, and fury (to name a few). I’ve accepted that this is not a nightmare, and that I will not wake up on the morning of November 8th thanking every higher power out there that it didn’t really happen and that Election Day will unfold as everyone said it would, with Hillary Rodham Clinton elected as America’s first female president. That’s been my dream since I was 15, and I cannot begin to express how much it hurts having it denied.

But this is reality. We don’t get a do-over, and Donald Trump is going to be president on January 20th.

These are some thoughts on the human side of this election. (I’m still too angry to articulate how I think the Democratic leadership still standing should handle the incoming government on the lawmaking side of things, or how politics will be in general— that will have to be saved for another day)

I want to address the emotions I thought I felt for the majority of Trump voters during this election, which is pity and empathy. I felt bad because I knew where many of them were coming from — that I really understood how desperate and angry and ignored they felt, enough to turn to a man so deplorable and unqualified for the presidency that it was almost comical.

But there it is, right there in my use of the word “comical”. Trump was not a joke or a caricature; he was a breath of fresh air for a lot of people. Enough people, in fact, that he was elected to the highest office attainable in our country.

Empathy was clearly not the emotion I was feeling. I was condescending, dismissive, and felt morally superior. No matter their situations or backgrounds, I was convinced that if only they had the ability to look beyond their own personal troubles and see the issues at stake here (as Icould), they’d see reason. These people were meager, misguided, and, yes, deplorable for not denouncing all of the atrocious things that came out of Trump’s mouth.

If I had truly felt empathy, I would have tried to have actual conversations with people who had different views. Instead I stayed in the liberal bubble of Portland, Maine and let my social media feeds and New York Times op-eds assure me that the people who were planning on voting for Trump were a minority and didn’t matter.

Once, I opened a few political photos on Instagram with anti-Hillary hashtags, and the Instagram algorithm started adding related images to my search feed. I tried to ignore them, but after a while I gave up and simply chose to “See Fewer Posts Like This”. And I went back to pretending that they still weren’t being posted.

I regret all of that so much. Truly. At the very least, I wouldn’t have been so painfully heartbroken at this outcome. Instead of seeing this wave coming and preparing to resurface safely, I got bowled over.

I’ll admit that I have a blind spot when it comes to Hillary Clinton, who is one of my greatest role models as a woman and leader. It’s hard for me to admit her faults, and I downplay her mistakes. But despite that, I’ll continue to stick by my opinion that Hillary was the very best choice we had for president this year (and for many years to come), and that we have seriously let her and our country down by not electing her.

As such, I’m not excusing all of those 59 million-plus voters who blocked her. I will not be naïve enough to believe that there weren’t plenty of people who voted for Trump because they are sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic. That he received the support of many white voters because they could feel the fringes of their privilege fraying (whether they’ll admit it or not), and decided that its preservation was worth the cost. Those people exist, and I’d like to take this moment to personally say FUCK YOU to each and every one of them. They are as guilty of refusing to leave their own bubbles as I am, and need to own up to it. It’ll make it easier for them when they eventually lose, as I have.

But that’s a black hole of rage I can’t go down right now. I’m here to admit my failings as a liberal, white girl with far too much privilege than I know what to do with. I can blame this loss on people whom I see as inferior, or I can try to examine their mindset and understand it, if not accept it. We’ll never agree on a lot of issues, Hillary Clinton being Satan and a criminal one of them. I’ll take that as a challenge, even an insult, but not an invitation to condemn them for being less human, and will expect the same courtesy in return.

I actually have to see them as people who are my equals, not deplorable Others. Because when the shit hits the fan, likely in the form of dismantled social safety nets, a repealed ACA with no viable replacement, and more income inequality, the voters who threw their support behind Trump after being fucked over by the establishment of their own party will be the first to suffer, along with people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and women of every age and ethnicity. No one deserves that.

Starting from the ground up, we’ll help each other, and anyone who resists because a modern world with diversity, communication, and female leadership is too uncomfortable for their cocooned lives — well, there’s always going to be room on this train when you’re ready.

The task of saving society through empathy will fall to those who are willing to actually listen to Hillary Clinton’s departing words:

“I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary of doing good, for in good season we shall reap. My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”

You can’t change the world by leaving half of it behind, and I don’t mean to.

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