It was something so surreal that no one could take it seriously. A man spewing hatred, inciting offense and ignoring all the rules of the political game slowly gained the votes needed to be elected as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. As his delegate count increased, the shouts declaring him Hitler grew louder. Comedians, mainstream politicians, talk show hosts, and anyone else who could grab a microphone decried what was happening. They spoke of bigotry, sexism, racism, unprofessionalism and attacked his character and credentials. John Oliver even went so far as to discredit his name in the #neverdrumpf campaign.
But the votes for Donald Trump kept coming.
And, as much as we would like to believe that hyper-white-supremacist and uneducated citizens voted for this man, the reality is that his supporters are hiding in average America. His supporters are not necessarily hateful. They are not revolutionaries. They are the un-phenomenal characters of the world whose vision of America, for good or for bad, has been discredited and ignored.
Frankly, it does not matter what Trump has to say. Trump has nothing original to tell us. His flip flops, theatrics and sound-bytes are calculated devices meant to stir a suppressed population. He is only a mirror reflecting the hidden thoughts of our country that have been censored by a politically correct code of conduct.
What does matter is what has been building below the surface. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are a country that respects diversity, honors equality, and braves change for the betterment of others and the less fortunate. We use the language that reflects these values, but we act out of values far more selfish. Trump has made America take a hard look in the mirror. We love ourselves far more than our neighbor, security far more than compassion, and money far more than our health and environment.
The Democratic response to the rise of Trump is also important to note. The utter shock and dismay at the Republican candidacy is part of the problem. Democrats and dissenting independents are truly shocked at the support of Trump’s values because, as high-tech Americans, we never need to listen honestly to opposing views. We know very little about the opposition other than that we hate them and call them ignorant. Just yesterday, Hilary Clinton’s response to a tweet from Donald Trump simply said “DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT.” There was no communication, just the idea that there was no need to listen to anything Trump had to say.
Or take, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow for same-sex marriage. The internet exploded in rainbows. Twitter erupted with #lovewins, Facebook changed profile pictures with multi-colored backgrounds, and even the White House used a rainbow floodlight. The opposing viewpoint became bigots overnight, and their voices were drowned out by the crowds calling them idiots, uneducated, hateful, and the like. There was no educated conversation or respectful debate. There was no civility. There was no room to listen to the opposition. Ironically, the pro-tolerant #lovewins campaign was extremely intolerant of dissenting views.
How can we get away with not even conversing on issues anymore? Our news apps and social media do the work for us. They allow us to filter the news we want to see. When we do not like what someone else has to say, we can block or unfriend them. We believe simultaneously in the right to say and believe whatever we want while not allowing others the ability to believe anything different from us. We have become our own omnipotent gods, sure in ourselves and unwilling to seek input from outside sources.
However, we cannot ignore opposition forever. What happens when we ignore and discredit entire communities? They find ways of seeking power, one way or another. On the streets, power is found in guns, inciting fear, and violence. In the #blacklivesmatter campaign, power is found with riots, protests, and blockades. In the Trump campaign, power is found in crassness, and old-fashioned discrimination.
We can give power to others when we listen to them, validate their narratives and emotions, and then move to some common ground. If we choose to ignore others, label them uneducated or “crazy,” and discount them, they will find an alternative way to that power.
We cannot close our eyes and wish away a Trump Presidency. For many years, this is how we have treated opinions we oppose. We drew our social circles in such a way that we never needed to see the “ugly” reality of the other side. But whether we admit it or not, the other side remains, and they are seeking to be heard. It is our choice whether we can address one another’s differences with love, or with continued hatred and polarization.