When I was a little girl, I lived feeling different. I was nerdy and shy. My hair was always a rat’s nest. I consistently smelled like curry, I wasn’t white, and I didn’t believe in Jesus. My parents likely had as much money as the other parents of kids in my small, elite private school, but I didn’t get to show off my fancy new clothes or toys after Christmas. Heck, I didn’t even celebrate Christmas. I was an outsider.
My town was a Navy town, which means the Gulf War was very prominent in the minds of my peers, as was their new awareness that I was Muslim and brown. Although I am South Asian, in their minds, I was pretty close to being an Iraqi. Since I was one of the enemy, I encountered negative comments and actions I have kept with me for the rest of my life.
Now, as an adult and with perspective, I can say those “comments” weren’t too bad. I can say easily that those children were repeating things they couldn’t truly understand. I can say that my life was not very negatively affected, and that I was, indeed, a very lucky, privileged person who did not want for anything, had an excellent education, and went on to have a wonderful life.
But to fourth-grade Jen, that was my life. My experiences left a scar on my heart that has never ever quite gone away. If I went back in time and said, “Buck up, buttercup. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, you privileged rich kid,” I can say, with certainty, that this would not have been helpful at all.
This is the perspective with which I view the current state of our country. I think on those parents who are afraid of what their kids will encounter in school the next few days. I think on those people who think they will be attacked, their hijabs ripped off with impunity.
It is tempting to tell them that anecdotes are not data, and many reported violent incidents were likely false, just as, in corollary, there is likely less anti-Trump and anti-conservative violence than reported on the other side. I can tell their kids that words are just words, that their parents are purposely creating in them unnecessary fear, and that they should just shrug it off.
Don’t Reason With People’s Feelings. Just Listen
But as I instead told my fellow conservatives: don’t dismiss the paralyzing effect of being targeted for who you are if it has never happened to you. Don’t diminish that fear and that pain. When you have lived your life as an outsider and have fought to be accepted in a country where you are not the majority, those experiences leave scars that will erupt when a man worshipped by the alt-right is elected.
I think of gay friends who truly believe their marriages will be invalidated after conservatives take over the Supreme Court. I think of people who believe all Muslims will be banned from the country tomorrow.
It is tempting to get on a soapbox and explain that conservative Supreme Court justices, unlike liberal ones, do not legislate from the bench. Gay marriage has been enshrined by the court, and it is unlikely to get overturned. It is tempting to repeatedly assert that a Republican Congress will not allow a president to take extrajudicial actions like banning all Muslims from the country or create torture protocols worse than waterboarding. In fact, it is tempting to laugh at that absurdity.
Instead, I remember how strongly I and many Republicans reacted against Trump’s statements on the Muslim ban. I remember how disgusted we were, and that this statement immediately removed him in my mind as someone who is fit for office. I remember that for my liberal friends, the idea of a judge who does not legislate from the bench is confusing, and the idea of a Republican Congress that would actually stand up to a man the majority ended up endorsing is fiction.
I think of those who are crying over the loss of their health care, or the idea of an erosion of Roe V. Wade.
Imagine the Shoe on the Other Foot
It is tempting to jump in glee, for as a conservative, this is my silver lining. Despite my frustration at Trump’s election, this is a historic event for Republicans, and we will make the most of it.
It is tempting to experience immense levels of schadenfreude. It is tempting to scoff at people protesting an election, claiming #notmypresident, at butt-hurt millennial snowflakes who need their midterms canceled and have cry-ins, and the California secession movement, and to remind them there was not close to this level of caterwauling when President Obama was elected. It is tempting to call them all hypocrites.
Instead, I remember that anyone would be upset at such a historic loss, and this loss is magnified by their fears of a man who would ban entire religions, build walls, deport undesirables, enact torture, and promote country-wide violence. Those are the conditions they believe will become reality.
Just as conservatives are sick to their stomachs at the thought that unborn children do not have rights, liberals likewise are sick to their stomachs at the loss of reproductive freedom. I posit one reason Trump won this election is that conservatives swallowed their distaste of the man and decided abortion was that important. Why can we not understand that this issue is just as important to the other side? “Don’t tell me to smile,” said one my friends recently. “Don’t tell me it’s going to be okay.”
I think of anger and disbelief liberals feel that almost 50 percent of the country is more racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic than they feared. It is tempting to be furious at that belief. In fact, I was immediately furious when I began seeing those statements on election night.
Pull the Log Out of Your Own Eye First
“What angers me to the most is no one will learn anything from this,” I wrote on social media. “We’ll continue to hear that anyone who was #againsther is racist and sexist. Republicans hate progress. Every conservative ever elected is a monster and a fascist. Already the prevailing assumption is that the uneducated misogynists and brown-people haters must be a larger group than we thought.”
“If y’all keep demonizing every Republican politician and voter that ever lived, this will keep happening,” I continued. “You want identity politics? This is identity politics. People who hated Trump still voted for him because they were sick of being insulted by the elites. You kept crying wolf on Bush, McCain, Romney. And then the real big bad showed up and no one believed you, or even the unprecedented amount of Republicans who joined with you in warning.”
You know what happened? Many liberal friends agreed with me, understanding that people voted for Trump for many reasons other than misogyny and racism, despite my friends’ inability to accept that his misogyny and racism itself didn’t disqualify him. You know what else happened? I got called out on the irony of my anger at Republicans being treated as a monolithic group, while addressing my writings to all liberals as a monolith.
They are not a monolith. Not everyone upset at this election is a spoiled elitist millennial. Not everyone having a cry-in session or giving out free hugs is weak. Not everyone furious at this election is a hypocrite who does not understand how democracy works. In fact, most are not.
It’s just as not everyone against gay marriage is a bigot. Not everyone without a college degree is an uneducated hick. Not everyone against abortion hates women. In fact, most are not.
We always scoff at liberals for not expanding their bubbles. We say they control mainstream media, education, and live in ivory towers. We laugh at the story of the New York woman in shock over Reagan’s landslide election, who said she knew not one person who had voted for him. But we can be just as guilty.
Don’t Be Vindictive Winners
I mentioned that in general, I was a lucky child. In fact, growing up among the Southern conservative elite was a strength. Not only was I used to being a minority in situations—in fact, normally it escapes my notice—but I could walk among that culture in confidence. It also gave me empathy toward their worldview.
Likewise, I am surrounded by the liberal elite. Most of my social circle, and especially my social media circle, is probably liberal. As such, those upset at the election are not caricatures to me. They are real people. They are people with whom I have walked throughout their lives. I do not view them through one snapshot, one tweet, one news article. They are people I love.
Empathy is not weakness. Empathy is strength. Empathy is spreading God’s love.
From my experience, in defeat, conservatives are graceful. Not all, of course, and it is easy to see the best in your party while seeing the worst in others. Regardless, let us posit that in general, there is grace.
For the sake of loved ones, for the sake of the healing of the country, and for the sake of our own souls, let us have the same amount of grace in victory.