In response to the election of Donald Trump, some Americans have begun to wear safety pins. Why? According to the Huffington Post, these Americans are declaring themselves to be “safe places.” They wear the pin to show support for “women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.” Why do these groups need support? Because Trump’s election and the violence allegedly committed by some of his supporters after his election have harmed these groups.
Let me say without equivocation that I believe in standing alongside every American against any form of unjust violence, regardless of its motivating cause. I believe this is the obligation of every American. And I think this is our expectation, which is precisely why we find accounts of Americans terrorizing other Americans to be both shocking and reprehensible.
I don’t think the safety pin movement as it currently exists will solve the problem it intends to solve. Indeed, I think it will do more harm than good by re-enforcing tribalistic commitments and by making Trump’s diverse voter base feel guilty and ashamed.
Instead of a safety pin movement that doubles-down on the “safe spaces” infantilism plaguing the millennial generation, here’s a version of the safety pin movement I’d find interesting and helpful for restoring our country: people should wear the pin if they voted for Trump, do not fit the mold of a Trump voter, and want to talk about it.
A Safety Pin Can Break the Conversation Barrier
Imagine walking into your office, having not voted for Trump, and seeing your Hispanic lesbian co-worker wearing such a pin. Wouldn’t you want to ask her about it? As a non-Trump voter, I certainly would.
The biggest benefit of such a conversation is that it would move us quickly out of the realm of identity or tribes, and into the realm of ideas. How could a conversation with a Hispanic lesbian Trump voter not achieve such an objective? Small minds talk about people; great minds talk about ideas. It’s time for us to move beyond the small-minded way we’ve viewed politics for so long, and unite as a diverse people around big, mutually affirmed ideas.
Do you see how this twist on the pin movement makes plain the harm of the pin movement as it currently exists? My version of this movement is compelling for what it would promote: conversation, empathy, understanding, assumption-breaking. The current pin movement promotes the opposite of these things.
We Need a Marketplace of Ideas
I want to close by quoting one of my favorite politicians currently holding elected office: Senator Ben Sasse. Writing for the Omaha World-Herald, Senator Sasse said,
“There will be disagreements — between neighbors, between the executive and legislative branches, between political parties. This is a good thing. This is an intentional feature of our system, not a bug. The marketplace of ideas should be civil, but it should also be contested. We should disagree respectfully. Reflexive tribalism and reflexive partisanship are signs of a sick republic, not a healthy one… Millions of Americans – many inspired by Trump, but also a great any who are skeptical of him yet still reluctantly voted for him – understandably want Washington disrupted. We’re demanding an end to self-dealing and one-size-fits-all answers of that city’s elite.”
It’s time for movements that inspire conversation, not mutual affirmation. It’s time for us to muck around in the mess and do the hard work of bridging gaps, building empathy and understanding. It’s time for us to recognize that within a diverse democracy, our goal is not to solve all problems, but to allow a tension between competing value systems while still promoting liberty and justice for all. That’s not a conversation we’ve had for a long time. But after this election, it’s one we very much need now.