To begin with, I think it is only fair that I state up front that I suspect the only people who would venture to call me a liberal are some of the people in this small Utah town where I live. I am pretty sure that just about anywhere else in the world I would be called a conservative moderate (or maybe even just a conservative). That being said, this past election cycle I was one of the people in the, “Anyone but him” camp.
Last night as the polls started coming in I felt my stomach sink, and, as the night wore on, I kept telling myself it was like the Bush Gore election, so I went to bed hoping (naively) that a decision wouldn’t be made when I woke in the morning.
But, when I woke up at 4:30 this morning instead of turning over and going back to bed, I couldn’t resist the temptation to check. My worst fears were confirmed. Somehow we had elected (by a landslide!) a man that I truly felt was a horrible person into the most powerful position in our country.
As my husband and I went over all the worries and concerns this development caused us, one thing kept coming to the forefront of our minds, “How do we tell our girls?” The younger ones we suspected wouldn’t be too hard. They are only 5 and 7, and while they are aware of what has been going on, I suspected that their minds would effortlessly move on to what they were going to do in school today.
It was my 10-year-old I was worried about. She was aware of what was going on. She knew the horrible things Trump had done, and the radical issues he was touting he would put in place if elected. She knew a lot of her friends (and their parents) thought he was better than Hillary, but she held out a hope that the people around her would not vote for him. In retrospect, this was my fault. When I talked to her, I left out the fact that most of the people around us felt differently. I didn’t warn her to steel herself and be prepared to stand alone for her beliefs.
When the moment finally came to tell my girls the news, I started to repeat a phrase I had heard in my college years about respecting the man because you respect the office…but the words died in my throat. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my girls that because he was going to be president, they should respect a man who bragged about being able to grope women and get away with it because of who he was. I just. couldn’t. do it.
The moment slipped away and, although disappointed, they all moved on. It wasn’t until we were in the car later that my 10-year-old asked, “Mom, who did Utah vote for?” My throat clenched as I broke the news that Utah’s electoral votes went to Trump. While the news of Trump’s win disappointed her, this news shocked her. She couldn’t understand how the majority of Utahans would vote for him. I could see her little mind churning, trying to reconcile the thought of all these people around her, who she knew to be good, intelligent, conscientious people voting for him. It was then that I realized my mistake.
When I was growing up, every time I felt strongly about an issue, my dad would purposely take the opposite stance and force me to confront how a reasonable, intelligent, good person could possibly think differently than me. This did one of two things. It either changed my mind, or it made me more firm in my own belief. (Okay, one of three things…either those, or I’d storm off in a rage…I was a teenager after all). But, regardless of what it did to my opinion on the issue, it always made me look at the people supporting the other side with more understanding, respect and compassion.
We live in a very conservative place. I assumed my daughter was hearing lots of conservative opinions, so my talking to her about more liberal views, I thought, was balancing that out. I didn’t take into account that the majority of the conservative opinions she was hearing were coming from 10-year-olds, and mostly consisted of, “At least he’s not Hillary, she wants to kill babies.”
As I saw my daughter trying to figure out how on earth these good people she knew could possibly vote for this man that I had demonized, I determined to take a page from my dad’s playbook and decided to do my best to explain to her why good, reasonable, intelligent people would choose to vote for Trump.
We talked about issues people had with Hillary. We talked about her emails. We talked about religious liberties. We talked about late term abortion. We talked about corruption and elitism. We talked about the judicial branch of government. We also talked about the thought process I had gone through in deciding that, despite my disagreeing with her on many things, I would rather have her in office than Trump.
Then the conversation turned to Trump.
We talked about the issues I have with Trump’s policies, but this time, I explained them to her from the other side. We talked about illegal immigration. We talked about the working class. We talked about state government versus federal government. We talked about marginalized people feeling like they have no voice. I made a conscientious effort to not use the terms racism, ignorance and hate (remember, my goal was to get her to better understand where these people she knew were not racist, or ignorant or hateful were coming from). We did talk about fear. I don’t know how to explain Trump’s desire to ban a religion without talking about fear.
But something happened as I assumed the role of the defender of the people voting for this person I had been vilifying for months. I began to have compassion for them. I began to think about how their life experiences had led them to their decision. And while I still, wholeheartedly, disagree with their decision, and still feel anxiety over what the next four years will bring, some of my faith in the people of this country has been restored. I now understand a bit more about where they are coming from, and feel a desire to make sure they have a place in this conversation where we can discuss their needs and concerns without making them feel like bigots or hate mongers.
I also feel like I understand my dad a bit more. He wasn’t just forcing me to look at the other side of issues for my benefit. He was also doing it for him.