Our Only Hope
A Solution No one Wants to Hear
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Have you ever been so afraid that you went against your core values and morals? Have you ever been so scared you stopped thinking clearly, gave into fear, and just reacted? Let’s take a very minor scenario: Have you ever been late to something—your kid’s soccer game or work, and you drove recklessly, disobeying speed signs, traffic signals, and disregarded your own safety and the safety of those around you, and so on?
When we are desperately afraid of losing something or someone we hold dear we can become frantic, mean, thoughtless, and so rigidly determined to do everything we can not to lose what we love that we stop listening to our hearts or consciences.
What would make a thoughtful, intelligent, perhaps even religiously minded person, vote for Donald Trump?
Fear. And nearly half the country voted for him.
Not every Trump supporter is a racist. Many however come from rural America where a kind of poverty exists that is rarely talked about. Jobs are hard to find in the city. Jobs are hard to find around farmlands and old coalmining towns.
Imagine along comes a wretched human being who claims to have a solution, who feeds your fears to such a degree that you look past his immorality so desperate you are to save your family, your town, your farm, your family business, your values.
Imagine fear seeping into your heart so much that it effects your reasoning. You might become afraid of everything that moves, everything that’s different from what you have always known. And as more fear is poured into you the more desperate you become for some thread of security even if it is presented in ways that make little sense or by someone abhorrent.
Are the poor living in rural areas victims? Are the poor living in the inner cities victims? People do desperate things in the inner city for money. People do desperate things in the country for money. And not just for money, but for opportunities they feel aren’t there for them—opportunities for jobs, college, healthcare. The overriding issue of desperation is the same.
If you have never allowed your morals and values to be set aside for even something seemingly minor, then you are a better person than me. Thing is, if Trump gets impeached or assassinated (and Pence chokes to death on a piece of beef) we would still have half the country that believed their wretched ideology. To me, voting for Trump was a horribly desperate call for help and change. And maybe an inner change so fundamental that some people don’t even realize how unconsciously they acted.
If you ask Trump supporters why they voted for him they might say something like this:
“We want change. We are tired of the average politician. We are afraid of this group or that group. We are afraid of terrorists. We are afraid we will lose our farms, our businesses, we are afraid of not having work—jobs, opportunities, access to healthcare and education—we live in rural areas where the poverty we experience often goes unnoticed. We are afraid our values are being taken from us. And some of us are scared enough to overlook our candidate’s racism, bullying, and misogyny because we believe he offers the best chance of getting us out of this mess. Anything but politics as usual. That scares me.”
If you ask someone who voted for Hillary they might say something like this:
“We want change (i.e. a woman president). We are tired of the average politician. We are afraid of this group or that group. We are afraid of domestic terrorists. We are afraid we will lose our homes, our businesses, we are afraid of not having work—jobs, opportunities, access to healthcare and education—we live in urban areas where the poverty we experience gets noticed but little done to solve it. We are afraid our values are being taken from us. And some of us are scared enough to overlook our candidate’s record on war and big business, and cronyism, because we believe she offers the best chance of getting us out of this mess, and besides, she isn’t him. He scares me.”
Both sides are based in fear. And the more the fear grows the more frightening our actions become. We might sacrifice our family time because we have to pay the bills. We might sacrifice family traditions for the same reason. We might sacrifice our values and morals for the same reasons also. We might manifest a call-out culture to distract ourselves from ourselves and the perhaps directionless state our lives may be in. We might manifest hideous ideas about Muslims and people of the LGBTQIA spectrum. We might become willing to fight for beliefs that stem from fear and a gut-wrenching desperation.
And there is little hope. It feels as if the nation is on the brink of civil war or, at very least, massive civil unrest, and both sides operating from fear, and both sides believing they are in the right. And like every good kindergarten brawl, both sides will wreck everything in their path to get what they want.
We must find a way to bring together—at risk of over simplifying the image–the country mouse and the city mouse. We must find a way to ease one another’s fears. Somehow, someway conversations need to happen between the alt-right and the alt-left. Somehow dialogs must begin so we can personalize and humanize one another instead of viewing one another through the narrow lenses of stereotypes. Both sides stereotype, that cannot be denied.
How to get these conversations started is another story. We need brave, strong moderators. We need people who can listen and set aside their own fears and prejudices long enough to hear someone out (or in). Both sides must look past the deeds and ideologies of one another and see the fear in each other’s eyes and the soul of light wanting to be safe.
These conversations need to happen on all levels, but first and foremost Hillary (or Bernie) supporters must reach out to Trump supporters and vice-a-versa. Difficult conversations need to happen around dinner tables or in living rooms. These need to then spread to places of worship, and then perhaps schools and town halls, but it starts with us trying to make bridges with one another instead of unfriending and cutting each other out of our lives.
“I hate you!” the kindergartener shouts when scared and angry that they don’t get what they want.
And then the building blocks get thrown. And people get hurt.
We must be better than this. And it starts with difficult conversations.
And let’s be clear, the conversations wouldn’t be about trying to convince one another about who is right or wrong. The conversations should focus around certain fundamental questions such as:
1). What is your biggest fear?
2). Do you have enough money to eat?
3). What are you afraid of losing?
4). Do you need anything by way of healthcare or visits to a doctor?
5). How can I help?
6). Does anyone in your family need a tutor or a babysitter?
7). What do you value most in this world?
8). What are your spiritual beliefs? Tell me about them. Let’s find common ground.
9). What causes you the most pain—emotionally, physically, spiritually?
10). Are you willing to pray with me? Share a meal with me? Be seen in public with me?
11). Who is your favorite music star? Play me something by them. Tell me why you like them.
12). What are your favorite family traditions?
13). What is one of your most cherished memories?
14). What were your dreams growing up? What are your dreams now?
15). Where did your ancestors come from?
16). What talents do you have? Hobbies? Interests? Weird habits?
17). What things do we have in common?
18). What is your favorite joke?
And, of course, the list could go on, or be simplified. The point is to ask questions that help draw us together, that help us see the soul in one another, the spirit, the basic humanity, the pain, the joy.
As I see it these conversations are our only hope. The alternative to coming together is living in a consciously divided country that may or may not end well, and, we all know, likely not well–is, well, the more likely scenario (how’s that for a sentence?).
It’ll never happen! I hear you cry! As a transperson I am never sitting with an alt-right “Christian.” As an alt-right Christian I am never sitting with a Muslim!”
Yes, these conversations would be risky and painful, and both sides might sit before one another feeling unsafe or even threatened. But does either side feel safe now sitting in front of their computers posting angry, fear-based things to rationalize and justify more fear and separation? Does either side feel safe on the streets? After all, terrorists of one kind or another are everywhere, guns drawn, bombs at the ready, aren’t they? I believe we are greater than this—greater than our fears and differences—real or imagined.
I also believe the more we say these conversations will never help or never happen the more we expose ourselves to be just as stridently rigid as those we fear.
I also believe it must be the young people of this country to first take up the challenge of bringing one another together in conversation. The less hardened, the less frightened, perhaps. The less indoctrinated. Then, once young people get the ball rolling, I believe the rest of us can follow their lead. And speaking of leading:
Some may say we need strong leadership to make these conversations happen, but I disagree. The people must lead in this instance. The top is not to be trusted. It needs to begin with the people. We must take charge of bringing each other together, of trying to heal the painful divisions that exist between us, of trying to see one another as human beings—frightened, desperate human beings frantic to not lose what they so hold dear, even if what they hold dear seems foreign to us, or threatening, or even repugnant. We must learn to listen in such a way as to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to recognize ourselves in the eyes of another.
Maybe it’s too late for hope, or for peace. Maybe both sides are so deeply and fundamentally afraid that they are creating the very world they fear. Maybe we all have a deep-seeded death-wish based on massive hopelessness and fear. Maybe we don’t want a solution. Maybe we believe it all needs to get torn down in order to get rebuilt the way we like it. Maybe we all want out because we see no way out and are tired and afraid, and war seems, at least unconsciously, the best alternative.
I am trying hard not to think that way. I believe in America. I believe we are a great nation with people full of passion, ideas, creativity, boundless generosity, humor, warmth, kindness. We must begin believing in one another and to do so we must see each other’s humanity. We can do this. We have done hard things before. I believe in us. I believe in you.
May our nation be blessed.