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On drawing lines after the election

The last time I saw my 20-year-old brother in person back in May, the question of what famous person you’d like to have dinner with came up. He said Donald Trump. My other brother and I laughed and teased him, but he stood his ground. Jokingly, in a way that made it clear that his main interest in the hypothetical dinner was the potential for a ridiculously outrageous story. After all, Trump was mostly a joke back then, and whatever any of us thought didn’t really matter because none of us lives or votes in the States.

After that, he would occasionally send me irritating but harmless Trump memes that didn’t really merit anything beyond an eye roll.

On Tuesday he did it again. While talking about what a great party he’d gone to that past weekend, he added a Trump Seal of Approval photo for emphasis. I texted back expressing relief that the absurd campaign would be over soon, and he replied with vague pro-Trump fluff and asked me to let him know of any major developments, since he wouldn’t be following the election.

The results were clear by the time I went to sleep. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was dreading my brother’s taunting almost as much as the changes the next four years could bring. I knew it would still be a joke to him, and I also knew his teasing would hurt and infuriate me.

For months I had been able to mostly ignore his obnoxious comments, reassured in the certainty that it was just part of having an annoying kid brother. But now in my post-election feelings, even though nothing had changed between the two of us, I found myself having a hard time seeing the Trump joke he sent me last Thursday as simply more of his usual trolling.

Did he not see how racist and misogynistic the man was? Or, even worse, did he see it but didn’t think those were unacceptable beliefs in a president?

Those are actual questions I had about my own brother, someone I’ve known all his life. I changed his diapers when he was a baby and we grew up together in a home led by a strong woman, who raised us with values that have nothing to do with the ones Trump displayed throughout his campaign. Despite knowing all of that, it was only after he suggested having a serious conversation about Trump one day –finally hinting at how not serious everything else he had said up to that point had been– that I could breathe a sigh of relief: he does know right from wrong.

And as hard as it may be to see it right now, so do the great majority of the people who elected Trump. For all I know, most people saw voting for him as a compromise, a strategic way to secure the change they desperately want but can’t see happening any other way. They didn’t necessarily vote for the wall or the Muslim registry, they voted for the dignity and safety they feel only Trump can give them back. And most of them are just as horrified as I am by the spike in racist bullshit we’ve seen these last couple of days.

I need to believe they’re not full of hate –and I do– but I want to see it. I want Trump voters to take responsibility for the consequences they didn’t see coming, or chose to ignore. A lot of people were embarrassed to say they were planning on voting Trump for fear of appearing ‘politically incorrect,’ and the election results are certainly part of the culture war to define what is and isn’t appropriate. Still, I want the people who voted for Trump to acknowledge that it’s no longer about being able to say things others might find offensive, but about people actually being harassed and physically assaulted. Mock the concept of microaggression all you want, but don’t let that blind you from the fact that people of colour and Muslims are having their lives threatened by strangers at gas stations and parking lots. And no, that’s not new, but all evidence suggests it’s gotten worse since Wednesday.

So no matter who you voted for, if you believe everyone should be able to feel safe, act on that! Support organizations that protect minorities and women’s rights. If you witness harassment, stand with the person being targeted, or at least document the situation and talk about it. Do what you can to let the person being harassed know they’re not alone.

Whatever it is, just do something. The line between letting others suffer and working to make their lives better is the only line that really matters.

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