I was awakened in the early hours by multiple texts from friends confirming that the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, which had seemed all but certain when I went to sleep only a few hours earlier, had become a reality. I wept. I have already written about what a catastrophically terrible candidate he was, so I will not rehash that here. I will simply note that it is irrefutable that themes of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, and ignorance were central to his campaign.
That point is crucial, because watching my social media feeds has revealed that many of Trump’s supporters are attempting to disavow those elements of the campaign, while celebrating their victory. Not only is doing so disingenuous, it is dangerous and insulting to those most likely to bear the brunt of the vile prejudices on which Trump so adroitly capitalized. The voices of those who are now placed on the outside by Trump’s “outsider” campaign are the ones that have dominated my social media feed, and their words are the ones we need to hear right now, especially on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
We must listen to the voices of people of color. We must listen to the voices of women. We must listen to the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. We must listen to the voices of our Muslim neighbors. We must listen to the voices of those who have been victims of sexual assault. We must listen to the voices of those who battle with physical or mental illnesses or disabilities. We must listen to the voices of those who work eighty hour weeks, but cannot feed their families or afford safe homes for them.
We must listen to their voices, because the voices they hear are calling them “niggers,” “ragheads,” “spics,” “gooks,” “kikes,” “cunts,” “hajis,” “dykes, “faggots,” “whores,” “retards,” and “parasites.”
“Those are horrible words. No one should ever say them. It makes me uncomfortable to even read them. Those words are nothing but hate,” should be the first thought of every single person who reads them.
I agree, completely. Unfortunately, when those of us in the majority use fancy metaphors like “dogwhistle,” or talk blithely about the “dangers of racism and bigotry,” we lose the tenor of bile, the growled threat of violence, which rumbles underneath the more subtle rhetoric of intolerance. If we listen more than we speak, though, we can hear it.
“We’re not saying that!” is the immediate response from most Trump supporters, although clearly not all.
“You’re talking, not listening,” is my reply.
If we listen to the voices coming from those who, after a few brief gulps of fresh air, feel themselves being shoved back into the shadows, it becomes clear that this is exactly what they are hearing. They are afraid. They are afraid of physical violence. They are afraid that their marriages will be annulled. They are afraid they will lose their jobs. They are afraid that they will face discrimination, supported by the force of law. They are afraid that they are no longer welcome in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their country.
They are also angry. They are angry that their patriotism is in question. They are angry that the work they have done to make this country great is ignored. They are angry that their values, their marriages, their families, and their accomplishments are considered second-rate. They are angry that after working twice as hard for half as much, they are still being told they have overstepped and need to learn their place.
“But we don’t believe any of that stuff. We just wanted someone to finally shake up the political system, fix what’s broken, and give us the opportunities we’ve been denied. It’s about the economy for us, and being safe from people we think are threatening us.”
Leaving aside the obvious parallel, to put it simply: No! You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to choose the person who threatens to commit war crimes, rip apart families, revoke civil rights, curtail free speech, validate bigotry, and dredge up every vile prejudice in this nation’s history because you thought you’d make more money and be safe from a hypothetical threat that is more dangerous to the Muslims whom you deride than it is to you. Just because you feel safe from the consequences of the bilious hate that runs through a campaign, that’s no excuse for ignoring it because you think you’ll come out of the other side a winner.
Listen to the people who have lost, so that you could get your win. Their fear, their grief, and the very real dangers of loss and violence they face, that is the price of your pyrrhic victory.
And now I am done speaking to those who are celebrating the election results, but I hope you will keep listening.
Many of my friends, and people who have read my other essays, reached out to me this morning to offer a word of hope. I couldn’t do that without first honoring the chorus of voices of terror and rage I have heard all morning. As a cis, straight, white, healthy, professional, veteran, Christian, male, I had the least to lose last night. Blithely offering encouragement without first listening struck me as a arrogant in the extreme. So I have listened, and within the limited range of my privilege, tried to amplify the voices I have heard.
Now I will speak my word of hope to you.
I have your back.
If you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh, or of any other faith, you are also my brother or my sister. I have your back.
If you are a woman, you are my equal and my partner. I have your back.
If your skin is a different hue from mine, I want to hear your voice. I have your back.
If you view yourself as queer in gender or sexual orientation, I think you’re awesome. I have your back.
If you are an immigrant, I am grateful for your courage. I have your back.
If you wrestle with disability, I honor your strength. I have your back.
If you struggle to make ends meet, I know you fight battles I can’t even see. I have your back.
If you feel betrayed by America this morning, I do too. I have your back.
That is my word of hope this morning. Not just that I have your back and that you have mine, but that we, collectively, have each other’s. It has never been the government that has made this country great. It has never been the Constitution, as dearly as I love it, which has made this country great. It is the people of the United States of America who make this country great.
I struggled this morning with what to text a friend who is both a Muslim and a woman, living in a red state. I finally settled on, “I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened, but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today, please know that I love you and I have your back.”
I’ve sent similar messages to other friends today, as I have heard their shock, their anger, their horror and their fear. They have replied in kind. When I told them of my tears, they told me of theirs. When I felt alone, they told me they were there. It wasn’t in political strategizing or contemplating policy options that I found hope, it was in their love.
So, in offering you what hope I can, I ask that you also become that hope for others. It’s a simple message:
I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened,
but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today,
please know that I love you and I have your back.
Send it to anyone whom you think needs to hear it. Post it on Facebook. Say it loudly, clearly, and unambiguously. Because there is hope to be had, and that hope is found in the countless women and men who will be our sisters and brothers in the tough days ahead. There will be much to do as we move forward, tangible ways to act and hold back the dark, but right now it is imperative that we let our fellow citizens know that no one stands alone.
Standing together is the hope we need when the rhetoric of hate seems to tear us apart. As a person of faith, I believe that the full power of the gospel is only realized when we who are many unite as one. Whatever is “good news” for you, whether you are from another faith tradition or none at all, I hope you will indulge me in closing with the words of the Psalmist, famously proclaimed by Dr. King. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Let us weep together tonight, and tomorrow let us look to the horizon. It seems darker now, the city upon the hill farther away, but the dawn will come, and we will find the joy of the morning. We will get there, together.