Many people are either depressed about the outcome of the election or elated. I am calm and pragmatic. I’m used to not always getting what I want from our political system, and also with exploring unfamiliar parts of America and not being in the racial, political, or cultural majority. In this election, I traveled around the country interviewing voters of many types and descriptions, including Trump voters. You can read my stories here.
I’m going to speak directly to Trump voters here, though of course many people will be reading this.
For the TL;DR crowd, this is my message in brief:
Trump voters, America is on your watch.
Your choices control the future of the White House, House, and Senate.
Your choices impact the safety of women, girls, non-Christians, non-whites, and immigrants, some of whom are experiencing increased harassment, attacks, and abuse.
America is under your stewardship. Do you have the moral fiber to protect all of us?
Those of you who believe in God, as I do, does your God witness you kindly based on your actions to others?
When civility fails, will you be there to uphold and uplift the most generous forms of American values?
Again, America is on your watch, and all of us will be judged on whether we bring kindness, justice, and compassion to our actions.
Now, for everyone with a couple more minutes to spend here, please read on. We have lots to think about, and a lot of work to do.
First, a few grounding assertions:
1) I don’t think all Trump voters voted because of racism, sexism, or xenophobia; nor do I discount the political reasoning behind seeking a more conservative Supreme Court. I may feel differently, but if I think my political choices make a difference, I also have to understand people with different positions feel just as strongly.
2) That said, I think it’s important to surface the long trail of incidents as well as the data about racism, sexism, and xenophobia being powerful motivators for Trump voters as a group, more than for Republicans who didn’t support Trump, let alone Americans as a whole. We cannot deny this, and it underlies why many women and non-white, Latino, and immigrant Americans are worried. All of us non-Trump-voters are listening to what the candidate you chose said himself; the people and entities who endorsed him, and sometimes the uglier side of what Trump voters have said, per this video of a Trump supporter berating a black man, including using the word “nigger.” He invoked your candidate while using the word. If you don’t think he speaks for you, say so.
3) We in the media messed up. Massively. This is not me speaking for my company or anyone else. It’s my belief, backed up by the analysis of organizations like the Shorenstein Center. The media did not treat Donald Trump like other candidates until Super Tuesday. That means we weighted the scales, very strongly, in favor of Trump during the primaries. If you wanted another Republican candidate to win, then we screwed you. Even if you wanted Trump to win, we failed to give you adequate information. Then, the media got more analytical. Finally, we began to attack. I don’t blame you for being upset about the media this cycle, including the stereotyping of Trump voters.
The Columbia Journalism Review put it this way: “Too often, the views of Trump’s followers—which is to say, the people who just elected our next president—were dismissed entirely by an establishment media whose worldview is so different, and so counter, to theirs that it became chic to belittle them and wave them off…. Now a new era needs to begin, a period in which reporting takes precedent over opinion, when journalists are willing to seek out and understand people with whom they may have profound personal and philosophical differences. For decades, centuries even, that has been the definition of journalism.”
All this said, I’m going to ask you to do some “heavy listening” and say some things it may be difficult for you to hear. If you read on and think I’m biased, know this first:
I was sexually harassed by a Trump voter I was interviewing in the Midwest. It disturbed me so much I told several colleagues and friends in person and via email. He made me feel dirty not because he sexually harassed me, but because he made me complicit in his actions. First, he verbally harassed me. (No, he did not touch me. That’s still harassment.) We were in the corner of a room with other people from the local GOP nearby. I was doing my job. He then said, “You didn’t tell me to stop [harassing you] like the women on the job do.” In other words, because I did not immediately curse him out or go ballistic in a professional setting, he tried to shift the moral responsibility on to me for his leering gaze and his words. He knew what he was doing was wrong; he’d been reprimanded before; and he did it again anyway.
If you think I am biased against Trump voters, consider this option: What if my article, instead of starting with an exposition on what Trump voters thought, started with that incident of harassment? What if I had painted Trump voters as sexual predators, implicitly or explicitly, in the article? This was before the Trump tapes were released, but either way, journalists do have (some) power, and one of them is to choose what NOT to print. I felt it would muddy the story to focus on my own experience rather than on the issues at hand.
So I made a moral choice to keep this sexually exploitative conversation from dominating the narrative about Trump voters, while feeling dirty and immoral for not speaking up for the good of the women at his job. Ultimately, I don’t regret making the choice I did, nor am I conflicted about recounting it now. This is the right time and place. You need to hear it, and I need to tell it.
If you genuinely think Trump is a better president for America — and I know many of you do — you need to keep men like this from feeling they have permission to sexually harass me or others, not “even” but especially if they are your husband or brother or son. You need to reiterate that if someone says they have committed sexual assault — as Donald Trump did in the tapes, though later he said he was lying about his own bragging — that that person knows he’s teaching others they have permission to violate another person.
Many women I know, and one male cab driver I spoke to the day after the election, told me their daughters broke down sobbing when they learned Trump would be president. They know that if a boy molests them or threatens to, he can say the future President enjoyed bragging about that practice. I know several women who have been sexually assaulted who are fearful now. Trauma has echoes. I myself have had non-consensual sexual experiences and the feeling of being violated never quite leaves you. So, if you say a Trump America is better for all women, know it is on your watch to protect women. In fact, if you want to make America great, you must help make America safe for all.
If you hear someone talking disparagingly about “the blacks,” “the Jews,” “the Muslims,” “the Mexicans,” “the gays,” or women, then it is on your watch to tell them that is unacceptable.
If you see someone bullying a kid because of race, religion, or gender, it is on your watch now to intervene and not condone it. If nothing else, you may have a self-interest. Deron Puro was fired after his kids bullied a black girl whose adoptive parents are white, and then attacked her father. Puro called the girl’s father a “nigger lover” after he complained about the bullying. And during election season, a Pennsylvania school had to call an assembly because students were doing the Nazi salute and calling black students “cotton-picker.”
If you hear someone planning to deface a building with racist graffiti, or to physically harm someone, you need to talk to them and to the police. This graffiti went up in Durham, North Carolina, right after the election. It’s hardly bound to be the worst of it. And this one small archive of election- and post-election defamation, attacks, graffiti, and assaults.
You need to protect all of us, non-Trump voters and Trump voters alike, from slipping deeper into a cycle of permission and predation. Hate crimes against Muslim-Americans have risen to levels not seen since 9/11 since Trump began attacking Muslims — a 78 percent increase. People are literally being killed in hate crimes because of the rhetoric in this political race. Know that. Know that words have power. Trump’s words inspired you. Now that you’ve won, will you protect others?
If you are a values-based voter, know that people will judge your values on the brotherhood and sisterhood you extend to all people. Many observers have called Christian values voters for Trump, in particular, hypocrites for choosing a candidate who has cheated on his wives and allegedly committed sexual assault. I understand why protecting the Supreme Court may have seemed imperative to some voters despite his actions and words. But if you do not also protect women and other Americans, the charge is completely valid.
In other words: If you see something, say something. Do something.
Know you will not just be judged by the world, but also, if you believe in God, by God. My concept of God may or may not be the same as yours, and on my own end I equally respect people who don’t believe. Our country was founded on religious freedom, something many Trump supporters repeat. And not all the “Founding Fathers” were Protestant or even Christian. Thomas Jefferson, for example “rejected the idea of the divinity of Christ.” So whether you do or don’t believe in God, for God’s sake — and certainly for America’s sake — speak up.
Many people worry that things will get worse for non-Christian, non-white, non-native-born, non-male, and/or non-straight Americans.
If you want people to stop stereotyping Trump voters, please prove them wrong.