Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Policy over People

I've struggled to write this post. I've re-written it entirely at least three times. I even posted it once, very briefly and then took it down because it didn't quite say what I wanted to say. I'm not sure if it does now.

It's been a week since the election. The first day or two were terribly emotional - that's how people react, both positively and negatively. There's been a lot of negative. People aren't coming together the way the United States typically does in these times. I've spent a sizeable chunk of the last week talking with upset people, hurting people, angry people. What I have to say are my words and they are knowingly filtered through the reality that I am an educated, straight, white man. While I can't understand all of what many around me are going through, I do see what they are going through and feel the need to say something.

If you think it's the wrong thing or the wrong time or I'm the wrong person, I apologize; you are very likely correct.

With regards to this election, there are real two levels of upset that don't seem to be speaking to each other. People who held their noses and voted for Trump (those who did so happily and with glee can really stop reading; this is not for you) have often said, "he's not going to do the things he said he would," but that misses the point. That statement is one of policy and policy is not at the root of the anger and discontent.

Don't get me wrong, people who don't like Donald Trump's ideas are apoplectic. He wants to build a wall, perhaps limit who can enter the country in ways some find unconstitutional. He has a tax plan that benefits the rich over the poor and expands the deficit with some vain hope that the third time's the charm for disproven economic theory. People don't like his suggestions for the Supreme Court, for the Cabinet, for how to handle his own personal conflicts of interest.

But in the end, those are just policy decisions. It's not like he's the first politician to suggest any of them. He's not. Not even close. People are upset about that, the same way those on the losing side of any election rue the future their now-empowered opponent will bring about. If this were a typical election, "get over it" would be the call of the day - and it would be appropriate. In a Democracy, the people speak, even if a majority of them spoke in a different direction. The system is not fair, but it is universally unfair.

People might be upset about the things Trump said he would do (even if you believe he won't do them), but people are hurt by the things he said - about women, about minority groups, about the disabled: about people. Trump took aim at all sorts of people and even if he was singling out one woman or one disabled reporter or one particular group of immigrants, many, many, many people saw themselves in those abusive remarks.

People did not see Donald Trump as just some guy with policies they dislike (in fact, a surprising number of hurt people I've talked to this week don't much mind many of his policies), but as a guy who's a mean, abusive, cruel, sexist bully - not a person they can respect, even if they agree with his policies. Too many times I've heard someone say, "I can't believe my mom/brother/friend would choose the Supreme Court/abortion/taxes over me." For the hurting people out there, this election was not political, but personal (even beyond the ways proposed policies might personally impact people).

I understand that those people who voted for Trump did so largely for reasons of policy. Whether is was the Supreme Court or abortion or taxes or corruption, most of the Trump votes were votes for some policy that is more likely to happen with him than with Hillary Clinton. I think those angry friends and relatives out there understand those things, too (even if they disagree with you on them) But, as I said, this is not the issue. In the end, I don't really care what you think about any of these things; I might disagree with you on some of them, but they're not worth getting angry about or damaging friendships over.

What is more difficult to stomach, though, is that people I love and care about found these things, particular issues, policy, so important that it was worth overlooking the vile nature of Trump's words and actions - and, perhaps worse, his patent refusal to apologize for them. Even after the election his justified those words with his victory - as if any means of achieving a desired end are good if they succeed.

No ends, no matter how good, righteous, holy, or important, mean enough to justify the means, if the means are Donald Trump.

That's the quandary. That's the divide which people must now bridge if there is any chance in calming the storm or finding unity. It is NOT about what policy you might approve of that I don't - it's about the guy you voted for to get those policies enacted. As I said, I'm the educated, white male in this room - the outrage is only mine by proxy.* I don't have the deep seated personal hurt that so many women and people of color feel right now.

To me this great pain is a sad illustration of what I've been saying and writing all along - we take this process far too seriously. It's not that elections and governments can't be avenues for us to live well in the world and take care of each other, but they MUST NOT become the only way by which we see paths to do this. Real relationships are in jeopardy - both because some people overlooked serious moral and ethical deficiencies in the name of progress, but also because some people have put such (false) hope and faith in the goodness of this nation that their worth was wrapped up in election results.

That is not to say people shouldn't be mad or hurt, that relationships shouldn't be strained by this election, but that we must be committed to working through them with honesty and humility.

There is an argument that Hillary Clinton is no paragon of virtue - and that may be true - but I don't see people upset that someone didn't vote for Clinton, simply that people did vote for Trump. Whether those votes were in spite of his nasty rhetoric, they enabled it and piled hurt upon the people hurt by it. God may have no hierarchy of sins, but the consequences of such are simply not the same. Lying and corruption are not the same as misogyny and assault - they're just not. They have a different bearing on our relationships with each other.**

Another response is that Clinton's policies would be so corrupt and morally bankrupt that she had to be stopped at all cost. That argument is one of policy and while it might be a good one on its own merits, it skirts the real issue of hurt and harm - because we've seen what "at all cost" actually costs. It costs the emboldening of the alt-right and their white supremacist brethren. It costs fear and abuse for women and minorities across the country. While we can be unified in our opposition to such results (and, as I've said, Trump voters especially need to be more vocal and more frequent denouncers of such things), there is hard work to overcome the very real (if unintended) support a Trump vote gave to these people. "At any cost" has a face and it's a familiar one to many of us: wives, mothers, daughters, friends.

That hurt is real and it's not going away.

It's perfectly acceptable to say "wait and see" or "give him a chance" when it comes to policy. That's the rhetoric we're hearing from all sides and, honestly, I think most of your friends and family who are upset can come around to that idea. The policy stuff hurts, but it'll pass. But those hatemongers showed up within minutes of the election - emboldened by the words of our President-elect (not to mention his subsequent appointment of one of their champions to his White House staff). Donald Trump may say, "stop hurting people," but he's yet to denounce the views represented in these hateful crimes, the same views he espoused on the campaign trail and refused numerous opportunities to take back.

I get that people can't be entirely divorced from policy, 1) because policy is intrinsically linked to words and attitudes, and 2) because people really believe in the ultimate value of the policies they support. I do make the distinction, though, because we must understand each other if there is any hope of peace and reconciliation.

If there's anyway forward we must be able to listen to each other - to hear why some policy was worth electing Trump and to hear why no policy could ever be worth it. As much as we don't like it, we should probably also admit how easily we could be on the other side of this divide, how utterly simple it is to overlook personal failings for what we believe to be a greater good, and how easy it is to demonize someone for it.

That doesn't remove responsibility, though. Its not that your friends and neighbors think you're a racist or a sexist, but people felt personally attacked and when the people they loved had the opportunity to defend them with their votes, they didn't; they chose policy over people. There are consequences to our actions that cannot be covered up with good intentions. When we've hurt people we love, we cannot minimize those feelings. We can't say, "I didn't mean to" or "I meant something different," because even if those things are true, the hurt still happened and it has to be acknowledged in order to heal. I suspect the President-elect will be learning that lesson along with his supporters in the weeks and months to come.

I hope the cost of this victory is not too much for our society and our relationships to bear.

*I'm disappointed in this election for sure - and I resonate with many of the things I outline here, but I'm not surprised by this election. I'm saddened that my tribe, evangelical Christians turned out with a record percentage for Donald Trump, but I've spent my adult life dealing with theology and studying scripture. It's no surprise that the people of God choose power over patience; it's always been that way. What breaks my heart are the people, many of whom I love, for whom this reality is just now dawning. This post is not about me, but I feel I have to say something.

**And if you need proof: ask yourself if you feel towards your Clinton-supporting friends the way they feel towards you. It's not just a personal failing that correlates perfectly with voting record or results. Both sides of the comparison may be rotten, and they may be equally bad when it comes to policy, but with regards to people, it's rotten apples vs rotten oranges.

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