America’s voters cling to polarized priorities

Jason Altshuler, Breaking New and Arts Writing Editor

In American politics, both “sides” have their priorities. Both have issues on which they base their votes. And both see the other side’s votes as directly repudiating the values they stand for.

For us liberals, it is easy to discount the voters who supported a disrespectful man as intolerant themselves. However, it is not this simple. Exit polls showed that plenty of Trump supporters are disgusted with his personality and tactics as well. Trump’s attacks against the “others” do not mean that his voters chose him because of this behavior, but despite it. (I am not talking about the Trump supporters who are outwardly racist, sexist, and intolerant, as I believe this type of bigotry is fading, and too deeply rooted and wildly grown to be realistically redeemed by discussion. I refer to the more insidious modern version which seems to be more widespread and almost equally dangerous in its casualness.)

It seems many Trump voters prioritized the issues they deeply cared about (in particular, lack of jobs, Clinton’s “crimes,” the war on terror, etc.) over the issues that liberals often pay attention to. By electing Trump, they certainly were choosing the whole package, and we would be remiss to ignore the implications of their support. Yet if the entire focus is on this aspect of their vote, we lose sight of their actual concerns and reasons.

I would like to stress that I am not discounting the genuine terror felt by the minorities and groups victimized by Trump— I am deeply sorry that anyone has been subject to such animosity. It is on all of us to act in our local communities to ensure that past progress is not reversed.

What scares me is the rate and fervor with which the two parts of the US are diverging. No matter how disgusted I am with the results of the presidential election, a large portion of the country would have had similar feelings if Clinton had won. This tells us something. Some are pushing for the electoral college to ignore party affiliation and vote Clinton into office, but by disenfranchising the millions that voted for Trump, this would not solve the problem but simply exacerbate the division of the country. Instead of ignoring opposing views until an election, and then proceeding to demonize and block them out, it is crucial to attempt to see their reasoning, if through gritted teeth.

Once, on Facebook, I read a post written by a Democrat discussing why Trump should not be President, having made so many bigoted statements. An exasperated Trump supporter left a comment, something along the lines of “right, your feelings are more important than border security, the economy, and the Second Amendment.”

This statement surprised me. I realized, for a large part of the population, it’s not that they wanted to vote for the bigoted candidate (though I’m sure for some the presence of both white skin and a Y chromosome played a role); rather, they valued the robustness of the country over the feelings and comfort of certain groups of Americans (whether an inexperienced reality-TV star is the better champion for a stronger America is a separate issue).

Will their behavior and favored policies likely vindicate those who despise minorities? Yes, and it we must fight this fiercely. But viewing the election results as a majority of America actively working toward discrimination and persecution is wrong. We have all had different life experiences, and pay attention to different issues. Many live in communities in decline and feel abandoned by the entrenched elites. They view “draining the swamp” and “making America great again” as more important than what they see as “mean” words that Trump has “said.” From a social justice perspective, this lack of caring is equally sad, but it still needs to be understood. We must notice and accept the nuance.

To be clear, I am not encouraging anyone to accept Trump or to stop signing petitions and attending rallies. In fact, I am not talking about Trump at all. Rather, I am trying to understand the normal citizens who voted for him. Trying to appreciate that many Trump supporters have the same disdain for Clinton supporters as liberals have for them. Put simply, we all need to listen more. We need genuine discourse during which we are explaining and not simply waiting to give a counter-argument. We need to learn to meet in the middle and compromise.

It is easy to fire off a ready-made list of grievances against the opposing candidate and to pat yourself on the back for your righteousness. But, most likely, whoever you are talking to has heard all of the points before. It’s harder, but necessary, to go deeper, to explain your position, and to understand the other. If both sides cling to their extremes, reside in their echo chambers, and reject even the notion of compromise, nothing can be accomplished. The government shuts down, Supreme Court nominees are not given a fair hearing and in order to stop progress in one direction, the country stagnates all together.

We are all human and barring those who are imbued with a deep and hateful intolerance, we all yearn for a strong and unified country. Just in different ways. The absolute hatred that can be observed between people of differing political beliefs, particularly online, truly scares me. We must dislodge ourselves from our echo chambers, and seek objective information.  If we continue to polarize and alienate others, and never understand them, the country will be unable to make any progress toward the vision of either side.