If you are against Trump, you might be asking: “How could we miss that our country is filled with racist, homophobic, misogynistic bigots?” While you should fight to stop harassment and intimidation, you also need to try to understand Trump supporters’ complex motivations. The country’s inability to listen to them might be what cost Hillary the precious votes. It is possible that this lack of empathy for Trump supporters has propelled him to presidency.
If you are for Trump, do not ignore people who are now afraid for their well-being and even life. Yes, the new president might be able to address your concerns and make your voices heard. But remember that even if you only voted for Trump because of his economic promises, there are others out there who have been emboldened by the outcome of this election to engage in vicious harassment. You can be happy about your victory, but do not gloat, do not mock the other side as they are wiping their tears in shock and disbelief.
I can hear anti-Trump activists say: “But have you seen videos of Trump rallies? Have you read about swastikas painted on walls, or school children chanting songs about the Wall to their Hispanic classmates?” Only a certain kind of people goes to rallies. They are not representative of all Trump supporters. And although your Facebook news feed seems to be filled with examples of post-election atrocities, Trump supporters are not all vicious bullies whose only pleasure is to undermine principles of a liberal society.
I can hear the pro-Trump part of the population retort: “But they call us deplorables! Our president-elect is not perfect, but his promises made us hope that our needs will be finally addressed. After all, Clinton is not perfect as well but you ignored her flaws and voted for her anyway.” Unfortunately, media stories draw the nation’ attention to bizarre acts of harassment instead of showing Trump supporters as ordinary people with a variety of backgrounds and needs. Intimidation is happening, and people are legitimately afraid. If you are against violence, do not take this fear personally – do something to alleviate it.
Exercising empathy sounds good in theory but it is easier said than done. Two days after the election I held in my arms a sobbing friend who had been harassed by a self-proclaimed anti-gay, anti-LGBTQ, racist Trump supporter on a weekly basis. A day after that I myself cried in desperation when I discovered that a person who is dear to my heart refused to understand my frustration with the election results. Every day since the election, there are moments when I want to shout in anger, to find someone to blame. Yet I am trying to fight these feelings, because I want to believe that many people on the other side of the divide have the same basic values as me.
Exercising empathy does not mean not fighting back. We should oppose violence against minorities, disrespect towards women’s rights, and ignorance about the climate change. We should press the president-elect to condemn any violent acts done in his name. Yet we need to form alliances across the divide and not only along its lines. People on the other side are not all cry-babies, idiots or cruel bigots. They have their unique stories and reasons for their choice.
Being able to empathize with those whose opinions differ from ours might have never felt so difficult. It is hard to find a balance between listening to potential allies and protecting ourselves from those who insist on staying enemies. Doing it every day is emotionally draining, confusing, and frustrating. But we should remember that violence only breeds violence, and if we hate instead of trying to love, we will only get hate in return.