I was talking to a friend recently about whether it’s right to avoid people in my life who still ardently support Donald Trump, as a grown-up way of following the rule we all learned in kindergarten: “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” For me, the best way to avoid the temptation to say things I might regret is to simply avoid certain interactions in the first place (which is fairly easy to do in the age of Covid-19).
My friend responded, “That might be wise. But you know they probably want to avoid you too, because you tend to vote Democrat. You think they support fascism, but they think you support baby killers.”
My gut instinct was to respond, “That’s ridiculous,” but I stopped myself. I was struck in the face by my own dichotomy I’d created — Red Bad, Blue Good (at least this year). While my reasons for being deeply disturbed by the Trump administration are valid, I also know that I have almost a talent for putting people into boxes. We all do that to an extent, don’t we? It not only saves us from the time and effort it takes to get to know them, but shields us from getting hurt. We don’t want to put our trust in people whose ideals may hurt us, in either real or imagined ways.
I’m sure it’s no secret at this point that I’m deeply conflicted about how to respond to people who still proudly wave the MAGA flag. I have family members who treat Fox News as gospel and won’t listen to anything else. I have church acquaintances who post one conspiracy theory after another, and get deeply offended if anyone tries, no matter how politely, to ask them to back up their claims with facts. Some of the neighbors who love Trump the loudest brought meals to my family when my father was dying, knowing full well that our politics completely clashed with theirs.
When Trump first launched his campaign, I was determined to try and understand his appeal among my friends, keep the conversations going. Then the “Grab them by the pussy” tapes came out, triggering memories of my own assault, and I thought, “Anyone who supports him can pack their bags and walk out of my life.” Then he got elected, and my husband and I clashed over how to continue being friends with people who considered that a victory. My defenses hardened.
I went to church to learn more about humility and mercy, determined not to be the kind of liberal who preaches tolerance only for the people who already agree with me. I read blog posts from activists who are determined to keep healthy conversations going with their Trump-loving relatives, and felt encouraged. Then more shit hit the fan, and I swung hard in the other direction again, “un-friending” Trump supporters on principle.
This cycle has repeated over and over again over the last four years, leaving me with emotional whiplash. Through it all, God is reminding me that people are complex. Relationships are messy, and that’s partly what makes them worth it — because empathizing with other people’s mess allows me to experience grace for my own. These things become clearer as everything else dissolves into confusion and chaos.
I will never love others perfectly; I know that. I know that if I want to be understood, I must work to extend that same courtesy to my political “enemies.” But it’s hard. Lord, it is so hard.