It would be wise at this time to attempt to be kind. I know this. It does not mean that this stance is comfortable for me.
I realize I have been feeling stuck, the fly to flypaper, in the last two weeks. Part of this is ordinary life, having more to do that I have time to do it. Part of this stuck feeling is the surreality of the moment. I drive past Lava Hot Springs on a hot summer day on my way into Pocatello, and there are masses of people, shoulder to shoulder, crammed into the park and the pool. There is no pandemic here. The predictions by prominent medical groups are that we will have 400,000 dead by Christmas. There is no pandemic here.
The other energy drain, which I suspect is the root of feeling stuck, is watching what feels to me a devolution into fascism. It is a challenge to be kind in the midst of this slide into authoritarianism.
The president defends the seventeen-year-old who has killed two people at a rally and wounded a third. The police kill the man who killed another man in Portland. It is unlikely we will hear either of these men’s stories. One is dead, one protected by a president that encourages violence. I don’t say this lightly. My understanding is that with power comes responsibility. To discourage violence as a public figure, a clear statement that is not politically weighted has to be made. “No violence, no matter your politics, no violence,” must be said. Trump has attempted to present “both” sides as having good people but has not discouraged violence. Since his election, there has been more anti-protestor violence than I have witnessed since the 1960s.
People who lean conservative blame the media for this, I don’t buy it. Yes, the media plays to our limbic systems with elevated voices, splashy graphics that move quickly across the screen, and hyperbolic statements. But this moving disaster is not the fault of the media. It is the responsibility of all of us. We do not do our research. As a general population, we are not informed and we appear to be less involved in our democracy, other than having an opinion.
An opinion based on no knowledge is not very useful.
The other day I had a conversation with a woman who said she liked Trump. She also said that she couldn’t listen to the news. She said it makes her too anxious. “I just can’t handle it, and I don’t know what to believe.” She is a nice person, and she means no one any harm. She is telling the truth that she can’t handle the news. All those warring heads are a bit much. I get it. I suggested Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio (NPR). These media are more fact-based and don’t screech at you.
She works in an assisted living center and contracted Covid several months ago. She said she was sick, really sick, but she didn’t die. She believes the media has exaggerated the disease, that it is not as bad as is being reported. When I thought of our conversation, I realized she likely doesn’t have two hours to listen to NPR.
I am one of the lucky few that can work online. The woman I talked with can not work online. The fact that I can buy what I need speaks to my luck, my language skills, skin color, and the fact that I work hard, but not everyone who works hard can afford to live. Those who have enough can often afford to listen more, gather the facts, and make very different choices. If I made $12 an hour and had to work two jobs to pay the bills, would I listen to Fox News and believe that the Hondurans were coming for my job? Or would I take two hours of my time and listen to NPR? I don’t know.
What we believe is given to us, by our community, by our parents, by our country. I had a friend, who was Native Alaskan who consistently voted Republican. I remember saying to him that the Republicans weren’t interested in doing anything for brown people. I gave him data, examples, talked the poor man’s ear off. Finally, he said, “My father voted Republican.” That was the foundation on which his decision was based. His father was a brilliant, creative, and loving man. To vote against his father would have been an act of disloyalty.
I was raised by a grandmother who was an atheist, a progressive socialist, and poor. She was not always a wonderful parent, but she did love and encourage me. I took her belief system a step further. My radical feminist frightened and confused her. I was not disloyal either.
Now, years later, both my friend and I have changed, he more than me. I am not sure what happened, but he became more progressive, less Republican. He hates Trump. We have not talked about this. I have become more forgiving of how humans, in general, are biased against women. I understand that we are all enculturated. We are all vulnerable. We want to have a community. It is very awkward to live in a strongly pro-Trump world and to see him as dangerous. It is uncomfortable to be a woman in a patriarchal world. As disturbing as watching the Lava Hot Springs pool attendees ignore the reality that their behavior may contribute to the 400,000 dead. I dislike feeling like the fly on flypaper, unable to change its circumstances.
The people who believe the virus is a hoax and think Trump is wonderful are often the same folks. Their beliefs, like mine, were, to some degree, inherited. Their culture, of their family, neighborhood, country, support their views. I live in a red state, red neighborhood, and a racist country. Despite this, I remain progressive. True to my own experience, my grandmother and the coastal elites, I am told. Of course, there is more to it than this.
I have been the only white person in the room, quite a few times, and no one harmed me. People did assume that I was racist because I was white, and they were right to some degree. I was naïve. I was privileged, but I did not hate people who were different from me. I wanted to know what life was like for people who did not have the same background as I, the same skin. Curiosity is natural to me but also comes from being raised by people who came from another country and having friends whose aunties and uncles died in the Holocaust. I have also had the benefit of travel, in which I learned that people approach life differently. Sometimes different is even better.
If I had been raised in a white, rural area, educated in a school system that reinforced what my community believed (as all school systems do, generally) and never left that area, I might be a different person than I am. I might think the virus was a hoax and that Trump was great.
What must it be like to have voted for Trump and changed your mind through some circumstance? Maybe hearing that he had called Veterans who have died “suckers,” or having had a family member die and have come to understand that Trump’s lack of response contributed to the death. One morning, you wake to understand, “I have been duped. The man is a con artist.” What a horrible situation. What a rude awakening. Who do you tell? I wonder how disturbing this would be. Somewhat like watching the people in Lava. Any time a limb wakes up, it feels very odd.
This is a time for compassion. As the Buddhist statement goes, “and may people think of benefiting each other.” Kindness is generally a good stance. As we go through a pandemic that is lethal to some, and as we approach an election that will be contentious at the very best, it is wise to remember we are all vulnerable. We all want to be valued.
As I caught myself the other day curling my lip with disapproval, ever so slightly, at the woman who would vote for Trump, I have to remind myself of several things. She is vulnerable. Her dad loves Trump, and she loves her dad. She most likely will not have the time to listen to NPR. She may not even have the education to find it understandable. For all I know, she does not trust or value her intellect, and all those big words (issued by NPR) may make her embarrassed at her lack of understanding.
Sadly, my guess is that she understood that I was curling my lip on some level, that I disapproved of her choice. I did nothing to further my belief system or my cause with my subtle disapproval.
I don’t believe the people who are white supremacists will understand the need for respect and compassion. The people that stoke their anger and fear do not care about kindness either. They have a plan. Their division of the population of the United Stated serves their desire to remain in power. Power in this country means access to wealth or gain of wealth. These people who promote anger do not care about either the woman I spoke with or I. They care about money and power.
Even as I feel a bit the fly on flypaper, and even though I wish this woman and many others like her would see the scam for what it is, any contempt on my part is destructive. It is vital I remember this.