Reaching Out

Dear Trump voters:

On, Saturday November 8, 2020, major news outlets started calling the presidential election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I don’t know all the details governing when media outlets feel safe calling the results of an election, but it has to do with answering, in a math way, questions like, “how many votes are yet to be counted?” And “can the person currently behind possibly win with that number of votes?”

Media outlets have an incentive to make this very newsworthy call the moment the math works out, but not sooner, which is why different outlets called the results for different states at different times. I suppose they all felt burned still  by the 2000 election, where Al Gore was declared the winner by some media outlets right away, but then it came down to a few hundred votes in Florida, and the Supreme Court of the United States stopped a recount there and declared George Bush the winner after all.

The 2000 election, as some of you might recall, had all kinds of elements many considered a bit… shady. Issues like “hanging chads” and (deliberately?) confusing butterfly ballots and  (possibly) malfunctioning electronic voting machines loomed large. A lot of us — particularly Democratic voters who would have preferred Al Gore to win — started to pay more attention to the HOW of US voting, and came to realize that maybe US elections weren’t as free and fair and open as we had always been told they were. We found out about gerrymandering. We found out about ID laws and other ways elections were (very deliberately) stacked against voters who were poorer and less likely to be white and more likely to vote for Democrats.

Most of this vote rigging was legal in a technical sense, especially after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 (right after Obama won a second term, hmmm….) but most of it was also pretty obviously engineered by Republicans, a minority party, to crush votes for Democrats. They had set things up in such a way that, especially for president, Democrats needed an absolute landslide in terms of raw votes in order to win the presidency.

When the election was called, Donald Trump was behind Joe Biden by about five million votes. Luckily for Biden (and I would say, our country) those votes were distributed “correctly” per the electoral college and put him over the edge of 270 votes.

This election has taken a while to count all the votes. Because of the pandemic, a lot more of them were mailed, often in states that don’t typically get a huge number of mailed-in ballots. In some of these states (notably, Pennsylvania) there was a decided “blue shift” as votes cast earlier, paradoxically counted later, were more likely to come from Democrats.

I tell you this, Trump voters, because I want you to understand something: your guy lost. Actually. Not only by the numbers, which we all knew he would, but also by the stacked rules that favor Republicans. He lost “fair and square” to the extent that means anything. None of his margins in the states he won are small enough to come down to a single SCOTUS ruling in his favor, no matter how much Republicans under Mitch McConnell have stacked the judiciary. This isn’t the 2000 election.

But, of course, many Trump voters, and Trump himself, have spent the last week denying those results. As soon as the call was made, the Maga side declared it fraudulent and started attempting to find some way to challenge the results in court. Most of their challenges seem to come down to some vaguely expressed notion that votes for Biden, since they were cast by Biden voters, are inherently illegitimate in some way.

Another thing people did, was they started calling on Biden voters to “reach out” and “show compassion”  to disappointed Trump voters (like yourselves). A few examples:

These went over… about as well as you would expect them too. You Trump voters are rather infamously “F*ck your feelings” types, right? You’ve spent 4 years mocking, deriding, and demonizing the rest of us — do you really deserve our compassion? Live by the F*ck Your Feelings T-shirt, die by the F*ck Your Feelings T-shirt.

But, okay, maybe you don’t deserve compassion, but is it good or helpful to show compassion anyway? Will it bring you around? “Heal the nation” as it were? Get you to stop believing, in defiance of all logic, that somehow we would hack the election for Joe Biden but NOT take out Mitch McConnell?

Okay, Trump voters. Assuming you’re ready to listen, I’ve got a few extremely compassionate things to say to you.

First of all, while I have the utmost sympathy for your very real suffering — job loss, illness, drug addiction — you’re not actually first in line for my empathy, if you get me. Before I get to Trump voters, I give my empathy to the people suffering and dying under Trump’s authoritarianism, corruption, and incompetence — particularly, those suffering and dying under his perverse, seemingly deliberate mishandling of the pandemic.

When we — non-Trumpers — analyzed the overall policy thrust of this administration, trying to figure out what they were even trying to do, we kept coming around to a  horrifying realization. While many of his actions have been 100% what any Republican would have done — tax cuts for the wealthy and stacking the courts with Mitch McConnell’s handpicked right wing judges — it’s difficult to see what legitimate policy aim is served by things such as efforts to severely limit legal immigration, deny asylum seekers, and subject undocumented immigrants to sadistic punishments. Many of these policies were devised by open white nationalists such as Stephen Miller, but you don’t have to know that to see, on the face of it, that they serve no good purpose. They are cruel and unusual, seemingly for the mere sake of being cruel and unusual.

Over and over, when we looked at Trump administration policies and tried to discern what purpose they served, what we saw was performative cruelty. Cruelty entirely for its own sake. Cruelty toward immigrants, Black people, indigenous people. Cruelty toward Muslims. Cruelty toward LGBTQ people and disabled people and women. Cruelty toward Democrats in government and people living in “blue states,” even the ones who voted for him. Cruelty toward the press. Cruelty toward the truth itself. Cruelty large, in terms of national policy, and cruelty small, in terms of how Trump treated the individual people he came into contact with.

It seemed very clear: the cruelty was the point.

Or, as one somewhat disappointed Trump voter put it:

“he’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting”

So, now, with compassion, I ask you, disappointed Trump followers: did you personally enjoy that cruelty? Did it satisfy something deep in your soul? Did it give you a high, like a drug hit? Are you in mourning now partly because you’re going to miss getting your cruelty fix and you’re preparing for the pangs of withdrawal?

With all due compassion, I know what you guys wanted from Trump, because it’s not like you were ever shy about it. You want an America where if you’re white, male, Christian and rich, you basically get to do whatever you want, no matter how sadistic or depraved. Hunt humans for sport on your property, dump plutonium in the river to see what kind of mutations you get downstream, kidnap homeless people so you can make a human centipede —  whatever.

Most of you aren’t quite “private island” rich, yet, but you’re getting there, aren’t you? That’s what the tax cuts are for. And, when you finally achieve private-island wealth, well, you certainly don’t want some liberal nanny-state scold telling you that you can’t run a resort where you turn people into experimental human-animal hybrids and serve the failed experiments as meat pies.

Now, I know, I know. This is supposed to be compassionate, right? I know you don’t see yourselves as racist. Probably. Or sexist. Probably. Or homophobic. (You’re not *afraid* of gay people, you just don’t think they deserve the same rights as not-gay people) Or bigoted against non-Christians. You just believe that God Almighty ordered things in a certain way, right? With certain kinds of people set above certain other kinds of people?

Interesting how the kinds of people who just naturally belong above other kinds of people are always your kinds of people.

If you’re a Trump voter feeling devastation and loss right now, that feeling is understandable, certainly. That feeling of injury and grievance has animated a certain critical mass of white Americans ever since they lost the Civil War. The losing side of a war always feels unhappy about it. But at some point you have to ask yourself, what were you actually fighting for? Was it worth fighting for? Was it a noble, doomed cause? Or was it, just maybe, doomed because it wasn’t noble at all? That you were fighting on not merely the losing side, but the WRONG side? That you were the Empire in Star Wars? Sauron in Lord of the Rings? The Nazis in, well, anything?

When I was a child, I knew that the US had practiced slavery for a hundred years, and that this was bad, but then we fought a war, and ended slavery. Yay us! Abraham Lincoln!

I also knew that parts of the US — the parts that had been in the Confederacy, mostly — practiced a kind of apartheid, “Jim Crow,” for another hundred years, but then we had a Civil Rights movement and ended that. Yay us! Martin Luther King, Jr.!

The struggle for racial equality was presented as something safely in the rearview mirror, no longer controversial or troublesome.

And yet.

When I was a child in the 1970s, the Civil Rights struggle was only ten years in the past. The people who supported the side of “segregation forever” were still alive, and many of them were still involved in politics, still nursing that sense of grievance, still undefeated in their hearts, still working to build that second Death Star I mean confederacy.

Also when I was a young, there was a hit TV show called The Dukes of Hazzard. It ran from 1979 to 1985. I wasn’t a big fan, but it came on right after a show I watched, so I ended up becoming fairly familiar with it — the opening credits, at least.

The Duke boys of the title were, according to the lyrics of the theme song,  “Just good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm.” No harm. Oh, sure, they rode around in a car nicknamed The General Lee, with a Confederate flag on top, in a show that appeared to depict rural Georgia as all white people. But they never meant no harm.

And, here’s the thing — I don’t remember that being controversial at all. I remember people talking about the extreme shortness of Daisy Duke’s cutoff jean shorts as if that was controversial. But the pro-Confederate imagery? Nothing. It was just “southern pride” right?

I suppose, Trump voter to whom I am displaying compassion right now, if you were raised in a culture steeped in all this “lost cause” mythology and never really thought about it, you might not have previously considered that  a Confederate flag might a way of signaling “I think the wrong side lost the Civil War because slavery was good and our nation should still practice it.”

But then, when the Black Lives Matter movement targeted pro-Confederate imagery? We saw how you reacted.

You didn’t say, “oh no, I never realized before how hateful that was, sorry, we’ll remove those right away.”

Instead you said, “how dare you ask us to take down this extremely important historic monument to a Confederate war hero that was erected in 1925 by a civic organization with ties to the KKK!”

Now, I know. I know, imaginary Trump voter who’s reading this, looking for compassion. I know your big objection. You didn’t enjoy the cruelty per se. You weren’t aligning yourself with Confederate imagery because you were pro-slavery or pro-racism. You just felt it had to be done because something much bigger was at stake. Something much more important. You had to vote for Trump because… SAVE THE UNBORN BABIES!

I know that argument inside and out, my friends. I am an ex evangelical, you know. I got hit with all the anti-abortion propaganda as a teenager. You want to know why it didn’t stick?

Well — one reason — is that I saw things on the “pro-life” side didn’t seem to add up. If you wanted to prevent abortions, wouldn’t you encourage contraception availability? Yet many on the “pro-life” side work to deny contraception access too. If you really cared about the well-being of babies, wouldn’t you want to provide other things for them? Not just ensure that they end up being born, but that they get medical care, food, a safe environment to grow up in? Yet the “pro-life” side was always fighting against things like that.

When I looked at the actions, not the rhetoric, of the anti-abortion right, I saw a consistent urge to punish and shame women for seeking reproductive autonomy, but no consistent urge to save babies or young children.

That said, until Trump, I assumed my fellow evangelicals were emotionally sincere in their overwhelming desire to protect the always-precious, always-innocent unborn babies, they  just hadn’t thought their ideas through in any rational cause-and-effect sort of way. That they had tied a certain feeling — a natural human desire to protect babies and young children — to being “against abortion,” and had further tied being “against abortion” to an attempt to exploit the power of the state to punish those seeking abortion.

But, seeing the way the “pro-life” crowd has lined up behind Trump and his extravagant, performative, deadly cruelty? I have a new theory: the anti-abortion fight was, at the heart of it, always about cruelty and punishment.

I know! I know! You have reasons. reasons why why you want so desperately to save unborn babies, but don’t care much what happens to born people. The reason I hear most often is, “innocence.” An unborn baby is “innocent” in a way a Black child with a toy gun, or a toddler with parents seeking asylum, or a school child in a wheelchair, just isn’t.

But, I suggest to you, with nothing but compassion in my own heart, doesn’t it seem like maybe your definition of “innocence” must be a bit flawed when it only applies to imaginary people?

I’ll paraphrase the Bible here: a Trumper who claims to love an unborn baby but hates liberals, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and Black Lives Matter protesters, is a liar. For how can a person love someone who doesn’t even exist, yet hate the person right in front of them?

Right, compassion.

Okay, Trumpers, you know what I think? I’m gonna tell it like it is, here. I don’t think you want my compassion. I don’t think you even like compassion. F*ck Your Feelings, right? You think compassion is for the weak. If I gave you my compassion, you’d just sneer at it. You voted for Trump to “own the libs” didn’t you? You knew he would be a terrible president. You didn’t want a good president. You wanted a mean-spirited authoritarian grifter who would unleash a fresh hell on this country every single day he was in power. You wanted the man who ruined Atlantic City to do the same thing to the United States of America. You wanted destruction, chaos, unhappiness, all to satisfy some deep-seated urge toward pure nihilism. To “own the libs” by making us as miserable as you are.

And why do you want this? Well, there’s that lost-cause grievance thing going on. A certain idea that if you can’t get what you want, you’ll just burn it all down. But I believe you hate liberals the way you do for a paradoxical reason: because you know we’re right. Deep down. You know you’re wrong. You know that what you want is wrong. You know you’re on the wrong side of the war, and always have been, and it makes you really, really angry to know that.

Right after Trump’s win in 2016 I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my nephew, who was talking about guys he worked with, who were pro-Trump, and he characterized their attitude as this:

“Ah, at last, I can finally stop pretending to be a halfway decent person.”

That’s Maga in a nutshell, isn’t it? An urge to do harm to people with less power than you, and to feel justified in doing it. Trump gave you permission to stop acting like a halfway decent person.

Right, compassion. Okay, here it is: I’m sorry you’re like that. And, as soon as you’re ready to stop being like that, come talk to me. Maybe you can help repair the damage you’ve done.

Until then, when it comes to my compassion, you’re last in line.

Love, Julie