The first day or two after the election I decided to contact friends and acquaintences of mine who had voted for Donald Trump. I wanted to apologize if I said anything off-putting to them. To a person, all of them were gracious and even told me why they considered voting for Trump. I took their responses to heart. I didn’t always agree with their reasons, but I was glad to hear them and to give Trump voters are more humane face.
What’s been sad is that most progressive Christians haven’t been willing to sit and talk to Trump voters. Like their secular counterparts, there is more interest in talking about Trump voters instead of talking with them.
Most of the criticism against Trump voters have come in the form of saying that they know that Person A who voted for Trump is a racist, but that they knew who they were voting for. An example of this is a post by John Pavlovitz in mid-November. He starts by saying that he understands the reason people decided to vote for the Donald, but they were aware of the dark sides as well:
I know you had legitimate reasons for voting for him; things that either real or imagined, genuinely moved you to your decision and that you wrestled with these reasons greatly. But I don’t care about those reasons; not because I don’t care about you or value you or want to understand you or because I don’t respect your road, but because those reasons can’t help those who are hurting right now—only your response can.
You see, regardless of why you voted for him, you did vote for him. Your affirmation of him and your elevation of him to this position, came with what you knew about him:
It came after hearing the horrible, degrading, vile things he said about women.
It came after hearing him encourage his supporters to be violent with protestors.
It came after he advocated for Muslims to be expelled and profiled.
It came after he made fun of a man with physical disability.
It came after he framed the BlackLivesMatter movement as criminal and subversive.
It came after he personally criticized the appearance and weight and sexual activity of women opponents.
It came after he chose a Vice President who believes gay people can pray away their gayness.
It came after the KKK and the neo-Nazis endorsed him.
These were all things you had to weigh to cast your vote, and by whatever method you used, you declared theses things within your morally acceptable parameters. You deemed these part of the “lesser of two evils”. In voting your conscience—these things made the cut.
This is kinda a passive-agressive way of saying these folks are wrong and maybe morally suspect. People make decisions when they vote and sometimes things are ignored because of higher concerns. It’s not something I like or would do, but people don’t vote for saints. There is the same kind of backhanded contempt in this video by Sojourner’s:
The problem with these responses is that they treat the people who voted for Trump as either racist or indifferent to persons of color. It’s less about reconcilation than it is about shaming.
The thing is for those of who are Christians and didn’t vote for Trump, we need to be able to listen to Trump voters. Why did they vote the way they did? How can the church respond? How can we show voters there is an alternative?
Sometimes the people who voted for Trump did so for economic reasons. That’s been considered false by opponents, but I think there is a lot of truth to the claim. Writer Morgan Pheme says we should try to understand those voters and listen with some empathy:
Over the last week I have heard far too many of my fellow progressives dismiss Trump’s voters as racists, misogynists and fascists. While there are certainly a depressing number of them that deserve these characterizations, to brush aside the more than 61 million Americans who cast their ballots for Trump as mere hateful idiots is to perpetuate the liberal elitism that helped fuel Trump’s success and to disregard the economic and social problems plaguing our country.
There was a reason that Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s cries for economic populism intermingled to a discomfiting degree during the campaign season: America is in thrall to corporate interests at the expense of blue-collar and low-wage workers; both parties were complicit in giving Wall Street a pass in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis; Democratic and Republican administrations have both driven disastrous deregulation in service of the donor class.
But we must also acknowledge that when hard-working people cannot support their families, when they suffer the loss of their dignity, when they can’t see a path for their children to have a better life than their own—the very crux of the American dream—these are conditions that can both unleash the ugliest elements of human nature—and propel people to throw caution and reason to the wind for the simple promise of hope and change.
There are Trump voters in our congregation. Instead of shaming them, maybe we need to seek them out and listen. We don’t have to agree with them, but we need to take the time to listen. If Christianity is about reconcililation, then this is a good opportunity live that out.