You're a resident of Gary, Indiana, who's just been laid off from a job at the local steel mill. Your father's farm in Chesterton is long gone, and you're wishing your wife's family's hardware store didn't have to foreclose a decade ago. Walmart isn't hiring, the neighbors are on meth, and you have three kids at home, not all of whom have shoes.
Only one of the presidential candidates is saying something about tax cuts and families. You see rural white poverty around you every day, and you notice liberals only ever talk about poverty in an inner city context, or with reference to the global south. You wonder why they never talk about rural poverty or mention places like the Mississippi Delta, the Ozarks, Appalachia, the Dakotas… you didn't finish middle school, but you suspect the rural poverty rate is higher than it is in cities (it is*), that the study of sociology has an urban bias (it does**), and you feel forgotten as you look at the abject living standards in your trailer and compare it to the left-wing lives portrayed on your neighbor's TV. Only one candidate is bothering to reach out to you. Do you care that he makes disparaging comments about demographic groups you've never even met? That's meaningless noise. Of course not. The government hasn't been helping you for years, and looking at your malnourished children you know you need to cast a vote. For change.
I suspect scenarios like the above are more prevalent among the Trump voter turnout than the idea of a wealthy, uneducated teeth-gnashing white man who's always hoped for a Klan revival, regularly beats his wife, and enjoys spraying epithets on all VW beetles that have pastel colors. The desperation, living conditions, and chronic lack of education in middle America doesn't justify voters' mortifying tolerance of selfish hate, but it explains their willingness to subjugate it in importance. They're frustrated with America's deadlocked governmental infrastructure. Aren't you? Their vote for someone different and new stems from a similar place as my own vote for Obama in 2008. It isn't the same thing, but you see the similarity of desperation. There's a problem with the system, and your two candidate choices are someone from within that system, and someone outside it.
What I'm trying to assert here is twofold: not all Trump supporters are hate-fueled animals. However, in casting their vote in the name of self-preservation, they have endorsed and enabled hate of the most egregious, un-American type.
The hypothetical teeth-gnasher described above didn't comprise the entire Trump vote, but it has now been unleashed because of it. The bump in hate crimes since the election is worse than what happened after 9/11, according to the SPLC, a body that tracks such items. Gallup reports 42 percent of Americans afraid as a result of the Trump win; it's not hard to see why, as incidents numbering in the hundreds of harassment, swastikas, vandalism, whites-only enforcement, corralling of blacks on social media for future attacks, street threats toward Muslim women and their families, a push for lynchings, and worse… with only a passing denouncement by Mr. Trump ("stop it"), who told 60 Minutes "it was a very small amount" and "he had only seen one or two instances." Do you think Obama would have spoken like that if hundreds of hate crimes were committed in his name? Any other president? Two sentences on 60 minutes, followed by the hiring of white supremacist Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist.
What to do?
Be nice to people. Being kind has always been a necessary and satisfying obligation for us social creatures, but in 2016 in the United States it is something more. It is a matter of national urgency, a moral imperative we owe our fellow Americans. Folks like yourself– that is, women, rape survivors, gays, poor people, dark-skinned Americans from all over the world, Muslims, Native Americans, immigrants, Jews, trans folks, the disabled and more– are feeling a distinct lack of love right now.
I was at a rally last week, called Love Over Hate. The mood was calm, accepting, peaceful. The afternoon light was fading into evening, and several hundred people of all the backgrounds above, and others (plenty of enlightened white males out there too, don't forget), coalesced as one in the twilight. People didn't look or talk like each other, didn't dress the same, weren't similar ages, and no one cared. You felt safe there, appreciated.
I hope the future feels like that.
We get there a step at a time. By leaving a bigger tip for your waitress. Waving hello at the fellow on the exit ramp, even if you don't have anything else to offer, because acknowledgment is the biggest offering. Pay for your gas inside, so you can give the man at the counter a smile. He'll feel better.
These are the restorative acts we need now.
Further Reading (includes links above):
10 Worst Places to Live in Indiana (Road Snacks)
10 Small Towns In Indiana Where You’d Never Want To Live (Road Snacks)
Indiana Crowned Meth Capital of United States (TriState)
More on Gary, Indiana, which has a poverty rate of 38.7%:
Gary...May Cut Off Services to Nearly Half Its Land (Business Insider)
Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die (The American Prospect)
Rural Poverty: 11 Myths and Realities (Sullivan County)
**Why the Left Isn’t Talking About Rural American Poverty (In These Times)
Some Reasons behind Societal Neglect of Rural Poverty– and Rural America (Non-Profit Quarterly)
The Particular Struggles of Rural Women (The Atlantic)
*Rural Poverty Decreases, Yet Remains Higher Than The U.S. Poverty Rate (Housing Assistance Council)
The State of Rural America in 2015 (Modern Farmer)
7 Key Takeaways from Donald Trump’s 60 Minutes Interview (Time)
Donald Trump won’t take a salary as US president, and other news from his “60 Minutes” interview (Quartz)
A White Nationalist Who Hates Jews Will Be Trump's Right-Hand Man In The White House (Media Matters)
Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education (Pew Research Center). Note the enormous education gap.
Hundreds of Hate Crimes Have Been Reported Since the Election (NY Magazine)
Racist Incidents Are Up Since Donald Trump’s Election (Time)
Post-election spate of hate crimes worse than post-9/11, experts say (USA Today)
Spike in hate crimes prompts special NY police unit (CNN)
Some highly compelling insights from a reflective Stewart: Jon Stewart on President-elect Trump, hypocrisy in America (CBS)