Submitted by Katie Kennedy on

The Battle Is Over. Now Starts the War

We did it. Joe Biden is our President-Elect. The nightmare of Trump’s presidency, at last, is coming to an end. When the election was finally called, I allowed myself a few days to breathe in the relief of the results before returning to look at some hard truths:

·         Almost a third of those eligible to vote did so for Trump – 73 million people (almost 10 million more than in 2016).

·         According to a Washington Post article, more Republicans voted for Trump this time around than in 2016 (with a jump from 88% to 94%).

·         More Black men voted for Trump this time, as well (up to 19% from the 13% four years ago – the most for a Republican since 1980).

·         Trump also gained Latinx voters in states like Florida and Texas (for a total of 47% and 41%, in those states, respectively).

·         More white women voted for Trump than did last time, too.

After four years of watching Trump and those around him, this election was not the repudiation we were hoping for. Seeing this certainly dampens the elation I want to feel. It also shows us that our work is just beginning.

Yes, we have spent the last four years resisting Trump, doing damage control while his dumpster fire of an administration hell-bent on targeting protections for minorities and the environment (etc.) ran rampant. But the real work starts when Biden steps in and takes the reigns. The energy we spent in survival mode these last four years now needs to be redirected.

And while there are many policies and actions we know we need to focus on, the real fight isn’t going to be passing and enacting them. Our challenge was never simply to fill government seats with enough people to push through our agenda, though I certainly believe we should achieve as much on that front as is possible. No, the war for the soul of our nation isn’t going to be fought in the chambers of Congress or from the seat of the Presidency. It’s going to be waged in the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens.

You see, the greatest challenge we face moving forward is the disappearance of Truth and the role this disappearance has played in the increased polarization of our country. Donald Trump is only part of that problem. His birther movement kick-started a decade of alternative facts that has devolved into outright conspiracy and alternative reality.

Over the last three election cycles, we have had a front-row seat as part of our populace has become radicalized right before our very eyes. Donald Trump was a large part of it – he certainly exacerbated it and used it to his advantage – but defeating Trump doesn’t defeat the misinformation and disinformation that now have a hold on so many people. Evicting him from the White House doesn’t evict these falsehoods from the residence they have taken up in our cultural mainstream.

Even more troubling, as our fellow Americans have been led to accept these falsehoods, they have also become more and more tribalistic, making them less and less willing to cooperate with the “other side.” So much so, that their now preferred social media platform, Parler, is filled with posts calling for the murder of those they see as the enemy. Some named targets include liberals, Democrats, “BLM people,” millennials, college professors, and those in the “news media.” “Stop the Steal” groups on Facebook are filled with posts calling for civil war before being shut down – those shutdowns being one of the reasons for the mass migration to Parler held on November 13.

As this segment of our population becomes increasingly radicalized, our political system will continue to be less and less effective, especially given that the system relies on bipartisan cooperation and common ground – things that have, for all intents and purposes, deteriorated to the point of non-existence. Without finding a way to bring people back to reality, our elections will continue to be tumultuous, and that demographic will continue to support more and more extreme candidates. Just look at QAnon supporters Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, who were elected to Congress – and they are just two of the two dozen QAnon supporters found on the federal ballot this year.

So how do we re-establish Truth when things like fact-checking are considered a liberal conspiracy? When we recognize that facts don’t change people’s minds? The sad reality is, only relationships change perspectives. As stated in this article, “we develop our beliefs through our feelings, not our brains. And that’s how we’re changed as well: by connecting with others and having an emotional experience.”

This means that moving forward will require building bridges. It will require reaching across the divide to connect with the very people who have decided we are the enemy, who have spent the last 12 years growing increasingly hateful towards us and have supported policies and people who would (and have) harmed the most vulnerable among us.

If you’re cringing at that thought, please know I am, too. This whole situation leaves me conflicted. I hear those decrying the request for unconditional unity and sympathize with their reasoning. Just entertaining the idea feels like a betrayal of the marginalized and disenfranchised among us – the very people we’ve spent the last four years resisting with and for. My husband asks why we must always be the better people, and he compares reaching out to those who still support Trump as victims of abuse, who now must cooperate with their abuser. I am sure that comparison seems even more accurate for those who do not share the color of my skin.

So how do we balance the legitimate hurt and anger we feel for the injustices people have faced with the fact that our nation won’t begin to heal if we don’t work to rebuild relationships and re-establish common ground? How do we respect those who have been most harmed while undertaking this work? Certainly, we can’t ask them to take on such an effort. That feels too much like asking people of color to put an end to racism when that responsibility falls on the shoulders of those of us who have privilege and benefit from systemic inequality. 

I don’t yet have all the answers to these questions. I'm still struggling myself to wrap my head and heart around what needs to come next and how, exactly, we achieve it. All I do know is that being social creatures, we need a community, a tribe, and that personal identity is strongly tied to group membership. It is very hard to leave one group without knowing another is waiting and willing to accept you as one of their own. Even cooperation between groups requires the belief in a non-zero-sum game.

Showing Trump supporters that there is still room for them in America and that there are ways we can agree and cooperate – that we want the best for them, too – while condemning so much of what Trumpism has entailed, so much of what they have enabled, encouraged, and/or participated in, is going to difficult. But all I have read and seen about de-radicalization, counter-terrorism, cult-deprogramming, and the like shows we will get nowhere without compassion, patience, and a willingness to understand the grievances and motives of those across the aisle.

This may not be a job everyone is willing to take on, and I think that is understandable – there will be plenty to focus on as we move forward. But someone has to do it. If you feel like that someone is you, please contact me: Maybe together we can find the solution to the problems that face us.