Joel Wentz

contending for thoughtful Christianity

The Election of Trump: Some words for those who are grieving

To put it bluntly, we all learned something about America last week. We now know that, given the choice of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to lead the Executive Branch of our government, Americans choose Trump. This revelation has shocked many people (including myself, and even some Trump supporters I have spoken to), and responses are varying widely. Some are protesting, some are trying to just move forward, some are incredulous, and many have called for deeper empathy and unity.

I'm personally compelled by that last one. Empathy seems important right now. 

Now, I'm intensely aware that empathy does not come easily in the aftermath of this toxic season, but the degree to which it is difficult may also indicate how important it is. Frankly, if we can't cultivate some intentional understanding of each other, I'll be more worried about future elections than I even am about Trump's upcoming term in office.

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Before I offer some thoughts, though, my background has lent me some ability to see both sides of this situation. The county in Pennsylvania in which I grew up voted by a near 3:1 margin for Trump. It is also an overwhelmingly "churched" area of the state (there are over 450 church congregations serving a population of about 150,000), and is over 95% white. The house I lived in sat squarely between 3 dairy farms, and schools closed on the first day of hunting season (which, incidentally, was awesome for me - I sat at home and played video games while my buddies all froze in tree stands). I graduated from high school there, my father was a pastor there, and many of my family members and life-long friends still live there.

At the same time, I now live in a liberal city in New England which has already seen multiple Trump protests and "Love Trumps Hate" rallies. I am a registered Democrat, spend most of my time on college campuses ministering to Millenials, and am employed by an organization that is actively involved in social justice and racial reconciliation work

These mixed experiences have made me deeply concerned with helping us all to truly see each other. In general, I try to live by what Tim Keller calls "Murray's Rule," that we should be excruciatingly careful not to misrepresent the perspectives of those we disagree with. This all being said, I hope to speak to everyone in this post, whether you are deeply grieved or relieved by what happened last week.

Words For Those Who Are Grieving

First, your grief is legitimate. I know people who are immigrants, or who have undocumented family members, who are now frightened about what could happen to them under a Trump presidency. Those feelings are valid, and I won't try to explain them away. I also know people of color who feel like their country does not want them here, and LGBT people who once again feel pushed to the margins. Once again, those are valid feelings that I don't want to distance myself from. In fact, I want you to help me see through the privilege I could exercise by insulating myself going forward. Help me to instead share your burden.

Second, and I know this is hard to understand, but please read this in the spirit of empathy that I'm trying to cultivate: I truly believe that many (if not most) of the people who voted for Trump last week did not vote against you. The people in my rural hometown, whom I know and love, voted against a left-leaning system that has repeatedly told them they aren't valuable in our society. They also voted for a conservative Supreme Court that they are hoping will keep Abortion legislation in check. You may not agree with those priorities, but those priorities were important enough to them to overlook Trump's glaring flaws.

Think about that for a moment. These priorities must be a big deal for good and sincere people to overlook the painfully-obvious character issues that Trump brought to the table. It would be worth it to ask them, "Why exactly are these things important to you?" And to hear them out.

So, in addition to feeling your own very-legitimate grief and fear, I encourage you to grieve the reality of a system that placed a clearly-misogynistic, sexually licentious, greedy and narcissistic man as the only voice that would seemingly lend an ear to deeply-felt concerns of these folks.* Any way you cut it, this is a snapshot of a democratic system that has catastrophically failed its own people.

Finally, and this is increasingly important to me, grieve the reality that we live in such a distinctly segregated society, which has allowed spaces for kind and decent people to live lives that are completely detached from your real fears and experiences. I truly believe that the people of Franklin County would be heartbroken to know that their votes made you feel scared and unwelcome in your own country. In fact, maybe I'm being naive, but I would be willing to bet that if they knew what their voting patterns would communicate to you, they may have changed their minds. The kind of people I grew up with want the same things you do: a fair and just governance, in which all people feel safe.**

But alas, we don't live in a meaningfully-integrated country. We live in a compartmentalized, cloistered setting in which people can make assumptions about "others" and never have those assumptions challenged by real individuals. And isn't that precisely the root of the problem?


*I am well-aware that Trump was most likely not actually lending this ear, but instead using their concerns as a political maneuver for his own ends, but isn't that possibility just as sad?

**This point (and all the others before it) are not to diminish the very real forces of racism and xenophobia that lurk under the surface (or, in some cases, quite explicitly over-the-surface) of this election and Trump's campaign. I recognize that some Trump supporters would define "feeling safe" as only living around people that look like them. For the sake of this short piece, I am extending the benefit of the doubt: that the people I know would be willing to be stretched to understand the experiences of others if they lived in proximity to them, and that even the ones who have internalized racial prejudice could be changed through meaningful exposure to others.