The elephant and donkey in the room

By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association

One of them is a football player for a small college, a former student of mine who sends me a Facebook message when he’s going to be home for a weekend to see if I need anything done around the house. He has cleaned my gutters, chopped down small trees, and carried 40 lb. salt bags downstairs to my water softener for me.

One of them was the cool older teenager who babysat me one summer in the early eighties. She is my oldest friend’s aunt, and she and her sisters have been part of my life since I was two years old. When my husband died, they brought lasagna, cookies, and love to my house.

One of them is a current student, a funny, intelligent, witty young man who demonstrates a balance of teenage boy ebullience and kind-hearted compassion in my classroom.

One of them is a colleague who holds three college degrees and is one of the best senior teachers our school has ever had. Students who have successfully navigated rigorous college classes routinely come back to express their gratitude.

One of them is the person my daughter took her first steps toward. He caught her then and he would still do anything to save her from a moment’s danger or harm. I have imagined him walking her down the aisle on her wedding day.

One of them toiled in the hot sun to dig steps in the side of a steep hill between our driveway and our back yard so I could climb the hill more easily when I was a toddler.

Who are these people?

They are Trump supporters. They are people who have enriched both my career and my personal life, people whom I have respected and admired and loved, in some cases, for decades. Yet now, they support a man who has espoused values that seem to contradict what I have known of these people, a man who promotes violence, denigrates women, and stereotypes other cultures and religions, a man who behaves in an incredibly offensive and decidedly unpresidential manner.

The first year I could vote in a presidential election, I voted for Bush. Why? Because I knew my parents were voting for him. It took me awhile to form my own political opinions, opinions formed largely after I realized the profound effect politics have on my job as a public school teacher and as a woman and mother of a daughter. So I voted for Al Gore in 2000, and while I was disappointed in the outcome of that election, I was not devastated. My political passion grew, and in 2008, I enthusiastically supported and proudly voted for Obama when he ran against John McCain, and again when he opposed Mitt Romney four years later. But never, even in my most heated debates about Republican candidates, did I truly fear for my country’s future if they won.

What I wouldn’t give for Hillary Clinton to be running against any one of them now. I could sleep at night not worrying about a possible President Trump getting our country into a war because he insulted a foreign leader, acted on an impulse, or failed to understand a complex issue. I wouldn’t have to worry about my teenage students repeating what he says about women or people of various ethnicities, or worse, emulating him. I wouldn’t have to fight rampant misogyny, homophobia, and racism in my classroom because my students are taking to heart what their President believes. Indeed, if Hillary was running against anyone other than Donald Trump, I could simply enjoy the passionate debates and political discourse of the campaign season instead of trying to tamp down the abject terror that seizes my heart when I think about my daughter coming of age under a Trump presidency.

And I wouldn’t have to try to understand how people I love can vote for a man like Trump.

When I read articles such as “If You Tell Me You Are Supporting Trump, I Already Know Seven Things About You”, I tend to agree with everything the author says. Yes, yes, yes! I shout to myself.

Until I think about my dad. Or my best friend’s aunt. Or my former students.

I just can’t believe that I have misread the hearts of these people for all these years. I have not seen them behave in hateful ways, not toward me, and not toward others. I can’t have been wrong about all of these people and the kind of values they hold. Can I?

It’s very disconcerting to question what you have believed to be true about the people you love. Are respect and love tied together? Is it possible to love people but disagree with their political beliefs? In the past, I would have answered an unequivocal YES. But if people agree with Trump’s bigoted and sexist views, does it go beyond political viewpoints and cross over into core values?

I realize that they might be feeling the same way about me. They might be wondering how I could support Hillary Clinton, someone they abhor as much as I detest Donald Trump. Frankly, maybe some of you are, too.

For the most part, the Trump supporters in my life and I do not talk politics. There is no chance they could convince me to vote for him, nor could I persuade them to vote for Hillary. It’s the elephant (and donkey) in the room. It’s there, but we don’t speak of it.

What do I do with the people in my life who are passionately advocating for Trump? It seems extreme, but the only options I have are to cut those people from my life or look past their political viewpoints during this election. I need to try to let the good that I know exists within them overshadow the doubts I feel when I think about who they are supporting. I have to try to allow the years that I have known these people to speak more loudly than a season of antagonistic politics. It won’t be easy. I am determined to try.

On a much bigger scale, the country faces a similar situation, for we are not a very United States at the moment. How will our nation deal with the aftermath of the Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton campaign?

It is our democracy that has allowed such different candidates to reach this point, and while it may not be pretty now, this conflict, this push/pull, this dichotomy is what our democracy depends upon.

Let us all hope that no matter who wins this election, our country will emerge intact, that the good in the hearts of Americans will speak louder than the hate, and that the desire to move forward together will be stronger than the divisiveness these past months have illuminated.

And regardless of our personal political leanings, let us, America’s teachers, lead the way. It is imperative that we continue to teach the beauty and importance of democracy, despite the ugliness of this campaign. In one of our schools today sits a future President, and how he or she views this great country might very well depend upon how we deal with the fallout of this election in our classrooms.



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