When I ran my first several marathons, I was training with a big running group in Columbus, Ohio. As I got into running, my social life came to involve fewer late weekend nights and more early morning runs. On one of those runs, someone told me that less than 1% of the U.S. population had run a marathon. I was flabbergasted – I felt like all of my friends had run a marathon. I realized then that my social circle may not have accurately represented the full diversity of the American populace.
I realized that fact again this week as I wondered how Donald Trump could have won the election. On most measures of diversity – race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender identity – I have an extremely diverse group of friends. But in terms of political preference, it turns out that I run with a pretty liberal crowd. It may come as no surprise that Peace Corps volunteers, public school teachers, and university professors of education tend to support the Democratic Party. Particularly since moving to DC, where Trump received only 4% of the vote, I mostly interact with people who share my political views. My Facebook wall was a Hillary Clinton love fest all day Tuesday: Children at the polls to witness a potentially historic moment; Susan B. Anthony’s grave covered with “I voted” stickers; friends showing off their pantsuits. I would have been hard pressed to think of more than a handful of Trump voters among my facebook friends.
As the election results came in, however, a few tentative conservative voices emerged on my social media feeds. I realized that some of the people I love most deeply were among the 60 million voters who put Trump in the White House. It’s tempting to see Trump voters as monolithically uneducated, ignorant, and racist, but the Trump voters I know personally make it clear that it’s much more complicated. I cannot begin to understand the perspective of nearly half of our nation’s voters, and I won’t try to. From my perspective, Trump is a vile human being who has sexually assaulted women, verbally attacked the family of a national hero, and mocked individuals with disabilities. His record as a businessman, which includes repeated instances of racial discrimination, taking advantage of small businesses for his own profit, and stretching the law to avoid paying taxes, is laughably inadequate experience for the leader of the free world. The policies he proposes could increase income inequality, erode civil rights, and accelerate climate change. I could go on, but I’m sure the other side could also come up with quite a few links to articles about Hillary Clinton’s faults. Still, the fact that so many voters were able to look past any one of those facts about Donald Trump and his proposed policies – let alone all of them – shows me that we must see the world in entirely different ways.
There have been a few ideas proposed about why we see the world differently: maybe we have different understandings of the metaphor of the nation as a family, or maybe we get our news from different sources. Or we might just see the world differently according to which parts of the world we have each actually seen. I’ve traveled, lived, and worked in places where there are no paved roads, where schools close for weeks at a time because there is no money to pay teachers, and where babies still die of dysentery. In comparison, it is absurd to suggest that America is anything but “great” already. Some of the people who voted for Trump quite simply haven’t seen enough of the world to understand how damaging a Trump presidency could be globally – not only for Mexican and for Muslims, but also for countless people around the world who have risen out of poverty thanks to increased global trade and free exchange of ideas.
Much of the time I’ve spent living abroad has been as a citizen ambassador, on State Department-funded programs. I’m so proud to have been able to represent America for the world, to work to build connections that help people understand each other across cultures. And I’m also embarrassed that, until this election, I hadn’t given much thought to how important it might be to turn around and work to build those same connections within our own culture. Many of us who voted for Clinton quite simply haven’t seen enough of America to understand how a Trump presidency could be appealing. I probably know more about life in rural India than in rural America. The vast swathes of red in the middle of the country are indicative of just how divided our country has become – and how little I know about the country I have had the privilege to represent abroad.
For liberals like me, this may be one of the only good things to emerge from this election – the understanding that we need to engage with people in our country with deeply different viewpoints. We need to share our stories, but more importantly, we need to listen to theirs. Nothing could be greater than an America where people seek to understand the perspectives of people different from themselves.