Does anyone remember that quaint time, right after the 2016 election, when so many, myself included, called for everyone not to immediately unfriend their Trump-supporting relatives, friends, and old high school acquaintances?
"Now is not the time to dig back into our bubbles," we said. "This is a time to reach out to those who voted for Trump. To learn. To ask questions. To start conversations."
The goal of conversations with "Trump supporters" was to learn and understand each other. To try to reach out across the divide and bring us together. To try to connect with those who, even though they may have harmed us, ignored us, or dehumanized us in their minds, to maybe try to show them that they can be different. That we can compromise, grow, and move forward together.
Two years into this horror show that alternates between an almost comical clown car barreling toward a cliff and a sobering but terrifying descent into authoritarianism, I wonder how many of those conversations got anywhere.
Every conversation that I have with a Trump supporter usually ends, despite my best efforts, with us stating (or yelling) our positions at each other instead of accomplishing anything productive. No matter how much I try to listen to their views or attempt to argue that empathy for others is important, it goes nowhere. I'm not convincing them and they're not convincing me.
There have been productive conversations among ourselves --the people who know the Trump doctrine is, well, evil. Yet even these discussions are all terrifying. The conversation with my girlfriend, who is transgender like myself, about what we have to do if the fight for trans civil liberties turned violent. There was the conversation with my best friend about the definition of genocide and if the Trump administration's caging of children qualified. If you had told me in 2015 that these were real conversations I would be having just a few years later, I would have laughed. What truly scares me is thinking about what conversations I'll be having a few years from now. So I believe it's time to begin another conversation among ourselves.
Are we able to heal this rift in our country and, what's more, do any of us even want to? Or put in other words -- can this country still become the dream that we hoped for, or is this divide unhealable?
I don't ask this question to be overly dramatic. Yet it's a question many of us think about and that I think many of us have avoided definitively answering because the consequences of our choices are monumental.
Yet for any relationship to heal, both sides have to want to heal together. As much as we like to think that every good romantic partnership just works perfectly, the truth of matter is that every couple fights, disagrees, makes mistakes. Any one of those arguments can end a relationship. The reason that many of them don't is not because of some miraculous deus ex machina or revolutionary change. It's because both sides want to make it work.
In order to make a relationship heal from division, both sides must reach out, learn, ask questions, and start conversations. If neither side does these things, the relationship ends. If only one side tries, then the same arguments just end up repeating until the other side gives up, and again, the relationship ends. It must be a compromise from both sides to make things work.
So where does that leave us today? Despite many of us calling for empathy for our Trump-supporting cousins, it's become clear that they don't wish to extend us the same courtesy. It just leads us to have the same arguments over and over again as we on the left constantly try to make change and Mr. or Mrs. Trump Supporter refusing to do anything.
Just take one look at the debate on gun control to see proof. That's an argument that begs for compromise; for something to be done. Certainly, I'm willing to compromise. Maybe we don't take every gun away. Maybe we just make it harder for someone who wants to shoot kids to ever touch a gun. Yet the conversation always falls on deaf or hostile ears and nothing of significance is ever done.
Even if the conversation did start, how can we even find compromise on some issues? It's not a matter of meeting in the middle, because the Trump administration has pushed things on the right so far into crazy town that the middle still falls well short of basic human civility and liberty. Certainly, I don't really wish to find any "common ground" with anyone on the alt-right. So when any level of compromise is like pulling teeth and any compromise that we reach might still fall way short of what is necessary for the advancement of society and the good of humanity, what can we do?
The natural choice for any toxic relationship is to end it. Cut it off. Certainly I've thought about it. Many times I've nearly unfriended my Trump-supporting friends, family, and high school acquaintances on all social media, just for my basic level of self-care. Yet to go throught with it scares me, because it just means that without any contact, our divide and misunderstanding of each other just deepens. I really do want to keep these conversations going. I want to try to do my part to fix this divided America.
Yet I just don't know how to do that if the people on the other side aren't willing to do the same.
I don't mean to sound all doom and gloom. This whole concept is indeed a vast oversimplification. It relies on the world being a 50/50 split between their side and ours. It's important to remember that Trump did not win the popular vote; that so many of us have stood together in different ways, from the Women's March to #MeToo to fighting to stop the horrors of family separation at the border. We may not be in complete political control, but we are not powerless and we are not small.
There are also many other ways to start much more effective conversations than the ways we have been trying. We are just starting to discover them, through works of art, social media, news, and other avenues. Yet they are still growing, and we need to foster them as fast as possible. If we don't, then the division just gets deeper and deeper.
In order to foster them, we need to answer that question. Are we able to heal this rift in our country and, what's more, do any of us even want to?
I don't think anyone has an answer to the first part of the question. As for the second part, "Do any of us even want to?," I know what the answer is for myself.
I do wish to acknowledge that it is very possible that my desire to continue to try to heal the country may come from elements of my privilege. I am a bisexual trans woman, yes, and have felt the fear that comes from worry about if I may not be safe going outside or in certain areas. However, I am white, upper-middle-class, and live in Los Angeles, a city that, while not immune to the country's larger conflicts, at least provides a predominantly safe and affirming atmosphere for my queer and trans identity.
So I have to understand that it is all well and good for me to sit here and say we should keep trying to reach out with patience and an attempt to care. My body and my life are not immediately at risk. There are lives being destroyed by Trump, his supporters, and the indifference of good men and women. That is fair critism of my ideology.
To this I wish say two brief things. One; I never fault or look down on someone who is fighting back. To speak out in anger, disgust, and hate at those who harm you and harm others through action or inaction is understandable. They deserve it. And it's not wrong. You have a right to fight back against oppression, pain, suffering, and hatred. You hold no obligation to "fight hate with love."
Nor do I think the way I'm trying to handle this is better or the "high ground" or some other form of moral snobbery or elitism.
The reason I do this is very personal. For me. The reason I do this is to hold on to a piece of my soul. Because sometimes living in this country hurts my soul so hard. My soul feels pain every time I look out at the world today. My entire life, I wish I could reach out every day into the world and touch just a little element of goodness in it. And some days it scares me how hard it feels to do that in today's world. And how scared I am that it will get harder. So I wish to do this because it is how I hold on to a piece of myself that tries to believe -- must believe -- that there is goodness in our souls.
I am not religious, and I identify as an agnostic theist. But I do believe everyone has a soul. Everyone. Every single person. And I love that soul. Not everything it does, but I love it on its own. And I believe that most of those souls are good. Purely good. I believe America has a soul. And it is good. And I love it.
So this is something I must do for myself and my soul and how I have to be in this world. It does not mean it is who you have to be or should be. Yet I hope more of us can be.
Because, yes, I do want to try to find a way to keep the soul of America alive. As problematic and awful as America is and has been, there is something worthwhile saving -- the belief that we can recognize our differences, unite, and become something greater than the sum of our parts, the idea that humanity is better when it's together, not when it's pushed apart. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just a few.
So I can't give up doing my part for healing this country. And I hope that you aren't either. There is nothing better, more beautiful, than standing with someone else, no matter who, and fighting not just for what's right, but for a belief in a better version of humanity. Just remember to take care of yourself along the way.
JESSIE EARL is a multimedia producer for The Advocate. When she isn't waxing philosophical about womanhood, you can follow her geeky antics on Pride.com's Nerd Out series or @jessiegender.