Trigger warning: support for Trump voters (sort of). If you are anxious/afraid because of Trump’s support base, maybe don’t read this right now. Take a break. Have a coffee (until the coffee runs out; then it’s wine time). Spend time with friends. Take care of yourself. Really, I hope you’ll eventually take time to consider this, but now may not be the time for you. Seriously, you’re already anxious enough, and there’s already enough triggering content out there; take some you time.
Ok, so if you’ve made it through the first paragraph…
I have very intelligent, thoughtful, caring friends who voted for Trump this year. There’s nothing I can do to change their votes. I’ve done what I can to try to convince people that Trump is not a pro-life, pro-American, pro-Christianity vote. But now that the votes have been cast, and nothing more can be done on our ballots, I just want to say: I don’t think a vote for Trump necessarily means you’re homophobic, sexist, racist, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I know A LOT of Trump supporters that I think are homophobic, sexist, racist, etc. (I’d go so far as to say that I think most of the vocal Trump supporters I know fall into at least one of those categories.) But I don’t think they’re homophobic, sexist, racist, etc. because they voted for Trump. If they’re homophobic, sexist, racist, etc., it’s because they’re homophobic, sexist, racist, etc. Maybe these things motivated them to vote for Trump. But I don’t think my Trump-voting friends are evil, or uncaring, or inhumane. In the end, I have friends who carefully considered the issues, followed the news, and made a decision to not vote according to just any one particular issue.
What we’re learning about the Trump base is that it increased this year among BIPOC persons and LGBTQ+ persons. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people (like straight white men) have a variety of interests and don’t fall cleanly into our two-party system. Just as many pro-life voters don’t just vote for candidates because they’re anti-abortion, many LGBTQ+ voters don’t just vote for candidates because they support same-sex marriage, and many BIPOC voters don’t just vote for candidates because they talk about fighting racism or supporting immigrants. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ persons are allowed to take other matters into consideration as well.
When I hear white liberals say that they don’t understand how BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people could vote for Trump, I hear them say, “We’re not listening to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people unless they fit into our socio-political expectations for them.” I’ve heard of people characterizing me as homophobic, as self-hating, because, for example, I generally supported Amy Coney Barrett ascending to the Supreme Court. I understand that there may be implications for this support that go against the interests of myself and my friends. I think, for example, that the American Catholic fight for “religious liberty” which motivated support for her among Catholics is actually a fight for the ability to act without any civic or social accountability, usually to the detriment of the vulnerable and marginalized. (The falsity of the USCCB brand of “religious liberty” is clearest when we remember it had been used by the USCCB in the past to avoid accountability for clergy sexual abuse of children.) But Americans on both sides of our political divide need to understand that voting for Biden doesn’t mean you hate unborn children, and voting for Trump (or supporting ACB) doesn’t mean you hate gay people.
The vilifying, dismissive, demeaning, and shaming labeling (as “homophobic,” for example) by some liberals helped motivate me originally to vote third party on my mail-in ballot. (I later destroyed the ballot and voted in-person for Biden and reached out to family and friends asking them to do the same.) If you want to get someone to join your cause, I don’t recommend marking them with a label of sinfulness. It’s just another version of, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I find the sentiment unhelpful, whether one calls the sin homosexuality or homophobia. I experienced that marking personally as an act of domination, intended to dismiss me away with a label of evil. I’ve seen enough of that as a gay person in Catholicism. It’s exhausting that now I’ve received it from other people outside of the Church. That’s something I find utterly soul-destroying in the shaming in traditionalist Catholicism, and so it’s jarring and triggering when I receive the same from the far left.
Don’t get me wrong. I do struggle with the fact that I have friends I love and respect who voted for Trump. I think their votes will affect our relationships, in part because they reveal a very significant difference in worldview. I may be more cautious with certain conversations, or struggle to have those conversations at all. I have complex feelings about those votes, and I hope my friends who voted for Trump will respect boundaries and protections I set up as I try to process how I feel about these things in a way that is safe and productive for me.
But I don’t think those friends are evil. And I don’t think they hate me. I disagree strongly with their decision, and I hope that they grapple with the consequences that 4 more years of Trump could have for me personally. I hope that they take those consequences seriously and work harder than ever when their candidate’s policies and rhetoric can cause me harm. They may not necessarily be homophobic, sexist, or racist, but they have a responsibility to oppose the ways in which Trump may be homophobic, sexist, or racist. I hope they accept the harms created by their candidate as their own responsibility and act accordingly if he wins the election. But I won’t vilify them for their vote.
In the end, people on all sides of the election are our friends and neighbors. I hope that we can better understand one another. I obviously hope that a better understanding will lead my friends and neighbors to not vote for someone like Trump in the future (they probably hope the same for me with Biden). But after the votes are cast and the election is over, I do hope friendship and neighborliness continue.
The alternative seems to me: paint them as evil and cut them out of my life. I’m going to resist this. I understand that there are vulnerable persons who will be stepping away from relationships with people they know who are Trump supporters. If you do this, I hope it’s not just because they supported Trump. More likely than not, those supporters were already obnoxious, harmful, and demeaning, and the Trump advocacy is the final straw. I understand that. I don’t disagree with it. If you’re a jerkface, you’re a jerkface. If you’re racist, you’re racist. If you’re a BIPOC person, it’s totally fair to limit the amount of time you spend interacting with racists. And I will never rebuke BIPOC people for limiting racists’ ability to interact with their children. I won’t use shallow Christian platitudes to guilt BIPOC people into having their children spend time with racist family members.
But I personally have friends who voted for Trump who I will keep as friends. I’m sure I have neighbors who voted for Trump. I will remain their neighbor. I hope we challenge one another. I think I have a lot to learn about them, and they have a lot to learn about me.
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.
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