A Trump Supporter on Being Called Ignorant (and My Response)

I received a response to my recent post entitled “So I Guess I’m an Elitist Now,” in which I found the entire text of that post copied with a handful of words and sections strategically altered.  I followed up with the individual who sent it to me – we’ll refer to him by his initials “D.G.” – and he said the following:

“Your post provided some background on why you feel as you do.  You posted this as an explanation of why you believe your thoughts to be correct.  I tried to show you, and hopefully your readers, that almost all of your examples could be used to demonstrate the opposite.  Those life experiences led you to one conclusion; my similar experiences led to a different conclusion.  I think that posting my response along side of your original post would show that similar actions and histories can lead to different realities.  As I read your post, I was struck by the similarities of our backgrounds and the differences in our political philosophies.”

Point taken.  So here it is.  Bear in mind once more that most of what you read below are my own words altered to fit D.G.'s experience to make a point.  You can read the original right here. Without further ado, the “upside down” version of that recent post, now entitled “So I Guess I’m Ignorant Now”:

"Take your accusation of ignorance and peddle it to someone who's buying. Seriously. I repeatedly hear people stamp some of my friends, my family, and myself as ignorant because we did not vote for Hillary Clinton. For those of you who consider those who disagree with you to be ignorant, I have some hard truths for you.

I grew up in rural Virginia. I grew up quite comfortably, but that was the product of parents (and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and friends of parents) who pulled out every stop to make sure my brothers and I were cared for. My family never had much money; very little in fact. I was not aware of this when I was growing up. I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real when I overhead my dad telling my mom that they would have to without so we boys could have Christmas presents. I never asked for another Christmas present after hearing that private conversation. To this day, I feel a bit of guilt to open a present…but that is another story.

My parents made me go to the Methodist Church every Sunday and stay for Sunday School. Attendance of the AWANA Youth group was mandatory. After Sunday school when I was little, my brothers, friends and I would go sit up in the balcony for the sermon. I have a bible on a bookshelf in my house that I’ve read cover to cover multiple times. Inside one of those covers is an inscription from my grandfather: “Inside these pages is the answer for whatever ails you.” He gave me this when I left home for college.

Speaking of which, my grandfather was a farmer all of his life (93 years). His nickname was “Snapper”. He didn’t go to college but was the most intelligent person I have ever met. He chewed tobacco that he grew, loved to fish and hunt, and complained about Yankee’s baseball following every loss. He read vociferously; newspapers, magazines, but especially classic novels. He often quoted Gandhi and MLK, Jr. He also voted for Reagan, H.W. Bush and W. He died just prior to the 2016 election but was a Trump supporter.

The hard truth is that you’re not justifying your decision by telling people that they’re ignorant and implying that they can’t understand you. You’re just evading. The hard truth is that I do know you. I do understand you. I sat beside you at a high school football game and probably sold you a garden cucumber one summer. I might even understand your decision. But I think it was a bad one and I can’t think of anything that justifies it.

I grew up where you grew up. I went to the same public school you went to. I read the same bible you did. My family worried about some of the same things as yours. I went to the same church you went to. I caught turtles when I was little and worked through high school and college. I think unsweetened iced tea is okay. But the hard truth is that none of that matters. Being brought up differently doesn't preclude others from wanting to help or understand you or from wanting the best for you.

Instead of claiming that I’m “ignorant” maybe you should try to make me understand your decision more fully. Better yet, maybe you should try to understand the “deplorable and unredeemable” among us who do not think that government is the cure for all but may just be a large part of the cause. Bring something real to the table instead of evoking an experience that you think no one else can comprehend. I’m still waiting. Otherwise maybe it’s time you accept that people who grew up the same way you grew up and believe in the same things you believe in strove to accept and understand their neighbors. To open their arms and minds instead of closing them. Your decision was just that. Not the product of something special and cryptic that I can’t understand. It was a decision. Own it, reflect on it, open yourself to others, and accept the results…whether you agree or not.

And for the record; if anyone had tried to call my grandpa “ignorant,” he’d probably stop chewing his tobacco just long enough to eyeball you sideways, pick up his walking stick briefly, then put it back in its corner, and decide to let you form your own opinion.”

First of all – his grandpa and my granddaddy would probably have liked each other and I am sorry for his loss.  But I take his point.  I was attempting to demonstrate the way that accusations of “elitism” are used by conservative folks to simply shut down a discussion.  For what it’s worth, liberals truly do much the same thing with accusations of ignorance.  I concede that point, but where does that leave us?  I said the following at the end of my column:

I might even understand your decision.  But I think it was a bad one and I can’t think of anything that justifies it.

Perhaps I was wrong about the former sentence, but I stand by the latter.  And this is where D.G’s use of my words no longer does him any good.  I spoke for myself and I have used this platform to speak over and over and over and over again about the things that I believe in and I have offered it to others to do the same.  

I have never attempted to justify my own political opinions by “evoking an experience that I think no one else can understand.”  In fact I wrote that column to demonstrate that my upbringing might have been similar to one like D.G’s but led me to embrace refugees, appreciate religious plurality, and make every attempt to understand people with whom I disagree.  I have made every attempt – and will attempt every day as long as I can – to make people “understand my decision more fully.”  I invite D.G. to do the same.

I invite all of my neighbors to speak and attempt to engage with them honestly.  I have been called by my ostensible liberal allies a “corporatist stooge,” a “Clintonite centrist shill,” and (my personal favorite) “Neville Chamberlain” for my attempts to better understand those who made a decision I think profoundly destructive.  I have had my worldview described as resting on “vestigial neo-liberal rhetoric” and my writing described as a perplexing oscillation between “reason” and “neo-liberal hangings-on.”  I’m okay with it.  I invite D.G. to step out onto the limb with me.

Furthermore, I would argue that Donald Trump exemplifies a value system that does not “strive to accept or understand” neighbors, but rather to subject them to “extreme vetting” and marginalize them.  I would argue that Donald Trump exemplifies not “open hearts” and “open arms” but something nearer the opposite.  I have no trouble reconciling my grandfather’s rough edges and rural religious upbringing with his votes in favor of social welfare, access to health care, and cultural pluralism.  I take serious issue with the idea that the words of Gandhi or the compassion of Christianity find their voice in Donald Trump.  He stands for everything they do not.  I know dozens of people – friends, family, acquaintances – who voted for Donald Trump and whom I think to be kind and open people.  I invite D.G. to tell me how he reconciles this difference.

I know that my vote was a decision.  I do own it.  I reflect on it daily.  I spend my days reading others’ thoughts, engaging them, and often publishing them.  I am open in every way that I know how to be to people who think differently than me.  I ask only something comparable of others.

I’m still waiting.