I am writing mostly to process my own thoughts about this election. I have lived in the most conservative and liberal areas of the country, from the heartland of Kansas to Swarthmore, a liberal east-coast college town. I’ve been a liberal among conservatives and a conservative among liberals. And I always run into amazing, wonderful, intelligent, sensible people. As a passionate moderate, I felt left out by this election, more of an observer. Pollsters and pundits will try to explain this issue in terms of policy differences or characteristic of people who showed up to vote. One way to understand this election is as another exchange between insiders and outsiders.
I spent some time before this election wondering what would John Witherspoon do? What would he think about this election and these two candidates? At the time of our founding, he was the ultimate insider. He taught at Princeton. His students included James Madison. On the eve of the American Revolution, he preached on the corruption of human nature, the need for “unfeigned acceptance of Jesus Christ,” the public interest of religion (in his words “zeal for the glory of God and the good of others”), and the blessings of work. He shared the reasons that he always preached freedom of religion. When I think of the turmoil caused by this election, I take some comfort knowing that he lived through worse conflict.
Over the centuries: those who were once insiders, people like John Witherspoon who believed in the providence of God and the sanctity of work and cultivating the ability to self-govern, became outsiders. And it’s become more challenging to talk about working for the public good from a Christian point of view. It has become prestigious to be with the “have nots” and out of favor to talk about the dignity of a good job. The billionaires, celebrities, journalists, and activists are with those perceived as vulnerable, but look down on Trump supporters, many of whom are struggling just as much, but with a different set of concerns. There’s a distrust of religion in certain circles, even when Christians are deeply moved to care for the earth and help the vulnerable and oppressed because of their religious convictions. I’ve heard people in my community say: “When Jesus is all you have, you find that Jesus in enough.” When faith is holding you together, you especially don’t want to have faith dismissed.
Trump made a lot of damaging statements (understatement of the year), but Hillary Clinton made some mistakes, too. Clinton’s disdain for ordinary Americans showed when she called half of Trumps supporters “deplorable” and “irredeemable”, which helped stir up a mass of people. Sincerely disagreeing with Clinton on certain key issues does not make Trump supporters racists, sexists, homophobics, xenophobics, or Islamaphobics. Someone called me today grieving the election demanding to know: “How could there could be so many awful terrible people that would vote for Trump?” I didn’t argue; I just did my best to listen today. My Facebook newsfeed was filled with similar questions.
Here’s what I hope Clinton supporters can see when the dust settles: I know many Trump supporters and here’s what they are like: They are loving, kind, responsible, hard working and college-educated. Some are veterans with strong opinions, who know far more than I do about certain subjects. Many Trump supporters I know are just people who feel like they are doing everything right, but getting the short end of the stick. They typically hold more traditional views. (They generally don’t see the need for transgender bathrooms in small, rural towns and wish they didn’t have to explain such controversies to their young children.) The Trump voters I know are busy working and caring for their families, and they really and truly don’t waste precious time on hating any group of people. They tell me that Trump’s actions speak louder than his words and that they are praying for him. At least one of my local friends met Trump personally at a rally—Trump reached out to people in a huge and personal way at the local level. He connected with their concerns.
The flyer that I remember most from Obama’s election was a picture of a white man in camouflage with a hunting rifle saying “I’m in the NRA and I support Obama.” It talked about jobs and health care and affirmed that Obama would support second amendment rights. The flyer I remember most from Clinton’s campaign was a white woman standing by a swingset questioning her husband’s support for Trump, given what Trump has said about women: “I know my husband likes Trump, but I can’t see voting for him.” The add had no substance and left me wondering why would the Clinton campaign be making assumptions about my husband, and if it were right, why would it encourage me to question his wisdom? One-page mailers surely don’t have much of an effect on voter preferences–I just noted that there was a big contrast between how Obama and Clinton approached my tiny region of the country.
I happen to live deep in the land of faith, family, and firearms at this point in my life, and voter turnout was extraordinary. On voting day, it’s usually my husband and I and a handful of senior citizens, but this year we saw all kinds of people we knew: neighbors, parents of my son’s school friends, and people my husband knew from the local Rod & Gun club. The lines were long all day. It felt like something of an uprising at the polls. I fact-checked my observations: In my county, voter turnout was about 8% higher than the last presidential election and Trump won 71% of the vote.
In the thick of the election, fears about both candidates reached epic levels. For those who woke up worried about their fellow citizens: Fears about Trump supporters are simply overblown. I am praying for Trump and Clinton and for President Obama during this time of transition. Regardless of who is President, God is on the throne. Remembering this verse tonight as I pray for the country tonight. God bless.
This Rabbi said what I hoped to say, but better…