Every time I read an op-ed in The New York Times by an outspoken liberal, or a piece in The Wall Street Journal by an equally indignant right-winger, I’m struck by the mercilessness with which they treat their rivals. The same is true when I watch an MSNBC personality and then flip the channel to Fox News. Across the political spectrum, media personalities vilify members of the opposite party, and this type of rhetoric infiltrates the hearts and minds of its everyday consumers. Regular Americans like my brother and sister, who had told my parents that they would not come home for the holidays if my parents voted for Donald Trump, are being emotionally geared to hate their families and fellow citizens. The same is true for Fox News diehards like my grandparents, who frequently remind me that liberals will ruin our country. But when I stop and think about the people in my own life, from liberally minded medical school classmates to conservatives like my closest friends from high school, I don’t see anything despicable. In fact, even strangers I meet while working at Grady and Emory University Hospitals are pleasant people, and I am confident I have come across the full spectrum of political viewpoints in these motherships of humanity.
The point is that many of us have stopped basing our judgments of one another on our own experiences and have swapped the judgments of a profit-driven media for our own. In the aftermath of this election, I am struck by the vitriol that Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton have for Americans who voted for Trump, and not just those sad individuals committing hateful acts in Trump’s name. I didn’t vote for either candidate, but when I look at the people of this country, I see a lot of passionate people who mostly want this nation to thrive — they just can’t agree about the best way to get us there.
The people who voted for Trump are largely not racist, sexist, bigoted, white supremacists. They are people like my cousins and aunts and uncles, who feel like the progressive movement poses an existential threat to the values they cherish. Many of these values are rooted in their Baptist faith, and they include promoting the sanctity of life, defending Christian views of marriage and maintaining strong families. These values aren’t hateful. A similar story can be said for Bernie Sanders supporters and the Clinton faithful. They aren’t communist, atheist, secular jerks who want to see religion wiped from the face of the Earth. At least in my circles, they are mostly people with big hearts who have compassion for suffering people and want our government to protect the suffering more than the powerful.
In the wake of a turbulent election season, I challenge us to reserve words like bigot and racist for those who launch verbal or physical attacks against members of minority groups, not all Americans who voted for Trump. I also ask that we hear and acknowledge the pain of people who feel legitimate fear at the prospect of the coming Trump presidency, and that if any citizens’ rights are compromised, we work together to combat the type of persecution this country must leave in history books.
I’m cautious about Trump as president, as we all should be, but I’m hopeful because I know the character of my neighbors, both those who voted for and those who voted against the president-elect. We have put our faith in a process and a political class that delivered us the two least popular presidential candidates in the history of our country. Given the outcome of the election, let’s remember this fact and trust that the will of the people is quite different from the distorted political reality that we are currently facing. The framers of the Constitution instituted checks and balances so that a renegade executive would not ruin this great nation. I just hope we stop yelling, screaming and shouting at one another in the streets and on Facebook before we ruin it ourselves.
John Wells IV is a School of Medicine student from Columbia, South Carolina.