Before Thanksgiving, my husband, Brad, and I travelled to South Dakota – land of a very large Byrum clan. I knew it would be difficult to travel to a state where almost every white person voted for Trump, because I am unabashedly, passionately distraught over the election results. Many of my fellow Buddhists have been recommending dialogue with those of an opposite viewpoint. I knew that preserving family harmony trumped (as it were) political discussion.
I had one ally: my young step grandson is half Lakota Sioux. So at the huge dinner gathering – held in a hunter lodge – I started discussing my sympathy for the Water Protectors, privately with him. One of the more outspoken Trump supporters jumped into the conversation to inform me that the protestors were all paid by Black Lives Matter and were throwing kerosene bombs at the police. I got sucked in. Moments later he was telling me that Obama was full of hateful rhetoric. I could see my mother-in-law looking at us across the kitchen; she said, “No politics!” I said, “I agree 100%...one hundred percent!”
I have been thinking of the millions of primarily white voters who voted for a man so stupendously unfit for office. One demographic is the Christian evangelical, conservative vote. I am particularly aware of this group, because Brad used to be a minister with Assemblies of God. They have one issue: Pro Life. They willfully ignore Trump’s racism, misogyny, narcissism, and proto-fascist tendencies –because of this one issue.
To me, this is ignorance. The Latin root of ignorance is “not knowing,” but I think it is ignoring the truth. Many of these people probably know that Trump could dismantle Social Security, Affordable Care Act, and Medicare, but they choose to ignore it, because of their One Issue.
Brad has used the analogy of two pick-up trucks driving toward a precipice. One is blue, full of people shouting, “Unity in Diversity” and the people in the red truck shouting, “Make America White Again!” Global, corporate greed is driving the truck, and we are all headed for disaster: global destruction, if nothing else.
Also, political discourse may be impossible with Facebook and the Internet and Twitter, where one can put forth an opinion with great certainty, but with no basis in fact. This morning I saw a video clip from CNN in which the moderator was interviewing Trump supporters. One woman was convinced by Trump’s statement that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary. When asked about the source of her opinion, she said: “Facebook.” We know that Trump mastered this technique of manipulating social media. John Daily used to call his show “false news.” But now it is more difficult to distinguish between true news and false news. More and more, I have even become suspicious of posts by Facebook friends: Is this really true?
How would dialogue even be possible in these instances?
So what is our Buddhist practice at this time? Well, on the one hand, a meditation practice and a general grounding in the knowledge of the impermanence of all phenomena, can be very helpful in regaining some equanimity. And, of course, we know we can be compassionate because all the Trump supporters are each suffering in his or her own way.
But the unanticipated result of this election is a waking up to the reality that we need to take action, we need to stay informed. Every day. Complacency seemed safe, but now we know, for sure, that it is not.