In the spirit of “healing and unity” promoted by our soon-to-be President Biden, I’ve decided to try a little unscientific experiment.
Here is the hypothesis: can a left-leaning, American-Jewish Baby Boomer such as myself shed enough of her frame of reference to, at the very least, have empathy for a Trump supporter?
Mind you, I am no scholar. By any academic measure, I fall in the fair-to-middling bracket. While most of my peers and family have developed a deep, highly educated understanding of business, math, science or the humanities, I have not. I can spell trigonometry. That’s it.
I am a first-generation American. That means I am grateful for the opportunities available to me in this country, while believing I have a civic duty to hold up my nation to its highest ideals and possibilities.
But let’s throw all that out.
Instead, I shall adopt the identity of one who is American, which makes me GREAT, all-knowing, the best in the world. Whatever the U.S. does — whether it’s invading another country or supporting an authoritarian tyrant across the globe — it’s all good. If it’s good for the USA (though not necessarily for its people), it’s good for everyone. Period.
For scientific observation, I must point out that in writing that last paragraph, I already have a bit of a stomach ache.
I am Jewish. This means that although I live comfortably in the privilege of white skin, I am always and wholly aware of anti-Semitism — everywhere. I have to accept that, commercially and culturally, I am still an outsider in America. I carefully pick and choose when it is appropriate to explain myself to others, and when it is – fortunately, in my experience, rarely — best to stay silent. I also walk the often tenuous line of support for Israel and deprecatory opinion of its actions.
For this experiment, it seems I can stay Jewish. Though there are not yet any conclusive numbers, the American Jewish Committee’s annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion completed before the November election stated that 75 percent of Jews planned to vote for Joe Biden, while 22 percent supported Donald Trump.
But to stay Jewish AND support the Trump mindset, I have to narrow my experience again. I must believe that we truly are THE Chosen People and that I will support Israel no matter what. I must also be a one-issue voter and believe that right-wing Christians and conservatives are good for the Jews.
The stomach ache has become serious nausea.
I can remain female but must say goodbye to my indignation about misogyny or antiquated gender role definitions or my belief in equal pay for equal work or choice over what I do with my own body.
A horrible thought just occurred to me. Do I have to give up baseball? Do I have to start watching football or — wait, let me get the Pepto Bismol — NASCAR??
I have to throw away all of my precious reading. So long James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Philip Roth, Harper Lee, Ta Nahisi Coates and a list far too long and yet not long enough. I have to erase all knowledge of shameful American history, mistakes and continuing injustices, and replace them with the assurance that American might is right, now and forever.
I have to believe that the just-narrowly open door my parents got through to become American citizens was the last valid immigration and that anyone else, coming from anywhere else, escaping whatever heinous situation, is NOT WELCOME.
I have to believe that the justice system serves and is accessible to all Americans equally, with no bias, and that police departments across the country should just carry on just as they are.
I have to accept that symbols of hate, such as the Confederate flag or Swastikas, or offensive language, are simply matters of freedom of speech, and I’m weak and unpatriotic and a hypocrite for thinking anything else.
Are you still with me? Because I’m beginning to get really sick.
Now, I must get rid of this silly idea that “love is love” and learn to scream that the only justifiable love story takes place between a man and a woman (who are simply the gender I assign to them because there is no room for how they personally identify themselves).
I have to stop reading global news outlets and longtime professional journalists whose writing must be fact-checked and source-checked and go through legal assessment before being published.
I need to learn how to find pointedly obscure news or propaganda written by who-knows-who that validates my opinions. This “real news” will help me understand that climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and racism in the U.S. are all “hoaxes,” which allows me to climb into my gas-guzzling truck without a mask and advocate for “clean coal,” while I call the police if a person of color gets anywhere near me. For good measure, I should learn to yell, “Go back where you came from” at them.
Now that the bottle of Pepto is demolished, I think we can agree this is not going to work. I also know that what I’m writing might read as arrogant, elitist and condescending. And in that is the rub: we are trying to unite a people who don’t even seem to live on the same planet. I cannot undo a lifetime of (hopefully) intellectual and behavioral growth to appease those who refuse to open their minds to the possibility that the world has changed.
Even while knowing the insurmountable work President-elect Biden faces now as he strives to undo all the damage the Trump era has wreaked upon our nation, I hang onto the desperate hope that our citizens will step up. I dream that this loud ignorance and hatred that has pervaded our every waking moment for this last interminable four years will, at the very least, dull to a manageable roar.
If not, I’ll be investing in a lot more antacids.
A former Baltimore resident, Deborah Walike is a self-described lapsed journalist living in upstate New York.