In issue 9 of the fall 2020 semester, there was an article by writer Jack Hamilton titled “Can't we all just get along? Reconciling Americans in the aftermath of the election.” While not inherently wrong, I took issue with a lot of the article and I’d like to express my own opinion about what bothered me.
The bulk of the article is about the writer’s friend from high school named Charles Li, the son of Chinese immigrants and also one of the only open Donald Trump supporters in the high school. Li is described as confident, intelligent, and most of all calm in response to “the angry accusations of offended students.” Hamilton and Li’s friendship came about after a political debate during the lunch period that more or less ended in agree-to-disagree, and the conclusion is that if they can put differences aside and be friends, why can’t everyone? The answer to that is much more complicated.
Let’s start with the way the Li is described. He’s described as the opposite of a stereotypical Trump supporter which the article words as “stupid, ignorant, misinformed, or just plain dumb.” When challenged on his stances, he’d “smile softly, adjust his glasses and calmly rebut their argument with a firm, but kind tone and a cited source,” while his opponents are pretty much always described as angry and outspoken. This is brought up again when Hamilton and Li had their original debate. “[A]fter we began to argue, I noticed something unusual. We were both rather calm.”
What jumps out to me is that this is a clear example of tone policing. Tone policing is a silencing tactic that focuses more on the way that something is said rather than what is actually being said. This suggests that the only productive conversations are calm ones. It also treats conversations as debates, even though some topics don’t have two equal sides, or that having emotions is a roadblock to finding meaningful solutions. It frames the other person as overly emotional and therefore unreasonable. While I don’t know what things in particular people were disagreeing with Li, I can imagine a lot of them had to do with human rights issues, which are unfortunately heavily debated between people in Trump’s base. When it comes to Trump-ian beliefs, many of them are rooted in hatred and xenophobia for another group. Topics include, but aren’t limited to, healthcare (which include reproductive rights and disabilities, among others), immigration reform, LGBTQ protections and equality, wealth inequality, education, and racial equality. For each of these topics, Donald Trump’s (and by extension his supporters’) stances are in some way influenced by his feelings for a minority group. Human rights issues are not things that can be debated and therefore it is not reasonable to demand grace from someone.
This leads me to the other thing that bothered me. The U.S. is undoubtedly the most politically divided it has ever been; that’s obvious to anyone who’s been alive and paying attention the last four years. On November 7, Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, defeating Trump. In the issue 9 article this event happened to Hamilton’s relief. The sentence following it however was “But my relief is to many others' grief, and it’s important to respect why.” I want to make it very clear: the grief that Trump supporters feel for Joe Biden winning is not the same grief that Clinton voters felt in 2016. It is not the same grief that would have been felt if Trump was reelected. The difference is that one group is grieving their rights and permission to exist. The other is grieving a candidate. In fact, a decent amount of those people are grieving the fact that the other side gets to keep their rights. That is a big difference. I don’t need to respect why. You can’t “respect” ideals that go against the intrinsic rights and existence of others.
The fact that Hamilton can continue a friendship with someone who shares beliefs with and actively supports Donald Trump shows his privilege. Hamilton is a white man from California, a historically blue state. Along race and gender lines, white men have never had their rights up for debate. White men have never been actively discriminated against by society or the government for being white men. Many of the issues I stated previously impact minority groups. To be able to look past these issues and live life as usual is a privilege. And the people that future laws and policies affect do not get the privilege of being able to forgive and forget and “get along.” If we want to get along and work together, Trump supporters need to change. They need to admit their transgressions and denounce their past behavior, then maybe we can make some progress.
To finish, I want to point out the Rodney King quote that was the last sentence of the other article. It’s important to know the context behind that quote. Rodney King was a Black man who was arrested by Los Angeles police in March, 1991 after a car chase. The police pulled King out of the car and brutally beat him. The assault was caught on video and the four officers, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Stacey Koon, were indicted on charges of assault and excessive use of force. The officers were ultimately acquitted by a predominantly white jury, made up of 10 white people, one Hispanic person, one Asian person, and no Black or African American people. The acquittal sparked riots in April, 1992 in Los Angeles. On the third day of riots, King said the quote, which is “Can’t we all get along?” King’s experience is the same one that many Black people still face today. This year, 2020, in particular shed a lot of light on the issues of police brutality and racism. Trump called Black Lives Matter “toxic propaganda.” Regardless of the year of the incident, 1991 or 2020, the outcome and responses remain the same. We can’t all just get along.