“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I have been trying to make that my mantra since election night.
I am trying really hard not to hate Donald Trump’s supporters. Right now, hate is the last thing we need more of.
Like many Americans, I am profoundly relieved that Joe Biden won the election, but somewhat puzzled and not a bit concerned that the election was as close as it was. More than 74 million people — nearly 47 per cent of the voters — voted for a guy who thought that injecting bleach might be a good idea.
A lot of theories have been floated about why this happened. One popular approach has been to equate Trump voters with white supremacists, and argue that this election showed how profoundly racist our country is. But while there are obviously many racists among Trump’s supporters, it would be a big mistake to assume that all or even most of them are racists.
I got a unique perspective on the election from a friend and colleague, Rehab Mansour, who moved here from Egypt a few years ago. The final hearing on her application for asylum is scheduled to take place in the next two years, so she followed the election with more than the usual interest, figuring that her chances of success would be much better under a Biden administration.
Rehab told me a couple of eye-opening stories. One was about an Egyptian Christian she knew, who said he was voting for Trump because his religious leaders told him to. “Can’t you think for yourself?” she asked him. Apparently not.
Then her brother-in-law, who lives in Houston, told her about a big argument that broke out at the mosque there, when a group of worshipers who had immigrated from Pakistan a few decades ago announced that they were voting for Trump. Their reason? Biden would let in more immigrants, they said, and we don’t need any more immigrants. The sheikh of the mosque and the great majority of the members were appalled, and argued with them for some time, but the Pakistanis wouldn’t budge.
I know these are just anecdotes, and second- and third-hand ones at that, but they affirm what has been reported in the mainstream media about Hispanics, another group one would expect to be uniformly opposed to Trump. Cuban-Americans in Florida fell for Trump’s argument that Biden would usher in an era of socialism, and Mexican-Americans in Texas believed Trump when he said that Biden would make jobs in the oil industry disappear.
My point is that people don’t always vote their race. People vote for a variety of reasons; a vote for one candidate doesn’t mean that the voter agrees with everything the candidate says or believes.
Some people put a lot of thought into their votes; others, not so much. Some voters weigh the candidates’ stands on a number of issues; some base their vote on only one issue. Some votes are based on an extensive knowledge of current events from a variety of reliable sources; others are based on a very limited knowledge coming from one or two sources, both of which may be biased or downright false.
I am willing to chalk the Trump vote up to the appalling ignorance of Americans in general about current affairs, about how our government works, and about even the fundamental nature of democracy.
And even if I didn’t truly believe this, I would try to convince myself that it is true, because what is the alternative? If just under half of the American people are selfish, evil racists, then our situation is hopeless. It is going to take a lot longer than four years for Biden to bring about some sort of reconciliation.
But if the problem is ignorance, then there is a solution: education. We must do a better job of informing the public, of teaching them about how our government works and what democracy is all about. It won’t be easy; as a former educator, I know how hard it is to inform people who aren’t paying attention. But we’ve got to find a way.