Photo: Hywell Martinez
Hills MacMillan is a writer. The views and opinions expressed in this article are hers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.
When the red bar on the front page of The New York Times breached the 270 mark, I cried. I woke up the next morning crying still. At my office in San Francisco, many of my colleagues had matching puffy eyelids. We hugged. We talked about how scared we are for the most vulnerable in our country. Throughout the day I repeated the same conversation with many likeminded friends. We agreed on almost everything. Almost.
To the dismay of some, I think the first thing we must do now is support the folks who put him in the White House.
I have a metaphor to explain. It is informed by work I did at San Quentin State Prison in California, which is a huge correctional complex with offenders housed in various levels of security, including inmates on death row. San Quentin isn’t far from Berkeley, a town known around the world as a hotbed of progressive liberalism. When I visited, a public relations official told me that, in part due to this proximity, there are many services available to inmates at San Quentin that are unavailable in other prisons.
Liberal folks generally approve of this type of thing because they see evidence that a robust support system both inside and outside of prison reduces recidivism and increases overall community health. While they might believe that some prisoners are detestable people, they see others as victims of a complex mesh of systemic and institutional issues that add important context to crimes. For me personally, entering San Quentin to talk with prisoners was something I did without fear or judgement, but with genuine curiosity and a desire to learn. You might see where I’m headed.
Let me be very clear: using a metaphor about inmates is intentionally aggressive. I think folks who voted for Trump messed up. Bigly. I also think many of them are complex and nuanced and have much to offer society, even in light of this screwup. Like the folks in Berkeley, I believe our communities will benefit if the rest of us now provide whatever support we can muster.
Some people will say this point of view makes me an apologist. I get that. I also reject it. I think some of the people who voted for Trump did so for truly nefarious reasons. There are groups of total shit heads, including the KKK, who celebrated his victory as their own. Those who supported him but do not hold these views can’t deny their existence, and I’m certainly not going to either. I respect the rage and righteous indignation many people experienced yesterday as news of hate crimes filled our feeds. I remain heartbroken by all of it.
Even so, I reject the idea that embracing our own form of bigotry—defined as intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself—is somehow the answer. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It’s an overused quote, but an under-practiced ability. Let’s try it out a bit over the next four years. Let’s hold the idea that those who voted for Trump did the wrong thing, and still respond by investing in those people, and our shared system, more than ever.
If volunteers can give hours of their week to the convicted, we can listen to someone explain beliefs we do not share. If inmates can work together in one of the most racially and religiously divided institutions in history—the federal prison system—to improve themselves, we can respectfully approach even difficult topics without shaming or belittling the other side. If the mother of a murdered child can vote to protect rehabilitation services for the incarcerated, we can engage in productive debates that respect those we believe to be misguided. Yes, we can.
This article originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.