Photo: Sam Wolff
Beth Bailey is a wife and dog-wrangler who writes about war, love, and other topics close to her heart. The views and opinions expressed in this article are hers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.
I’m one of those voters you’ve heard so much about. The ones who cast their vote on November 8th for Donald Trump, but who stayed silent about their voting intentions among all but their closest confidantes.
As a young conservative woman, the sensation of being a minority among my peers is not unfamiliar. What was strange this election cycle was not being different; it was being vilified for being so. And that was the reason I maintained my secrecy. All around me on Facebook and the greater media as the election cycle progressed, I witnessed very little except vitriolic and unproductive hatred for Donald Trump and his supporters. I watched what happened to some of the people who spoke out in favor of Trump: they took shrapnel-blast, ad-hominem attacks that made up in fervor for what they lacked in substance.
A remark I also saw often, and in various forms, is best encapsulated by the following: beneath a link to an article about the October firebombing of the Orange Country, North Carolina GOP headquarters, a Facebook friend commented, “These are people. Bigoted people, but people nonetheless.”
Similar and persistent claims of bigotry flabbergasted me. How did voting based on our principles make Republicans bigots? This was when I realized that there is a wide misunderstanding of the word, “bigot.” While a number, of late, seem to think it synonymous with “conservative Republican,” or “Trump supporter who clearly hates people of color/other races/other religions,” Webster’s defines a bigot as, “A person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own opinions and prejudices,” or “one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred or intolerance.”
And bigotry was exactly what I continued to experience as November 8th drew closer.
By the time Election Day arrived, the echo chamber effect of my Facebook News Feed and the outlooks of various media institutions had me certain that my vote wouldn’t matter; a Clinton victory was inevitable. Still, my husband and I drove to our packed polling station, filled out our ballots, and commenced to wait for an outcome.
Early on in the vote-counting, it seemed clear that we were in for four more years of progressive policies. But as the night drew on and the votes continued to pile in for Trump, my heart raced. I couldn’t believe what was happening. And then I turned to Facebook, where I found a horde of surprised people, livid and distressed, making crystal ball assessments that the death knells of America were on their way. The worst statements were the big, nasty “FUCK YOU”s directed at all those “horrible,” “hateful,” “terrible” people who “ruined everything” and “hate women.” Throughout the night, the posts only became more disgusting.
When I awoke at six the next morning to see even more vile Facebook posts demonizing Trump supporters, I couldn’t hold my fingertips still any longer. I posted the following:
I received a plethora of “Likes,” and a number of comments from people who may not have agreed with my choice, but who agreed that it was unfair to single out a whole segment of the population as “bad” or “wrong” simply on account of the way they voted.
Some people, however, didn’t seem to agree. Several commenters asked whether I wouldn’t mind explaining which issues, in particular, had led me to make my decision. The first person to ask did so politely, and though I didn’t feel I owed anyone my rationale, I provided an answer which was good enough, but vague. Later, I was baited more directly, and far less constructively, and I referred the questioner to my earlier response. I didn’t feel I owed anyone any further explanation.
For posterity, I’d like to say that I didn’t vote for Trump in the primaries. In fact, he was the last candidate I’d have voted for out of the choices I was given. My family members and friends who selected his name, or darkened an oval for a party-line vote, on Election Day felt the same way.
Some of my Democratic friends — these very friends who have been decrying Trump’s win – voted in the Republican primary, and urged their friends to do the same. Most claimed they were doing so to pull votes away from Trump, but there were also posts urging Democrats to vote for Trump in the primary. Their reasoning? If he won the Republican nomination, there was “no chance” that he could win in a general election.
However he made it to the Republican party nomination, (and what difference, at this point, does it make?) Trump was the only choice for the family and friends I mentioned above.
What were our other options? Vote for Clinton, a candidate we didn’t trust, with whose political aims we didn’t agree? Vote for Johnson, whose plans we didn’t support? (I couldn’t stomach voting for him since he planned to cut 20% of military bases as well as 20% of military spending.) I suppose we could have not voted at all, thus forfeiting our hard-earned right to have a say in the direction our country takes in the future. Sure, we could have written in the name of a pet or of our most-fervently-wished-for imaginary candidate. (Mine was McCain, if you’re wondering.) But if we wanted to participate in a real way in the election process, Trump was our only option. And so we voted for him.
I know these people who voted for Trump. They are, as I said, my family and friends. These are people who give selflessly and generously to a variety of important causes. They are world travelers with a love of meeting new people and exploring diverse cultures. They stand up for the things that matter to them. They have, together, devoted multiple decades serving in various branches of the country’s military, and one spent more than twenty years serving in the House of Representatives. Many of them have higher degrees than I will ever attain. They all believe that the best kind of America is one which empowers its citizens.
And almost without exception, each of these people, who range in age from twenty-four to seventy-plus years old, has expressed concern about coming forward, even among some of their conservative friends, as a Trump supporter. They know such an admission will lead others to perceive them as either, A) wrong and stupid, or B) xenophobic, homophobic, racist misogynists. These are kind and beautiful people whom I love dearly. They are none of those things. And I hurt for them as I watch Trump’s supporters being dragged through the mud.
I hurt for myself, too. If you have seen my coming-out-as-a-Trump-voter post, then you have also seen my annoyingly-frequent Facebook posts about the causes I fight for and hold dear; I am not quiet, in real life or on Facebook, about those causes. I go out of my way to increase awareness of the struggles faced by our nation’s veterans, to stand up for Afghan citizens, and particularly Afghan women, to create a more stable Afghanistan, and to advocate for the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. I have always stood up for those who are misunderstood, mistreated, or forgotten. And that’s why I’m here right now.
There’s no denying that there are bad apples in the Trump camp. Donald Trump himself has called for people to stop using his name as a cover for saying and doing unconscionable things. But about those Trump supporters— they aren’t me. I am not the type of person to sit by and condone abhorrent behavior. There should be no question of this, but I’ll say it anyway. If I ever witness someone doing violence to or making taunts at another based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender, or race, I will not stand by quietly. If I see or hear about someone sexually assaulting another human being, I may drag the perpetrator to a police station myself. If I hear anyone (to include Trump’s advisors) spouting anti-Semitic remarks, I will eviscerate them.
(In that regard, I am still working on a book-length open letter to the person who thought it was acceptable to refer to my husband, a young, tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed man, as “Hitler Youth.” I spent two semesters interning with the DOJ to pursue the extradition of and bring to justice a Nazi who naturalized in this country under false pretenses after committing crimes against Jews. Antisemitism makes my blood boil.)
I will not, however, stand up for those who take too far the right of each citizen of this great nation to protest. As of the third day of rioting in Portland, reports stated that upwards of $1 Million in damage had been done to the city. Assaulting people and damaging property go beyond the pale of a protest, and I find those actions reprehensible.
We can all do better.
I, just like the majority of Americans who voted for Trump, had legitimate reasons for doing so. I am not a deplorable person. We are not deplorable people. We are multidimensional human beings with feelings and histories and experiences, all of which come together to determine our visions for the country.
That’s why, before I address the real meat and potatoes of my policy reasons for voting for Donald Trump, I’d like to touch on the topic which made voting for him hard to fathom in more recent months. In my estimation, this same issue had made Clinton a non-starter from the beginning of her candidacy.
I alluded to this in my Facebook post, but have never come forward publicly to identify myself as a survivor of sexual assault. Over the past few days, I have seen a number of other sexual assault survivors talking about how they are fearful of it being open season on women under a Trump administration. I feel that pain, which is why it’s my turn to speak up.
I more than wavered in my decision to vote for Trump when video footage was leaked in which he talked about grabbing a woman by the pussy. Not only did the comment hit close to home; it felt like a missile targeted at my chest.
I am a two-time survivor of assault. I’ve spoken about one instance, the one which affected me the most profoundly, with many of my friends and family members, mostly because it happened in the public eye. The second instance, however, I have kept between myself and a very limited number of people.
To start, I think it’s important to say this: I don’t believe that the President of the United States is the only, or even the best or the most important, avenue to improving the way that we deal with sexual assault. I used to be afraid to walk around in the world at all as a sexual assault survivor, and no President could make me feel safe. You see, President Bush wasn’t there when a classmate grabbed my crotch in the middle of the locker area and exclaimed, “I just grabbed [her] pussy.” President Obama wasn’t there when my date got handsy, and then aggressive, after I told him twice that I didn’t even want him to kiss me. Even among the vast media attention of the Brock Turner case, in which a swimmer with Olympic aspirations digitally penetrated a drunk woman behind a dumpster, and was only deterred from raping her when two passing students caught him in the act, President Obama could ensure neither that Turner got the sentence he deserved, nor that he served each day of his obscenely-light sentence.
For two years, the Obama White House has led a beautiful campaign against sexual assault, and yet sexual assault still occurs and is often handled far too lightly because there are obstacles to conquer throughout society. Overcoming rape culture has to happen from the bottom up, as well as the top down. We all have a role to play. And the first step is for people like me to say, “This is a problem. This happened to me, and I won’t remain quiet any longer.”
For those who have been assaulted, an attack has already occurred. For those who make a disclosure in a hospital, collegiate administrator’s office, or police station, only to find that their admission is not believed, it can feel like a second attack is occurring. Cases that come to trial often damage a victim further. Even a perfect victim (ie one who was not dressed provocatively, drunk, promiscuous, etc.) has an uphill climb to prove that he or she did not give consent; that he or she was, in fact, assaulted. (For those who want to read more about the issues with our system, Jon Krakauer’s “Missoula” provides a horrifying portrayal.) In our world, claims of sexual assault are often dismissed without proper redress, and in my experience, this can cause a pain equivalent to that of the original attack.
That’s why we cannot decide arbitrarily which allegations from sexual assault victims are to be believed. Equally important to hear out are the claims of victims that someone has tried to cover up their sexual assault allegations, or to discredit or seek retribution against them for making their disclosure.
It is undeniable that there have been many allegations of sexual assault and misconduct made against Donald Trump. However, given verified facts about Hillary Clinton’s participation in silencing or discrediting those who made allegations against her husband, as well as Clinton’s destruction of evidence in a rape case and claims that a twelve-year-old girl had, in fact, seduced her forty-year-old rapist, I could not accept her as any better an advocate for me as a sexual assault survivor.
As soon as Donald Trump takes office, I plan to send him a letter explaining my position on the issue of sexual assault, and urging him to do everything in his power to heal the wounds between himself and the sexual assault survivors in this country. I urge each of you to do the same. Tell your stories and make your points well. Explain the vital importance of the situation. If we all stand up and take positive steps together, then perhaps we can address what has become a grave problem.
No matter what comes in the next four years, I promise that I will continue to fight against rape culture, and to fight for other survivors, because these are causes that I hold dear.
My greatest hope is that when I cast my vote in 2020, I can do so for a candidate whose record is unmarred by any kind of participation in victimizing, or victim silencing. But this was 2016, and as I had no such candidate, I did the best I could with the options I had.
My mother is an independent voter, and I cannot remember an instance when she divulged the candidate for whom she voted. When I was a child, she always explained that the ballot box was private so that each of us is able to make our decisions based on our own beliefs. I’d like right now to thank my mother for her good sense. I wish that I’d taken several more leaves (including the one on patience) from her book. Alas, I did not, and that’s why I’m here.
The point still stands: I shouldn’t have to say this. Not any of it. But I won’t continue to allow the lambasting of conservatives who simply chose to vote for the logical candidate to stand up for their political beliefs.
When I talk about my conservative belief system, I’m talking about my desires to limit the role of the central government in arbitrating the activities of my daily life and to maintain as much of my personal freedom as possible.
To that end, and probably in the eyes of many who voted for Trump, I prefer to see economic opportunities rather than welfare spending increase. I am especially wary of policies that have become overburdening, as I believe is the case with the ever-less-affordable Affordable Care Act. (In Michigan, premiums for the ACA were expected to rise 16.7% for the coming year, which started November 1st.)
I also believe that my friends who are in loving relationships with members of the same sex should have the opportunity to marry their partners and experience the same rights that my husband and I enjoy. I understand that among my Facebook friends, there were concerns about Trump’s position on the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. I’m happy to see that Trump has now stated that he considers the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold marriage equality “settled,” and that he will not seek to have it overturned.
A related issue has also struck fear into the hearts of my Facebook friends. Some Americans seem concerned about Donald Trump targeting the LGBT community. I have yet to see evidence supporting this. (I am not saying this evidence does not exist and that my mind cannot be changed.) This is what I have seen: in his response to a horrific attack at an Orlando nightclub, Trump expressed his sympathy to the members of the LGBT community, saying, “A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub, not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens, because of their sexual orientation.” This he called “a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation,” and “an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want, and express their identity.” Rather than an attack on a community Trump is supposed to despise, I see this as a rallying cry for all Americans to come together and stand against those who want to attack us for our way of life.
Speaking of standing against those who would attack my way of life, I am a growing proponent of maintaining my Second Amendment right to bear arms. I believe that we need to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable, but I also believe that well-trained Americans with concealed weapons permits can keep the populace safer, especially in a world in which acts of homegrown terrorism have become a very real threat. I am, and always will be, threatened by a politician who wants to take away or somehow limit my Second Amendment rights.
I appreciate Donald Trump’s stance that each child in this country, regardless of circumstance, deserves the best possible education. I agree wholeheartedly. I believe that we have moved far off course in providing the best education to our students, particularly in places where incomes, and thus taxes collected, are low. I live just an hour from Detroit, where the public school system is in dismal shape. For students in Detroit who are able to attend charter schools, there is some hope for the future. For those who cannot, I believe that hope is dwindling unless changes are made. I hope that Donald Trump makes it a priority to make good on his education promises.
Trump has also spoken about the need to make higher education more affordable. As many of my fellow graduates have been saddled with decades of debts, while also being underemployed, this is another cause I applaud.
One of the biggest reasons I supported Donald Trump was on account of his plans regarding national security. If we cannot keep our country safe, then the great strides we make at home to increase our personal freedoms and provide a positive future for our children could be for naught. I truly wanted to stay positive throughout this post, but this is where I especially want to voice my discontent with the past eight years. Under Obama, I feel that we have not done enough to maintain our position as the strongest country in the world. Instituting weak red lines on Iran’s nuclear policy, the possible ransom payment made to the Iranians for the return of American hostages, making little comment as powers like North Korea continue to flex their (admittedly malnourished) muscles, allowing our Ambassador to Libya and several of his guards to die in a coordinated military attack on our embassy, and the weakening of our previously-strong ties with Israel are among the things which upset me. Our lack of will to stay the course in Iraq is, I believe, what has given rise to ISIS. Our inability to patrol our Mexican borders has led to huge quantities of illicit drugs coming into the country.
Donald Trump’s national security plans appeal to me.
For one, I fully support enhancing our border with Mexico. In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration called the Mexican transnational criminal organizations the most significant criminal threat to our country. We must fight back against these organizations, which traffic the drugs that are killing Americans and creating an escalating epidemic of overdoses. Even when they don’t kill, these drugs rip families apart, and render incapacitated Americans who could otherwise contribute so much to our society. I applaud Donald Trump’s efforts to keep our people safe by securing the border. (EDIT: thanks to a helpful reader for pointing out a logical leap within this section. In favor of brevity, I didn’t clarify that not all of the drugs that enter this country come in across our border. They come on cargo ships to our main ports, on smaller boats, hidden inside the bodies or luggage of people flying into our cities or within the vehicles driving across our legal border crossing points. Some drugs even come in on submarines. There is much to do to keep drugs from entering this country. However, strengthening our border is one of those things, and this will also create a barrier against the transnational criminal threat mentioned above.)
More recently, Trump has impressed me with his statements about the issues we have in our involvement with Afghanistan. In particular, he has voiced the often-glossed-over opinion that we cannot solve any problems in Afghanistan without also addressing interlinked issues in Pakistan, and thus, working with India. This is, as Trump assesses, a regional problem that is intricate given the nuclear capabilities of two of the countries involved. In the past, I think that our politicians have bypassed the true roots of these regional issues. They’ve gone instead for the easier solution, slapping a big monetary Band-Aid on a gaping, festering wound rather than checking for infection and performing delicate surgery. By failing to address all the aspects of the problem set, we have done a serious disservice to our service members who lost limbs, friends, and their lives to the conflict in Afghanistan. (The same can be said for those veterans whose sacrifices in Iraq now may seem to have been for naught.)
I would also like to add that I support Trump’s plan not to open our borders to Syrian refugees without first performing extensive vetting. That’s not to say I do not feel heartbroken about their plight or wish to support them in other, more immediate ways. (In fact, though I don’t believe it’s an option on the table, I don’t see a problem with allowing refugee children to enter our country immediately and be placed with American families, in a program similar to the Kindertransport program between Germany and England in the Second World War.) However, if ensuring the appropriate restrictions are in place before allowing in refugees prevents even one attack from being carried out against Americans, I support that. This does not mean that I hate Muslims. Those of you who sat beside me in Arabic class know that I have respect for Islam, and for Muslims. Muslims, who make up 1% of our population, are not the problem. The problem is the radical elements such as ISIS who twist the religion of Islam to incite hatred and perpetrate horrific acts of violence. We must be vigilant to keep our country safe from those elements. However, it is inexcusable that hate crimes perpetrated against our Muslim citizens have risen 67% between 2014 and 2015. We must find a way forward that protects our population from extremists, but which also protects Muslim citizens from our own acts of hatred. (Trump’s rhetoric thus far leaves much to be desired in this final regard. Never once have I claimed that Trump is a perfect candidate.)
The final factor which led me to vote for Donald Trump is my immense dissatisfaction with the level of care and support we give to our veterans.
Through my writing research, I have been blessed to talk with dozens of veterans about their service, and especially about their troubles readjusting to the civilian world. Without exception, these veterans have been painfully candid about their struggles. The manager of a prestigious hotel broke down into tears four different times as he related the internal anguish he still feels decades after having killed several of the enemy in the Battle of Panama. Though his Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors want him to take anti-depressants, he refuses out of fear that, with them, he will no longer feel the remorse that he says makes him a human. Without a way to know how he is faring, I worry about this man often. Another man, a veteran of the Global War on Terror, shared something in an interview that he still refuses to tell his wife: that, whenever his base in eastern Afghanistan was mortared by the Taliban, he and his brother had a hiding spot, a hole where they would hunker down together, holding hands until the attacks ceased. This story, so human and poignant and innocent, nearly brought me to tears. In the same interview, this man drove me to fury when he described the way that he was treated by VA therapists whenever he requested immediate intervention for the debilitating bouts of rage and depression that sporadically hit him after he returned to America. He always received the same message: if he were not contemplating suicide, then he would have to wait several weeks to be seen.
Though we have great facilities for those who recover from serious conditions like traumatic brain injury or single-, double-, triple-, and even quadruple-amputations in places like Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, we have a problem when it comes to providing service to our veterans spread far and wide across the country. The commonly-cited figure is that twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day. A new VA study suggests that the number is closer to twenty. Whichever figure you choose, it is far too high. And yet, very rarely does veteran suicide make the mainstream news. In the past year, I can think of only one instance, in which a veteran self-immolated in front of a VA building, which made headlines. More than likely, it only did so because the suicide was especially gruesome.
Most of the news I see is a great deal quieter, and far more desperate. As a part of my writing research, I follow several different online military groups on Facebook. The communities exist so that those who fought in a particular unit or in a specific region can remain in touch after serving together. These online groups are a way for veterans, often disconnected from each other physically, to support one another as they deal with the pain of lost friends, night terrors, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the other mental and physical scars that war imparts on those who fight. Far too often, these military groups post photographs and brief descriptions of members who have suddenly gone missing. (I’ve written in more depth about this topic here.) In these posts, the site administrators urge the military community to reach out and keep watch for these men, in hopes that it isn’t too late to save them. The inevitable result is heartbreaking; most of these missing community members are not found until it is too late. These suicides may not be written up in a paper or mentioned on the evening news, but they garner an incredible outpouring of sadness and anger from the community members who are left behind.
I think they deserve more than that.
Over the past few years, our veterans have been increasingly let down by the VA. The mental health evaluations our service members go through on returning from combat have not been enough to incentivize wellness and to assist transitions back into civilian life. Trump has plans not only to increase the budget for defense, but to revamp the VA to provide for those who have served. In my opinion, those who have put their lives on the line in the name of America — men and women who come from every possible background and demographic of society — are those to whom we owe the greatest of debts.
Though elections nearly always divide us and bring out our differences, I have never witnessed anything resembling the anger incited by the election of 2016. I am saddened to feel a wedge driven between myself and my friends, Facebook or otherwise, based on how I voted.
The group-think mentality on social media makes it simple to lump Americans into categories (if you agree with me, you are good; if you disagree, you are bad). That is as damaging to this country as any internal or external threat. I hope that, as the transition continues, we all take the time to understand each other, and not to judge. There is no way forward if we tear each other and our country apart.
Each of us has a different cause or priority that means the most to them. One of the strengths of our country is that, when we all come together making our positive changes, we make great things happen. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is what we need to focus on now.
This article originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.