An open letter to my family and friends who voted for Donald Trump
DR. HENRY FRADELLA, Ph.D.
In an attempt to promote understanding and heal some divides that the recent election has caused, I write this letter. Several of you have written posts or sent messages asking me either to explain why I am so upset about the election results or to encourage me to calm down and hope for the best. I write this from my heart in a genuine attempt to reach out and talk constructively to the people I love who seemingly do not understand what I am feeling right now.
For me, it’s not about being on the losing side of an election. And I suspect the same is true about the people who have been protesting across the USA for the past few days, but I will not presume to speak for anyone other than me. So, here it is as simply as I can articulate it: I am FEARFUL for the first time in my life as an American citizen.
To be sure, people were sad, depressed, and upset when George W. Bush won (twice). And people were sad, depressed, and upset when Barrack Obama won (twice). But what I am experiencing is FEAR … fear for my safety and the safety of my family and friends, as well as fear for our rights. And that type of fear at the personal level is quite different than disagreeing with the policies of the party in power. This is not a Democrat/Republican thing. This is about basic human rights, dignity, and respect that ought to transcend party lines.
Let me try to put this in context. As a teenager, I volunteered for Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign when I was too young to vote. Then I voted for George H. Bush. And I voted for George H. Bush’s re-election (meaning I voted against Bill Clinton’s first term). So it’s not that (contrary to some completely unfounded assumptions about me) that I am some ultra-left-wing liberal with sour grapes. Not so. In fact, I was a registered Republican for most of my life. Indeed, I was genuinely disappointed and upset when Bill Clinton beat George H. Bush. I worried at that time that Bill Clinton — the Democratic governor of a small southern state — would not keep the nation safe because, in my opinion, it didn’t work out so well for us when Jimmy Carter was president. But those were very different kinds of worry than the FEAR I am experiencing right now.
I was similarly disappointed and upset when George W. Bush won reelection because I thought he was a terrible president — largely because I viewed him as reckless with our national security; after all, he fought a war against a country (Iraq) that did not attack us. Those mistakes ultimately cost us trillions of dollars, caused the deaths of thousands of American lives, and contributed to both increase hatred of the USA and the power vacuum in the Middle East that helped ISIS rise to power. Nonetheless, I did not fear Bush’s reelection in the way I now fear for our country. So, to be as clear as I can be, I am not merely disappointed or upset because Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won. Although I have been a registered Democrat since the late 1990s, I am not a big fan of Hillary Clinton. I think she is well-qualified to serve our nation as its president, but I had concerns about her ethical decision-making (concerns that are minuscule compared to those I have about Trump). But I am now more scared than I have ever been in my life that Donald Trump is going to hurt me and others about whom I care deeply.
As an aside, I could talk about my fears of the treatment of women; members of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups; immigrants; and others. But I will limit my comments to my own personal fears, rather than the fears I presumably share with many others for their own personal plights, some of which are justifiably more intense than my own. That being said, here is my best attempt to try to explain why I have been in tears for two days. Yes, tears … as in crying. Let me put that in context for you. I did not cry when my father died last month. I did not cry when my grandfather passed away in 2002, even though he raised me and was the most important person in my life. Yet, I cried on Election Night. And I cried again the following day as I thought more about what it the results mean. Today, there were no tears … just anger. Why? Contrary to how some of my friends and family characterized what they erroneously perceived my feelings to be, I am not “upset” about the outcome of the election. I am SCARED. Indeed, I am more terrified by Trump and Pence than I was after the 9/11 attacks. Back then, I knew the U.S. military would do its damnedest to fight the threats against us. Who is going to fight against the domestic threats large segments of the population now face from its own government and bigots within its borders? I am so scared that I reached out in the last two days to some friends at Italian, British, and Australian universities to see if I might be able to find a job outside the country. Yes, that’s how scared I am … fearful enough that I am investigating whether I can leave the USA.
Can you understand that being scared is not the same as being disappointed and upset? And it’s not some amorphous fear that plagues all of us from issues like accidents, natural disasters, the country’s economic trajectory, or even terrorism. After all, terrorists don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or anything else. We’re all Americans. That’s all that matters to them. I thought it mattered to us, too. But apparently us all being Americans — us all allegedly being created equal and all allegedly being entitled to the same rights, privileges, and protections under law — seemingly does not translate into you being willing to vote for politicians, as imperfect as they may be, who articulate visions of honoring my rights as if they were your own. And that hurts.
Since I come from Italian-American roots, I ask my family to think about it like this (others can try to reason by analogy): Imagine that John Smith won a presidential election after running on a platform to overturn the rights of Italian-Americans from getting married and receiving equal treatment under law. How would you feel about your marriage to your spouse? Or your parents’ marriage? Or the marriages of your siblings? Would you not worry about what would happen to you and your family … your ability to visit each other in the hospital (which was denied to LGBT couples in many states until just last year), your ability to inherit, your ability to make decisions for your spouse in other times of crisis? Those are the rights I and millions of other LGBT people face losing according to the campaign pledges of Donald Trump.
But it doesn’t stop at Trump’s pledge to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices that will overturn marriage equality (and the other 1,000+ rights that are attendant to marriage). Trump selected Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence is on record as supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Pence went so far as governor of Indiana to sign a bill in 2013 to jail same-sex couples in Indiana who applied for a marriage license! He opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes bill. He served on the board of the Indiana Family Institute — an affiliate of Focus on the Family, which has been at the forefront of attacks on LGBT rights in Indiana. He opposes the Employee Nondiscrimination Act, which is designed to prevent me from being fired from my job if my employer doesn’t like the fact that I am gay. So, you see, it’s not just my marriage (and those of my LGBT brothers and sisters). We could lose our jobs — our ability to support ourselves — because of the men whom a minority of our country elected to serve as president and vice-president. (Yes, a minority; the Trump/Pence ticket did not win the popular vote, only the Electoral College vote, which is the one that matters.)
Perhaps scariest of all, Pence signed and defended a state law in Indiana that he and Trump have vowed to pass at the federal level: a law that would allow any bigot to deny me and Kyle services (read: medical care, housing, restaurant service, etc.) because a person disagrees with my so-called “lifestyle” on religious grounds. In other words, they have vowed to do everything possible to make sure it is legal to discriminate against me. So, you see, it’s not just about marriage equality. It could affect our ability to go out to dinner together on a weekend or a holiday. My husband Kyle and I could be refused service because the owner of the restaurant thinks we’re immoral. And these so-called “religious freedom” laws could affect my brother and sister-in-law if the owner of the restaurant claimed a religious exception to interracial marriage which, lest people forget, used to be criminalized. Such bans on interracial marriage were supported on the basis of religious beliefs (look it up!) prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision invalidating those racists laws. You think that’s just in the past? Well look at the activities of White supremacists in the past 72 hours who have been emboldened by Trump’s election. But I digress since I promised to limit my comments to what I am feeling without presuming to speak on behalf of others.
Do you now see why I am NOT merely disappointed and upset about the election results, but rather am genuinely fearful that the next president and vice-president of the United States have vowed to relegate me, my husband, my friends, and potentially other members of my family to second-class citizen status, if not worse? And can you understand why I am hurt… genuinely pained… that I have family and friends who voted to support the candidates that are now causing me such fear? I am devastated that you apparently love and care about me so little that my plight and that of my brother, my husband, and so many of your fellow citizens did not matter enough to you to have taken a stand for us with your vote. And please stop telling me not to take it personally. It is very personal for me and for every person in this country at whom Trump and Pence have focused their hateful rhetoric.
Finally, please don’t respond with your justifications for not wanting Hillary Clinton as president. I know she was a flawed candidate. I had concerns about her ability to run a scandal-free administration. After all, we can point to several examples of questionable decision-making that have caused some of us to have trust issues with Secretary Clinton. Yet, I knew she could do the job well while respecting the lives and dignity of all Americans. Hence, I voted for her in spite of her flaws. She never vowed to take actions to curtail the due process and equal protection rights of U.S. citizens. Donald Trump and Mike Pence did.
Some of you have suggested to me that many of the Trump/Pence statements were just campaign rhetoric designed to appeal to bigots in the USA. I hope you’re right, but I doubt it. Their rhetoric matters. And the endorsement of hateful rhetorical through the voting process is shameful. Moreover, it has consequences for the spread of racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. That’s why I (and, I think, millions of others) feel justified in fearing that Trump and Pence might actually do what they said they would. And the people they have named to their transition team thus far strongly evidences that they intend to follow through on many of their anti-LGBT promises with all deliberate speed.
Frankly, I don’t deserve to live in fear. Yet that’s what your vote has done to me. And it’s going to take me some time to get over that…if I can. I will try, because I love you. But I feel that you owe me an apology. And beyond that, I feel you need to take concrete actions to try to make things right. You need to be vocal and ardent advocates who let the new administration and members of Congress know that you expect them to treat all citizens fairly, equally, and with dignity. That will help heal the divide more than platitudes and hope that President-Elect Trump does the right thing.