Donald Trump’s ticket to staying in power requires dividing the country into cultural, ethnic, racial, gender and religious groups and inciting conflict among them. The fate of the resistance movement requires bringing these groups together in common cause against someone whose values are antithetical to fundamental elements of American political culture. To succeed, the resistance needs to do more than position itself against Trump. It needs to advocate for the values it embodies in order to create the foundation for a more just society that will need to be built on the ashes of Trumpism.
This requires reaching across the divide. It requires listening to others, especially those who voted for Donald Trump out of a sense of desperation. It requires putting aside differences and speaking to each other like the neighbors we are.
Fortunately, the emerging resistance movement is claiming to represent American values rather than simply progressive values (or, if you prefer, claiming that progressive values are American values). This makes it more than a movement of the left and opens the possibility that it can attract those who would never vote for Hillary Clinton but recognize the existential threat Donald Trump poses to the country. Indivisible—the name of one of the grassroots umbrella groups helping to organize resistance tactics—deliberately evokes the Pledge of Allegiance, takes aim at elected Democrats as well as Republicans and has been active in deeply red corners of the country. This is the right way to go about addressing the cultural divide underlying our political divide.
In the public talks I have given since Election Day, I have seen anger and fear in the expressions of those who appreciate the gravity of this moment, recoil at the prospect of four years of a Trump presidency and worry for the country regardless of how things may play out. I have been asked what they as individuals can do to make a difference.
My answer is they should be angry but have compassion.
Anger motivates action. It is healthy to be angry at how this administration is governing for a sliver of the population and how it is underwritten by the obscenely rich. It is justifiable to be angry at a president who exploits racism and misogyny, surrounds himself with people who lie and hate, and advances a cruel and divisive agenda. It is just as natural to be angry at the people who put him there and to want to dismiss them for their beliefs.
But try to keep that anger focused on Trump and his enablers. As much as possible, try to forgive his supporters, especially those who voted for him out of a sense of despair.
This can be a hard thing to do. Trump wouldn’t be where he is without his voters. But remember that having empathy doesn’t mean agreeing with their choices. It means understanding their situation as they experience it, appreciating the context in which their choices were made.
Focus on the places where we agree, on the values we share. Most people believe in the rule of law. Most want a better future for themselves and their children. They value competence in elected officials and understand that political leaders work for us. Many will lend a hand to those in need and have a hard time vilifying people they know. Many feel in their gut that we can disagree about policy without disrespecting our differences. This is our opportunity to show them they are right.
Empathy makes possible a discussion that anger forecloses. It can be transformative for all involved. If there is hope for moving peacefully past this moment, we should recognize that being indivisible requires finding common cause with those who think differently and using that recognition to build millions of individual bridges across the vast divide.