When I asked my neighbor to take a picture of the Trump 2020 flag he hung proudly inside his garage, just past his big pick-up truck and four-wheeler painted in camo, he proudly agreed.
Obviously, he seemed to think I was one of his people. After all, I am a white male living in a stable marriage in one of the three counties in the country most responsible for electing Trump. I was taking my blonde-haired grandson out for a morning walk.
But he likely is not a reader of my posts. Nor has he seen my vehicle, a hybrid with a Coexist bumper sticker and another sticker for the university where I teach. Had he been aware of these facts, I would have likely received a very different reaction — because then, he would have known I was the enemy.
It’s hard to fathom, but it’s true. To many Conservatives, particularly of the ilk who are Trump’s most die-hard supporters, I am a greater enemy than Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un. My neighbor may be the prototypical Trump supporter, but by virtue of my education and profession, I am one of those elite Liberals he hates so much.
Liberals like me have been mystified by this dynamic. After all, all Liberals want is for everyone to do well. How can that wish generate such hatred?
There have been articles written about the history of how Conservatives have come to hate Liberals. There are articles written about how Evangelicals have come to love this narcissistic sinner in the White House. One in particular described how happy Evangelicals are that the White House will not be lit up like a rainbow again, calling that day a “nightmare.” But I have not seen any articles analyzing why Conservatives feel the need to demonize us in this way.
To that end, I will propose a theory. Betrayal is one of the most painful human experiences. Looking at me, my neighbor thinks I am just like him. And in some respects I am. I am the beneficiary of the privilege inherent in our white patriarchy. I do not know how it feels to have police assume I am a gang member just because of my race. I am not afraid to walk up to a stranger’s door. I can introduce my spouse in any context, confident that our relationship will be accepted. Thanks to my race, gender, and sexuality, I live a somewhat charmed life, as does he.
One might assume based upon this fact that I would want to retain the institutions that have granted me this privilege and protected it. But instead, I want to change those institutions. I want LGBTQ people, their marriages, and their choices to be recognized. I want African-Americans to be freed from the fear of our police. I want women to be safe in their relationships. I want everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, or their sexuality to be able to fully share in the American prosperity that up until now has been reserved for straight white males.
I believe we need to ensure that everyone gets a piece of the pie. I believe when leveraging my privilege in service to people who have been marginalized, I am enriched as well.
To my neighbor, sharing our privilege somehow makes his privilege less valuable. To him, status is only valuable if it is better than the status of others.
I believe God extends grace to us all. My neighbor likely believes grace is granted to only a few, and he wants to be one of the chosen.
I vote in a way that reflects these goals. The people I support must advocate a more inclusive society that values everyone equally. But in so doing, my neighbor thinks I jeopardize the special status that he values so highly.
In other words, my actions jeopardize his special status.
He thinks that a Person of Color is a threat to his status simply because he can see their color. He thinks an LGBTQ individual is a threat because of their family situation. He thinks a woman can be a threat because of her sex. But someone like me? He doesn’t see it coming.
I’m the type of person he would feel comfortable making locker-room talk with even though he doesn’t know me. I’m the type of person he can assume would look the other way when he mistreats the women in his life.
In reality, I am not.
You can just imagine the sense of anger people like him feel at the betrayal. It’s not so different from a spouse you trust cheating on you.
You can see the kind of anger Conservatives have everywhere. Cars have pulled up next to mine with the driver cursing at me because of my bumper stickers. I thought my ideology was oriented toward helping others. But to Trump supporters, I am a traitor taking something away from them. It’s not by accident that many commentators now believe Evangelicals support Trump because of his nastiness toward Liberals like me.
The fact is America is becoming more diverse and more accepting despite the best efforts of Trump and his supporters. As this continues to happen, the political power that protects the special privilege of straight white men will be diminished. That is what Trump supporters fear most deeply.
At the same time, the impact is felt on other levels as well. Consider the following. I still remember the days when open hostility to gay people was accepted in polite society. Telling gay jokes was OK. I certainly never imagined that I would see gay marriage as the law of the land in my lifetime.
How things have changed. Attitudes toward gay people are much more accepting, and gay people are visible in our society in a way I couldn’t have imagined when I was in high school and college.
How did this happen? In the movie Milk, the eponymous hero and San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official tells gay constituents that they can no longer remain in the closet. Coming out and sharing your sexuality with relatives is a political act, he tells his supporters. And indeed it is. It is much harder for a person to hate gay people when their family member or roommate have comes out as gay. People have had to change their attitudes based upon their personal experiences. It is easy to hate someone in the abstract. But in the flesh, it becomes much harder.
It used to be that people of color were kept separate from white people in a way that gay people cannot be segregated. But now, with increasing interracial marriage, suddenly you may also have family members who are African-American. Again, it is much harder to hate the characteristics of someone in your own family.
The white straight patriarchy is dying out, and none too soon. Trump represents the dying gasp of that institution. If current trends continue, and Trump and his supporters fail in their efforts to subvert our democracy, this era will ultimately end up as a footnote in our history books. That is the trend Trump supporters are fighting against, and my support for that trend makes me a traitor to their cause.