When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, like millions of other Americans, I was horrified. He had campaigned on a platform of hate, pledging to ban Muslims from entering the United States and build a literal wall to keep Latinos out of the country. He stoked anti-Semitism, mocked a disabled reporter and had a history of misogyny.
Once Trump actually became US president, he called white supremacists “very fine people,” locked children in cages and systematically sought to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, disregarding the millions of Americans who would be left without access to healthcare if he were successful.
Over the past four years, I’ve lived in fear as Trumpism has taken over the country. In counties where Trump held campaign rallies, hate crimes increased a shocking 226%, showing that this rhetoric has real consequences for marginalised groups. Nearly everyone in America who is not a natural-born white, Christian, heterosexual male in relatively good health has been targeted by the policies of the Trump administration.
These calls for unity come from a place of privilege, and they’re coming from mostly straight, white, cisgender people who are financially secure.
As a Jew, an atheist, a woman and the mother of a disabled child, I have watched as my communities have been threatened repeatedly. The day the 2020 election was called with Joe Biden projected to be our next president, Idanced in the streets at Black Lives Matter Plaza along with thousands of others who finally felt like this long nightmare was coming to an end.
But almost immediately, we began to hear calls to reach out to Trump supporters to mend fences. Pop star Katy Perry encouraged fans to follow her lead and tell family members who voted for Trump that they are “here for them.”
Political scientist Ian Bremmer encouraged Biden voters to reach out to Trump supporters to show empathy. Former senator Rick Santorum, who compared same-sex marriage to bestiailty while holding office, urged Biden supporters to give Trump and his voters “space” to work through their feelings. These suggestions enraged me.
These calls for unity come from a place of privilege, and they’re coming from mostly straight, white, cisgender people who are financially secure. They may not have liked some of Trump’s policies, but they were not actively harmed by them. They likely never feared for their safety or wellbeing in Trump’s America.
Gestures toward reconciliation are also premature, given that Trump has yet to concede the election and still has about two months left in office to inflict even more damage.
Before any attempt at “unity” can be made, there needs to be a reckoning, an acknowledgment that so many of Trump’s actions have been unconscionable and do not align with societal ideals that claim to value all life.
Building bridges with people who share Trump’s views sends a clear message that you are willing to keep the peace at the expense of the dignity and wellbeing of those with less power and privilege.
My friends and family members who supported Trump had four years to renounce his policies. Instead, they stood by him. They knew that Trump’s policies had a very real impact on my life, and they showed me time and time again that they did not care.
These calls for understanding ignore the very real fact that Trump has had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many marginalised people.
Jews like me were literally slaughtered in their place of worship in my home state of Pennsylvania, where a gunman opened fire on the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The president failed to implement common sense gun control policies while stoking anti-Semitism, claiming that “Jews are only in it for themselves.” Trump repeatedly questioned whether Jews could be loyal to the United States by telling Jews that Israel is “your country,” seemingly unwilling to distinguish American Jews from Israelis. In this climate, it was inevitable that violence would be unleashed against Jews and that some would lose their lives. I will not forgive, and I will not forget.
As an atheist, I have watched in horror as the Trump administration has tried to turn our country, which was founded on the belief that church and state should remain separate, into a theocracy. Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, is poised to impose her extreme religious views on the rest of us. She has gone so far as to state that Catholic judges are “obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters”. Religious views have allowed corporations such as Hobby Lobby to circumvent laws requiring insurance coverage for birth control and discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
As the mother of two daughters, I have spent the Trump years fearing that none of us will have the right to control our own reproductive choices if Trump had his way. I have watched as Trump’s atrocious handling of the pandemic has forced women out of the workforce in record numbers. He bragged about how his celebrity status allows him to sexually assault women without impunity, and then he lashed out at the 26 women who have accused him of sexual assault. The fact that such a person could rise to the most powerful office in the world has created a dangerous environment for all women.
Time and time again, Trump has tried to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Each time, his administration has put my disabled daughter’s future at risk, along with the futures of millions of other Americans with preexisting conditions. My daughter’s wellbeing depends on the ACA, and trying to save it has consumed much of my life for the past four years. My daughter got to know Capitol Hill well, as I often visited with her and challenged senators to look at her and tell her that life had no value, that she was too expensive to insure.
Over the past eight months, I’ve felt helpless as Trump has failed to control Covid-19, preferring instead to wish it away. Even though he said at least 40 times that the coronavirus would disappear, it is instead tearing through the country with a vengeance, claiming the lives of two of my family members and making several of my friends and family very ill. Some of them have not yet fully recovered. Trump’s wishful thinking has forced my family to isolate and kept my children from school and away from their grandparents. It has deeply hurt friends who are small-business owners and others who have lost their jobs as a result of Trump’s stunningly poor handling of the virus.
My heart has broken many times over as I’ve witnessed other atrocities wrought by Trump. The children forced into camps, separated from their parents. My friends in loving same-sex and trans relationships who worried their marriages would no longer be recognised and who rushed to adopt their own children when Trump took office, fearing that he would take away their parental rights. My Black friends who had to endure their president making openly racist remarks and advocating violence against Black Lives Matter protesters.
Indifference in the face of such cruelty does not deserve understanding, now or ever. Some fences cannot be mended.
Through all of this, my communities have come together in solidarity with one another to fight against Trump’s hateful acts. We are allies to one another, even when not directly under attack. Those who supported Trump, and those who still do, lack the compassion and the basic decency to recognise that every life has value. I have no need for them in my life and no desire to now pretend that I can accept their views, that any of this was ever OK.
Those who supported Trump and those who remained neutral in the face of such cruelty enabled him. I will not forget, and I certainly will not forgive.
Jamie Davis Smith is a freelance writer, an attorney, disability advocate, and mother of four who lives in Washington, DC.