By: Madeline Coffey
What just happened? That is the sentence that best identifies how I feel when reflecting on the RNC. Through all of it, I think Donald Trump’s speech pretty much sums up what is going on in the Republican Party, and that is precisely that they are just as confused as the rest of us. I’m at a loss for words as the presumptive nominee offered no new insights into foreign policy, no domestic policy proposals absent “the wall,” and played on a singular emotion: fear.
I looked to social media to better understand the thoughts running through folks’ minds. I wanted to see if anyone had come to a conclusion that seemed so far away from my train of thought. What I found is that fear is evident amongst both progressives and conservatives. For conservatives, Trump’s anti-immigrant, Islamophobic rhetoric sparked new fires greater than before. In my wildly progressive mind, this seemed incredibly unreasonable. How could people possibly believe this nonsense? It took some soul searching to finally understand.
You see, it is quite common to fear the unknown. Donald Trump frequently takes the unknown and crafts it into a terrifying threat that expertly preys on fears that have been present in American society for the past twenty years. His banner of making America, “great again,” proposes a pre-9/11 America in which we no longer think about terrorism or, in other words, fear the unknown. In essence, he is proposing that the unknown be shut out so that we can remove it from our consciousness. For some Americans, this seems very appealing. This is evident in Trump supporters’ color-blind rhetoric and unwillingness to separate Islam from terrorism. To them, it seems, that as long as racism is covered by the defense of police and islamophobia is shielded by the threat of terrorism, their backwards views can remain justified. Trump’s dark message assures them that their thoughts are valid.
That leads us to directly what us progressives fear. We fear that this type of rhetoric will not leave us in a post-Trump America. The fear of the unknown has been justified for millions of Americans, and it is impossible to turn back the clock. Our fears go beyond the threat of a Trump presidency; the damage has already been done. You see, Trump’s divisive message has gotten at the soul of all of our fears. For conservatives, the fear of the unknown prevails. But for progressives, the fear of Trump’s hot-headed rhetoric that directly affects the safety of ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones is much greater. I look to my own experiences to find solutions of how we can mend all of our fears that have culminated to create our currently divided nation.
I grew up in a small town, and I personally know far more Trump supporters than most of my progressive friends. When you grow up in a town that is above 90% white and Southern Baptist by nature, it can be hard to look past Fox News. Some of these folks have never even met a Muslim-American, an undocumented immigrant, or a black person affected by police mistreatment or brutality. I realized after the RNC that I didn’t know a lot of these people either before college. If not for my uncommonly liberal mother, where would I be? I came to understand better as I heard the experiences of people who were different than me; I came to associate these issues with the safety of my friends. For some, this will not be possible. I am left with the question of how to reach this populace in order to relieve their fears.
What will it take to change the hearts and minds of folks who are afraid of the unknown? I can’t offer that solution, but my own feelings depend on it. With fear stemming from both sides about what the other side means for their own, personal safety, something new has emerged. You see, there is a consensus of fear, but it is the thing that divides us the most. So to all of my fellow progressives out there: let’s come up with a way to reach these people. Let’s stop talking at them and start talking with them. Until then, fear will remain. It is time to heal the fears of others so that we can feel safe again.