Saturday, Jul 21, 2018
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Alexander Cohen


Feel the pain on both hands

No matter who you are, a large part of this country, maybe even half the electorate, may seem to think people who look like you or believe like you don’t matter. Whoever you are, that’s a problem. If all of us can see that, maybe all of us can solve it.



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When Donald Trump was elected, my Facebook feed lit up with pain and fear. People think that by electing Mr. Trump, half the electorate said they don’t matter. I’m thinking of people from racial minorities who think he’s a racist. I’m thinking of women who know he bragged about sexual assault. I’m thinking of Muslims. I’m thinking of LGBT people worried about the Supreme Court.

Many people think the demographic groups whose status has been improving in recent decades will suffer serious setbacks now — and if you’re a member of one of those groups and you think that (not all do, of course), that can be a very scary thing. Imagine, for example, seeing the Supreme Court overturn the decision that protected your right to marry your same-sex spouse. Or imagine losing your father to deportation.

Even apart from law and policy, some fear that Mr. Trump’s win has emboldened people who hate them. Black students at the University of Pennsylvania were involuntarily added to an online group with posts about daily lynchings. A Hispanic student said she found a “wall” down the middle of her dorm room: “Hey Maria, Trump won.”

And every Trump voter, if he didn’t vote for Mr. Trump because he was seen as a racist and a misogynist, voted for him despite that. Something else mattered more. For some people, that translates as: Something else mattered more than me, my family, and my safety.

If you didn’t feel that pain, try to imagine it. Your country, maybe even people you love, prioritized something else over you, and now you feel less safe.

Feel the weight of that pain. But hold it, as it were, in your left hand, while I load something else into your right.

A bakery in Oregon state that refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding was forced to pay $135,000. It closed. Multiple courts have now told Christians in wedding-related businesses that they are not allowed to do business according to their religious beliefs about marriage. They must give up the businesses to which they had dedicated their careers, or they must act against the values that animate their lives. They must be driven from the market or their consciences broken lest gay couples encounter the inconvenience of having to find a different bakery.

The real issue, of course, is the indignity of being discriminated against because of who you are, which somehow matters when it’s a gay person being denied a cake because he’s marrying in accordance with his orientation, but not when it’s a Christian being ruined for doing business in accordance with her religion. That told traditional Christians they were no longer welcome to be who they are in a country they thought was theirs. Let that pain settle in your right hand.

The left preaches about unity and how we’re “stronger together,” but some people get left out of that. Political correctness says (generally speaking) it’s OK to advocate the interests of any race except whites, any religious group except Christians, any gender except men. And it’s not OK to offend minorities and women, but anything goes when it comes to majority groups and men. They don’t count. Feel that resentment in your right hand.

Then add the resentment of knowing that if you organize for a cause that isn’t even about identity politics, but most of the people involved happen to look like you, you’ll be demonized as racist — as happened to the Tea Party.

There are good reasons to pay attention to the suffering of strangers who are different from us, even if our pain is worse. Many of us have friends of different races, genders, and religions. And it’s simply fair, if you want strangers who are different from you to care about your suffering, to care about theirs. But there’s something else this election should bring home: None of us are going anywhere. And people different from you vote.

Donald Trump is now the president-elect because people voted for him. The “left hand” pain, to them, wasn’t enough to outweigh other concerns, perhaps including the “right hand” pain. But if our democracy continues along recent patterns, Democrats will win elections again. The “right hand” pain won’t outweigh other concerns.

So we have a choice. We can continue to dismiss one another’s pain. If we go that route, we will probably get to take turns winning and not caring how we hurt the losers. But we will also have to take turns being the losers. Even worse, because there are many power centers in our society, we will all have to be the losers in some respects all the time.

The alternative is to commit to building a society where we all matter.

Alexander R. Cohen is a Blade editorial writer. Contact him at: or 419-724-6522.

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