This is a hard post for me to write. Part of me resists the idea of seeing Donald Trump as a human being. It’s safer and easier to stay with the fear and derision I feel towards him. Shortly after Trump took office, I was on Skype to a liberal-leaning friend who lives on the East Coast. He was genuinely scared of what was happening to his country. I asked him, “Are you afraid that you’ll lose everything that you love and value about your country?” He said, “Yes, I am.” He talked about his friends at the Unitarian Church who were in shock about the outcome of the election. He didn’t know how to console them. I suggested that rather than consoling, he simply acknowledge what was going on for them, in the same way I had with him, “Do you feel like you don’t belong in this country anymore?”
A few weeks later, I was on a call with my Dad and my left-leaning brother, who emigrated to the USA 20 years ago, and now lives with his children in Indianapolis. When Trump was mentioned, my Dad and I started laughing. We carried on for about five minutes. It was a kind of release. My brother moved to the USA to escape the confines of the class system here in the UK. He wasn’t expecting to live under a president like Trump. As he said, “I don’t read the news at the moment, I just get so angry.”
So it would be simpler and more comfortable for me to stay with the fear and derision. However, I’ve lost a part of my humanity – the part that can see Trump and the people who voted for him as human beings. I want my humanity back.
I need to take a deep breath and do some groundwork first. What are the precious needs underneath my feelings of fear and derision? As I explore the tightness and tension in my chest, I realize that fear comes from a sense of powerlessness and loss of control in the face of social forces and political parties. I need empowerment, dignity, and self-respect. The derision, which is a kind of mocking anger, comes from a deep sense of hopelessness that I will be seen and understood, that I matter and belong.
Now I’m ready to try to see the humanity of Trump and the people who voted for him. What values did they think that he would represent for them? In his inauguration speech, Trump repeatedly referred to jobs lost and factories closed. He said that he wanted to return power from the politicians in Washington to the people of the USA. He said, “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Later, he told his audience, “The wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated, over the horizon.” And later still, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.” He declared that his mission is to protect American jobs, using two rules, “Buy American and hire American.”
So Trump wants to protect American jobs. By giving public expression to them, he channeled the frustrations and fears of a large enough group of Americans to get elected. He gave them a sense of being seen and heard in the public sphere. He spoke to needs for empowerment, dignity and self-respect. He evoked the need to be understood, to matter and belong. Empathizing with the needs that they are trying to meet doesn’t mean that I agree with their world view or how they go about meeting their needs. However, do these needs remind you of anything? These are exactly the same needs as the ones behind my feelings of fear and derision.
According to Marshall Rosenberg and his Nonviolent Communication process, conflict doesn’t take place at the level of needs, which are universal. Rather, it takes place at the level of individual strategies for meeting those needs. How do I feel when I recognize that Donald Trump and his supporters have the same needs as me? It feels weird and reassuring. I still have a very strong longing to be seen and heard, to matter and belong. However, this longing is no longer attached to the actions of Trump and his supporters. I feel freer, more whole and more human, almost ready to express myself to others. In fact, I will. How is this for you to read?