Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America

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Hakim’s car smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, but it was clean and he greeted me warmly. Hakim was an African-American man with a raspy voice and a slight southern accent. This was my first experience riding Lyft, and it was a pleasant one. He asked me about my work and told me about his—he recently retired as a parole officer, and drives for Lyft on the weekends. Our conversation eventually turned to politics. I didn’t know what to expect. In the wake of an election that had been described as a “whitelash,” I wanted to tread carefully. I tried to say things that would assure Hakim that I understood something about the racial tensions that were unsurfaced and aggravated during and in response to the election. I wanted him to know that I appreciated President Obama and that I had not supported Trump’s candidacy. I was surprised when he said, “You know, I had a real hard time with this election. I actually voted Republican in the last two. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Obama. Religious reasons, you know? I had the same problem with Hillary. But Trump?” The way he said “Trump,” sliding into a raspy falsetto, made me laugh. That and my surprise: a middle-aged, middle-class African-American man voting for McCain and Romney rather than Obama, due to religiously-motivated objections (to gay marriage and abortion, as it turned out). Serendipitously, perhaps, our destination was a church. As I got out, he said, “God bless, my friend.”

I know that people of color are not monolithic, just as I recognize that many are forced to uncomfortable compromises when voting, trying to participate within a system that has often explicitly discouraged their participation, voting for what seems to be the lesser of two evils and the least likely to provoke direct harm to them and their loved ones. It is very likely that Hakim is not consistently conservative. But in a defining moment of American politics, he voted Republican. I’ve often wondered which candidate he voted for in 2016.  He never told me, but apparently it wasn’t a particularly straightforward question for him. Continue reading

Hate or Love Trump, Have a Baby

I watched Trump’s inauguration address along with, according to him, trillions of other people. I was pained by the vitriolic rhetoric and us-versus-them mentality, and then I wasted an hour sinking deeper into misery scrolling through other people’s responses to the event. (See our very liberal, very smart friend’s response to Trump here.) Some were funny. Some were depressing. One, however, really scared me.

I can’t be sure that the post was real, but the woman’s confusion and fear seemed to be viscerally genuine. She wrote that she had been trying to have a baby and had just been to the doctor and been told she was pregnant. She was overjoyed—until she realized that it was Trump’s inauguration day. “Now I’m torn,” (and I paraphrase), “I don’t want my baby associated with that horrible man, so I’m considering getting an abortion.”

I was floored. I am not pro-Trump; I remember telling my husband through tears late on Election Night, “you PROMISED me he wouldn’t win!” as if it were his fault. With David, I understand the fear and pain and worry about the future of the country when someone counter to your views gains political preeminence. But even if we’d elected Big Brother or Hitler or even Dracula to be president, I would never consider having an abortion just because the announcements coincided. Maybe it’s my stubborn Irish heritage, but I could never concede the fight like that: he may have won the presidency…

But I will win the war.

I’m not talking about a partisan war, or even a political one. I’m talking about the fight for goodness, morality and human rights. Women, especially, have a superpower in the war we are all fighting—but it’s not one we generally think about. Continue reading

Trump’s Mormon (Tabernacle Choir) Problem

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

It is no secret that Trump has a Mormon problem (see this NY Times article and this Washington Post article, for example). During the troubled campaign, the LDS Church released a statement implicitly responding to (and opposing) Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, and church-owned Deseret News published an editorial condemning Trump’s misogynistic behavior and rhetoric, calling him to withdraw from the race–something all the more notable because the newspaper had not taken sides politically for 80 years. And although Trump ultimately won Utah, Mormons (in Utah and elsewhere) opposed Trump’s presidency more than any other traditionally conservative religious group. Yesterday, it was announced that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be performing at Trump’s election. Continue reading

When did Privileged Become a Handicap?

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I don’t like how we talk about privilege. It’s like we’re asking people to apologize—please excuse my privilege. It is always evoked derogatorily as something that stands in the way of seeing clearly—something that blinds us from seeing another perspective accurately. Or it is the dynamic by which society is made inequitable. And when people acknowledge their privilege, it is seldom with adulation for the people who helped them succeed, but as a form of virtue posturing. They seem to hope that by acknowledging it, people will be able to see past it. Like it’s an ugly blemish on their otherwise upstanding character.   Continue reading

The Danger of Worst-Case Scenario Thinking about Trump

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In the months prefacing the election we proved our human predisposition towards worst-case scenario thinking. It caused a lot of people to draw parallels between Trump and Hitler—his rise to power, the populist movement, white supremacy, German exceptionalism, etc. Other more rigorous articles have claimed that his rise has more in common to Mussolini’s. But during the election process, it was only abstract political posturing. Now it’s real. Trump is elected. And people’s projections (both liberals and conservatives who opposed him) have become real anxieties and authentic fears.

One of my conservative friends reacted to Trump’s election with this heart-felt question: “Advice on how to face a class of beautiful, undocumented 6th graders??” People responded, some encouraging her panic and others with an attempt towards attenuation. I have other liberal friends who have woven a worst-case scenario narrative where any non-white-cis-gendered-Christian male is now in eminent danger of discrimination or deportation. They substantiate their narratives by citing The New York Times exit polls which demonstrate that Trump was principally favored by older, white, straight, Christian men as well as citing the many rude things Trump has done and even proposed.  Continue reading

Political Opinions are like Haircuts

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When the body perceives a sudden threat, not only is adrenalin released in our blood, but even on the surface of our skin there is a measurable reaction that takes place within 0.05 seconds. And if you can track that, you can get a pretty good idea about how scared someone is. And we can track that. As it turns out, conservatives are more scared than liberals.

Studies like this have becoming increasingly popular as political polarization increases in the US and across the world. In the US, people want to know what makes a Republican different than a Democrat. We’ve learned so much about it that, according to Jonathan Haidt, after a few tests we can not only estimate with reasonable accuracy where someone will come down on political issues, but also what places they want to travel, books they’d like to read, and restaurants they’d enjoy. So the real wonder is not what separates the two parties, but what makes people within those parties so similar—even across seemingly unrelated issues. Continue reading