Republican voter; Being ok; 2016 Presidential Election
Photo: Jason Lam / CC BY-SA 2.0

A food staple when I was growing up in Arizona was a Mexican-ish dish with lots of beans and spices. We called it Wetback Special. Because this term was never used in any other context in my family, I was at least 17 before I realized it was a derogatory term for illegal immigrants (who were generally from Mexico). My family, like the families of most voters, did not teach me to hate people because they were different. We were schooled in equality, love, and inclusion. But we also ate Wetback Special. As I struggle to understand why people I love and respect voted for a candidate who embraces discriminatory language, practices, and political groups, I keep coming back to that story. And as I hear everyone talking about being OK or not being OK (now or in the future), I wonder how many of my smart, thoughtful Republican voter friends are currently eating Wetback Special for dinner.

Republican voter; Being ok; 2016 Presidential Election
The author with some of her cousins and siblings in the early 1980s.

When I reached out to people I respect to talk with them about their vote (try it! It’s fun to talk respectfully with people you disagree with), I found that much of their reasoning focused more on the idea of a Republican administration and less on the candidate himself. In fact, one Republican voter said that the Access Hollywood tapes were nearly a deal breaker for her, until she thought about what she hoped to be the effects of a Republican administration. I approached it from an entirely opposite angle: more about the candidate and less about the Republican/Democrat divide. The reason for this was threefold: 1) the sky has not fallen in these years with Democrats in the White House (speaking, of course, from my own limited perspective); 2) party affiliation, in and of itself, does not qualify a person to govern; and 3) the Republican candidate did not/does not represent what I would call Republican values. It wasn’t a choice between Republican or Democrat for me. It was a choice between a person espousing inflammatory policies and empowering the worst impulses of our society and a person who, to put it succinctly, knows how to behave in polite society.

The interesting thing I found in my research was that every Republican voter I talked with agreed that the Republican candidate’s behavior was poor. Nobody defended him, personally. One Republican voter even went so far as to say “he is me from 10 years ago, so I know he can change.” He felt that this was a person who could change for the better in office. The Democrat? Not so much. I noted that those were some pretty ambitious therapy goals for a guy with a very busy schedule and, from all appearances, zero desire to change, but this Republican voter remained convinced that the mantle of the presidency would be enough to expunge the excesses of the campaign. One voter dismissed troubling behavior by noting that it was just another example of the bad parts of our society that were already there and accepted (which seems about as good of reasoning as choosing to eat dirt because pica exists).

I didn’t go around asking people who they voted for (my research was with self-identified Republican voters), but I suspect that the people running around on Nov. 9 talking about being OK were this sort of voter. That’s how they could talk themselves into voting for someone so personally offensive. They felt it would be OK in the end. I can’t fault them for that entirely. Isn’t that how a lifelong Republican voter talks herself into voting for a Democrat? Where we differ is what things we felt were insurmountable.

And to make sense of that, I go back to the Wetback Special. The immediate universe I lived in as a child was a place where people didn’t call each other offensive names, so I didn’t have personal knowledge of why that is harmful (though I certainly knew the concept in general terms). Is it possible that people could dismiss sexist and racist rhetoric not because their core beliefs are sexist and racist but because they do not viscerally understand the impact of what they know, generally, to be wrong? Are they so insulated from the effects of authoritarian men, sexual predators, and just plain crazy folks that it doesn’t seem like a big deal?

Even as I listened to my friends soften their candidate’s extreme positions and talk about the troubles they have seen with the Democratic administration, though, all I could think of was how these people that I love and trust listened to a man defend himself against rape allegations by saying the woman wasn’t pretty enough to rape and, by their actions in the voting booth, just shrugged their shoulders. That wasn’t media spin. That wasn’t 10 years ago. That wasn’t “out of context.” That was straight from his own lips. And the thought of people I trust being OK (in any way) with casual approval of sexual assault makes me feel unsafe. I don’t know how long it will be until that feeling subsides (or if it will). One Republican voter; Being Ok; 2016 Presidential ElectionRepublican voter kept begging me to tell him what he could do to make me feel safe, and (since he couldn’t — and probably wouldn’t — go back in time and change his vote) I had nothing for him. It’s like turning on the blender and then saying, “How can I make this smoothie into a piece of fruit for you?” Maybe stop letting stuff like this go. Recognize that words have impact. And recognize the small and large ways that we do this stuff, too (and then stop it).

Some time ago, and with a bit of the necessary family drama, we stopped eating Wetback Special. We call it Mexican Haystacks now (due to its vague resemblance to a dish called Hawaiian Haystacks). And while it is still the same beans, spices, and corn chips, it tastes so much better. We can’t change the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. We can’t make the smoothie a piece of fruit again. But maybe we can stop eating Wetback Special.

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  1. Judge not and ye shall not be judged. Your OPINION has validity, there is no doubt. But is it the real truth? Stanley Kubrick made a groundbreaking film in the late 1960s called Clockwork Orange. It was ahead of its time, and to this day, is considered a cinematic masterpiece. Take a break on Netflix and watch this film. Also I suggest you read 1984 by George Orwell. The bottom line do you really know the real President Elect Trump, (i.e. perhaps you have met him in person etc.. ) or have you created a golem that has been engineered by politicized media exposure, repeated over and over again. As the fantasy Republican Lennon song would go, “All we are saaaying, is give Trump a chance”.

  2. Very few people have personal knowledge of the candidates. That’s an issue I have with politics in general. All we have to go on is what we see reported or broadcast. So, yes, it is, of necessity, not a complete understanding. We have to make judgments based on a complex set of factors and we have to be able to discern spin. This doesn’t mean that we can’t observe a person’s public speech and actions and make judgments. Trump has had many, many chances. He is more than welcome to surprise us all, but we are not obligated to give him chance after chance after chance when his own actions and words condemn him.

  3. Marianne, please follow thru with my advice regarding watching Clockwork Orange, and if you can go the extra mile, also reading Brave New World. I am still in awe of your use of the word “mansplaining” from a previous article. We are creatures of belief, and unfortunately we focus on altered realities projected on SCREENS. The philosopher Quine put forth the simple truth that our consensus reality is built on layers of belief on belief. The best chapter in Plato’s Republic is the Allegory of the Cave. I GET MY NEWS AND INFO FROM WATCHING AS MANY SOURCES AS POSSIBLE. I DECIDE, and I don’t default to O Reilly or Van Jones. I trust no one in regards to the truth projected on SCREENS – i.e. cellphones, tablets, TV’s. The greatest challenge of the millennial generation is to figure this out on their own accord. If they fail, then it will be a Brave New World. I believe they will get it right, but time will tell. Good luck and do your homework and write a badass article in the future based on your research. Good Luck, you’re still in media induced denial, which is often the case. It’s the norm.

  4. PS. I miss Jason G ‘s articles. Hope he is back for the new year. He really challenged the extreme spectrum of journalism, and undermines consensus reality. If he were in ancient Greece, he would be forced to drink Hemlock at this point… LOL. You are my favorite female writer. 🙂

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