by The Lady Eve

Psychology tells us that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I went through all five stages on Election Night. Repeatedly. As the map started turning red, I tried to coax myself to sleep by saying it would be better in the morning. But sleep eluded me for most of the night. Instead, I tossed and turned in my bed, wondering how this could possibly be real.

I know it seems hyperbolic, but that restless night was a turning point in my life. I felt like my country let me down. But it wasn’t just faceless and nameless strangers who voted for this man; my own family was filled with Trump supporters, and I found myself wondering how I would ever be able to look any of them in the eye again. How can I look at my father the same way knowing that he voted for a man who bragged about being able to grab a woman by the pussy without reprimand? How can I look at relatives who posted one fake news piece after another? As the Russia investigation unfolds, how can I respect people who were deceived by propaganda planted by a foreign nation?

Sadly, even after all of these months, I don’t have any more answers now than I did in November. I’m torn between holding fast to my beliefs and attempting to maintain relationships with family and friends. I don’t want to be that person who cuts people out of their life over politics. I want to go high instead of going low. I want to build bridges instead of walls. But I’m finding it more and more difficult to reconcile these conflicting ideals.

In August, Jennifer Wright wrote a piece for Harper’s Bazaar titled, “If You are Married to a Trump Supporter, Divorce Them.” I cringed at the harsh words, but this author managed to perfectly articulate exactly why I feel like I’m struggling so much with making peace with Trump supporters in my life. I had an epiphany when I read these words:

“Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values.”

There it was. This was really what all of my agonizing boiled down to. I’d been dancing around this kernel of truth from the moment Trump entered the race in 2015. As Trump called Mexicans racists, insulted former POW Senator McCain, mocked a disabled reporter, and criticized a Gold Star mother, I kept waiting for people I knew to say that enough was enough. I sat with bated breath, hoping to hear all the self-proclaimed Christians in my life speak up and say that Trump obviously lacks the moral character and basic human decency to hold the most powerful office in, the world.

I often struggled to find the right words to express my frustration and disappointment in the people around me but felt the need to speak up after the Access Hollywood tape. About a month before the election, I posted the following on Facebook:

While I’ve shared plenty of other people’s words, I’ve been generally hesitant to add my own, but I think it’s time to change that.

For those of you who missed my post a few years ago, I am a rape survivor. What most people do not know is that I was also sexually assaulted when I was 16.

Let me be very clear- I’m not offended by the fact that Trump used the word “pussy. I don’t care if he’s caught on tape using the word “fuck” or any other obscenity. What does offend me is the context in which the word was used. Make no mistakes, what this man was describing was sexual assault. Whether it’s walking up to a woman and kissing her (which he said that he did), or grabbing her by the pussy (based on transcript this was more of a hypothetical), this is unwanted contact of a sexual nature, and it is a crime. And if this is truly what all locker room talk is like (which I already know is not the case), all that does is explain why we have this ridiculous ingrained rape culture where men like Donald Trump or Brock Turner believe that they have a God-given right to take what they want from a woman, regardless of her own wants.

Do you really still think that this is okay? Because I don’t.

But it didn’t matter because, in the end, not one Trump supporter that I knew personally was swayed by any of it. In the end, character didn’t matter to any of them. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the months since Trump has taken office, the affronts to basic human decency just continue to pile up, and between 30 and 35% of Americans seem to be completely okay with that.

As I was brainstorming for this piece, the word that kept coming to mind was “empathy,” because that seems to be the key difference between those who support this President and those who resist. Empathy is the ability to relate to the feelings of others. In many ways, it’s the opposite of narcissism or greed. For example, even though I have a good job, I empathize with the working poor and firmly believe that anyone who works a full-time job deserves a livable wage. The self-absorbed person only cares if it’s his problem; the empathetic person cares that it’s anyone’s problem.

Many of the issues that I see with Donald Trump and his agenda hinge on empathy, whether it’s threatening to deport Dreamers or to strip health insurance from millions. It relates to proposing tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting the social safety net for the poor. Prior to the election, one of my relatives said he was voting for Trump because he was hoping for a tax cut. What about the fact that this nation has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the world? But how do you teach someone empathy? How do you teach someone to care about their neighbor? If you know the answer, please share it, as too many of my personal relationships depend on it.