Maybe the place to start is to publicly thank Donald Trump for providing a case study and an example of what it means to be a thoughtful human being. But you might get the wrong idea. Maybe I’ll just state a simple truth: Mr. Trump’s “locker room talk” is deplorable. Also, it wasn’t even said in a locker room, and it’s not the kind of thing that I’ve ever heard in a locker room, even though the things I have heard spouted by half clad high school boys were already reprehensible.
The thing is, what Mr. Trump has said and done both recently and in his past can easily qualify as abusive, misogynistic, narcissistic, bigoted, grotesque, and on, and on, and on. But I believe him when he says that he doesn’t think that this is who he really is. Who would? Who could?
Don’t get me wrong. I feel a need to put Mr. Trump into the categorical “asshole” bin and shut the lid tight. He’s reprehensible to me and I have better things to do than to give him any bandwidth. But, I don’t think classifying him and sealing the envelope is the responsible thing to do. Nor is writing off his supporters.
Because, even if you yourself haven’t said what Donald Trump has said — which I’m pretty sure you have not, given probabilities and the fact that you’re reading this and that I just generally assume and experience the fact that nobody says these kinds of things, in spite of Donald Trump proving me wrong — you’re capable of it. So am I. If I were Donald Trump and I were able to experience his privilege and his sense of being immune to consequence, what could I get away with, and would there be a slope I’d naturally slide down? How easy would it be to narrow my gaze and ignore the greater field of view around me?
If I were the bank manager who could bully workers into creating false accounts in order to maintain my status and wealth and job, would I? If I were able to funnel money into my own pocket instead of the charity it was intended for, could I justify the action to myself? If I were the police officer who lived in fear and with some implicit bias that I’d grown up with, what would my trigger finger do? I want to think that there’s no question that I’d make the right decision, that I wouldn’t even see it as a decision and that I’d just take high roads and solid moral ground. But the fact that I’d hope there would be no decision to make, no effort or sacrifice on my part, makes me realize that we all just go to a default that we must be inherently in the right. We can justify so much with a quick reframing: locker room lewd replaces rape inciting speech, thinking of shareholders justifies mistreatment of customers and workers, and “law and order” euphemises racial profiling.
It’s easy to point fingers at and condemn “the deplorables,” whether they’re those identified by Hillary Clinton in unfortunate and irresponsible remarks, or perhaps Mr. Trump himself, or perhaps unscrupulous world leaders and businessmen. It’s easy to find these individuals and to point out the deplorability of their actions and, in turn, place them in that bucket of “others” who are not like us.
This, all of it, would be easy, and it would be wrong.
My discomfort lies in the fact that those people, the deplorables, are not that much unlike me as I’d like to believe. I was raised and loved by parents who would lie down on a busy street for any of their grandchildren and who regularly serve supper at a shelter, but simultaneously vilify President Obama. We receive a weekly gift of farm fresh eggs from a kind woman who thinks that Donald Trump is our country’s right course and that Hillary would lead us into apocalyptic devastation. And I know progressives who mistreat co-workers in spite of their professed views of respect and equality for all. We are all tiptoeing lines of dualism, being a complex, twisted version of what we profess and want to be.
Let me me clear. I haven’t said anything remotely like what Donald Trump has said and I haven’t stolen money and I haven’t physically harmed another human being. But I have to remind myself that I’m capable of this, that I’m not somehow better inherently, and I’m certainly not immune. We are all simultaneously capable of kindness and cruelty, of compassion and selfishness, of right and wrong, of foolishness and deludedness and wisdom.
The basket that others are going to put me into is going to be determined by my individual decisions and the actions I’m accountable for. Some of these are the “in the moment” decisions — what I say or how I respond to the locker room banter. But there are the other long term pieces that assemble and sum to what is me. I need to work on implicit bias, recognize that I’m reacting to a black man on the street differently than I would a white man. I need to work on how I respond to speech that is alienating or hateful and challenge it. I need to look internally to see if I’m judging a woman differently than I would a man. I need to reach externally to understand my world beyond my comfortable bubble of influence. I need to see Donald Trump for who he is: all of us, even me. I need to point to him and realize that he has become that man through his own action and inaction, and I become my own man through my own deliberate act or inattention as well. We are all capable of anything — even becoming president — and we need to see all possibilities and directions at each fork in our road.