Embracing the complexity of real American people

November 15th, 2016

Since Donald Trump's surprise victory — and I was among those surprised — numerous good posts and commentaries have appeared exploring it from different angles.

Amidst all the insightful noise, however, two of the best pieces have appeared from the keyboard of a single writer: Charlie Camosy.

Charlie Camosy

Camosy teaches ethics and theology at Fordham University in the Bronx. Among his many gifts, Camosy possesses the genuine gift of helping liberals and conservatives talk well with each other around divisive issues — see, for example, his books Beyond the Abortion Wars and For Love of Animals.

The first piece I commend to your consideration is Camosy's November 11 post at Crux: Trump's election was a monstrous defeat for the pro-life movement.

Even more of a splash, however, has been caused by Camosy's November 9 piece in the Washington Post, Trump won because college-educated Americans are out of touch. In addition to garnering upwards of 1,800 comments on the Post's site, it has been widely shared on Facebook, generally appreciatively.

Rather than tell you all the reasons I think this article is good — like its explaining to me why I was so surprised Trump won — I just recommend that you click on the link above and read it.

Moreover, Camosy has received many emails from thoughtful folks since writing the piece. He has shared a couple of them on Facebook, sans names of course. I include them below, mainly because of the way they show real, thoughtful, complex American people. They reveal people not accounted for in liberals' pre-election narratives about people in the "flyover states." Yet, as Camosy frames them, and as I offer them here, they constitute an invitation for all of us to embrace the complexity of a spectrum of real American lives, to see the goodness, irreducibility, particularity that is there. Wherever we fall on the right-left political spectrum, real people, God's real children living in a complex and messy world, invite our embrace. They summon us toward a politics that seeks means for such embrace.

Camosy: I've received a number of thoughtful e-mails (some critical) in response to my piece in the Post yesterday, but this one I just received is tops:

"I just finished reading your article. This is probably the best description that I have read about the election. I work at the Jeep assembly factory in Toledo Ohio. I have been here for 22 years. The way you described the difference between those of us that are not “educated” and those that are is right on the money. We look at the world in a different way. Being a union member and a third generation Jeep worker I have always taken the election very serious. I am a registered Republican and a conservative Christian. This election was very difficult for me. I never really could get behind either of the candidates. In the end it came down to who would protect my personal liberties and help to fight and create jobs for the future. Mrs. Clinton had much experience in politics but I didn’t feel secure that she would be the best for us. Many lifelong democrats that work here feel the same way. The whole 2 party system is not what we feel works anymore. Thank you for putting to words what I have been feeling. On a side note, my daughter is a freshman at OSU this year and this has been an eye opener for her. The protests and arguing on campus has been nuts. She has a hard time understanding how students, a majority of them, have never had a fulltime job, paid taxes, served in the military, or worried about the economy going down to the point they were laid off or lost their job. She grew up in a house that was always dependent on the economy. She knows why you save your money. She knows to budget your lifestyle. I am sending her a copy of your article as I feel it will help her on campus to understand where others with a different view are coming from. Thanks again."

Camosy: I keep getting really interesting e-mails. People are complex. The truth is complex. Let us embrace complexity.

"I'm a small town, small church pastor in one of the remoter parts of flyover country. I've been a Republican all my life up until about a year ago, and identified as an evangelical until so many of my brethren jumped uncritically on the Trump Train. Now I'm not sure what I am. Russell Moore seems quite often to best articulate what I'm thinking and feeling these days.

Socially I am a traditionalist Christian, for want of a better term. I opposed the normalization of homosexuality, for instance, but recognize that my side has lost that argument. I'd like to find a way to engage the gay community and see if there is a way that we can understand each others' concerns, find common ground, and move forward together to craft a policy that allows for the free exercise of religion and liberty of conscience for religious people, but still addresses issues of fundamental fairness and freedom for gays and lesbians.

I'm even not entirely unsympathetic to the conundrum a transgendered person might feel in having to select a public restroom, but also want to have my wife and daughters protected from predators who might use transgenderism as a cover for sexual assault. I have a brown daughter, and I am aware of systemic racism, white privilege, and bad behavior by the police. But I also have family and friends in law enforcement and see firsthand the pressures they are under, and how day to day on the job experiences with people of color can help condition their responses. At the same time my wife and I are homeschooling our kids in the classical model, not only to give them an excellent education and teach them to reason, but also to protect them from porn on smartphones, foul language, early sexual peer pressure, brutal social Darwinism and bullying, and gay propaganda in our public schools. Obama added boys in the girls' locker room to that list of concerns last spring.

Because of a sustained course of self-study in economics and monetary theory, I have found myself moving further towards the Old Left on economic issues.... pro-labor, suspicious of corporations, so-called "free trade," and especially big, international banks. I have a lot of friends in Europe and Canada and after comparing notes, I have come to believe that a single-payer healthcare system would probably be the best system of healthcare for our country, even though it would have its drawbacks.

There are a lot of Trump supporters among the people I pastor and live in the midst of. I grew up in the Midwest. This is my world. These are my people. They are not evil people. Although there are overt racists sprinkled among them, and they're not averse to an off-color joke or two, they could only be termed racists in that "systemic white privilege and access to power" sort of way that makes every white person a de-facto racist and a person of color, no matter how bigoted and violent, forever immune from the charge. They do not understand the internal logic of this position at all. Once again, I watch them very closely as they deal with my brown daughter. I do not want anyone to hurt my precious child's heart. I have only had two sour instances, both by very old and very set-in-their-ways individuals. Everyone else's behavior has been uniformly kind and fair.

They are people who don't recognize themselves as privileged by their race. Rather, they feel like they've been beaten down and backed into a corner by powerful forces they don't understand and have no idea how to combat. They feel spit upon by the Accela Corridor/Silicon Valley/Hollywood/university crowd. Their jobs are ephemeral. Their wages are stagnant. Their health care costs are skyrocketing. They are fed a constant diet of propaganda and spin by the media, and mostly they recognize it as such. Thus it made them slightly happy that reporters were being knocked around a little bit at Trump rallies.

They genuinely do not understand the worldview of people on your side of the fence. To them, you look like people who have either lost your minds or are in league (wittingly or unwittingly) with the devil. They have been told that they can't say or think things which they believe to be true, some of which Bill and Hillary Clinton and the New York Times said themselves 20 years ago. Violating these imposed norms can be very costly socially, educationally, and professionally. They see a naked power play here. They resent the hell out of it. I think their anger is not without some warrant. Trump channeled all of it, and manipulated his way into the White House on the power of it.

I recognized him as a demagogue the first time I heard him speak. He immediately put me in mind of 1920's Hitler. But his siren call was quite difficult to resist at times. I damned near decided to pull the lever for him when Comey announced that he was able to comb through more than a half a million emails in a few days, and everything was fine. I've got Latino family members, who I love (but whose parents came illegally) and even I said a quiet "Hell yeah!" when he responded to Vincente Fox's jibe about the border wall by saying, "You're gonna pay for it, and it just got taller."

He speaks to the dark gods in our blood, and it's sometimes hard for even me, who clearly understands his methodology, to quiet them.

Many of my people quietly wonder why they aren't supposed to engage in identity politics when literally everyone else is playing identity politics, and that's supposedly fine. It's very hard to answer them in a way they can hear and appropriate when Trump supporters are being beaten by black or Latino thugs, which we now know we're probably paid for by the shadier elements of the Clinton machine.

Trump is seductively evil, and you're absolutely right. The Left almost single-handedly created the lab, the test tube, and the growth medium in which he was hatched. Hillary Clinton's very presence in the race was the impulse that powered his launch.

Your column, and several others in the same vein which have come out since the election, have given me hope. I would like nothing more than to sit down and listen, and be listened to, by those on the other side of the divide. Thanks to your column, I believe that with mutual understanding and goodwill, we could find a way to move forward together that addresses everyone's concerns. I am a man of very little influence, but if you ever want to reach across the dividing wall, you will find my hand reaching back."

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