Speaking at NKU about Donald Trump, but not about Donald Trump
Two days after the November 2016 election, I spoke at Northern Kentucky University to a few hundred first year students. What would I tell them?
After the election, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that Trump won. Annie came down stairs in tears. We knew what it could mean for our health insurance that we buy from healthcare.gov. We’re heavy insurance users. Between paying our premium and hitting our deductible in February, we paid about $20,000 in 2017.
Could our son with autism be seen as a preexisting condition and denied insurance that pays for his therapy?
The election seemed to validate racism, sexual assault, and a lack of basic decency, kindness, and empathy.
I decided I was going to talk to the NKU students about Donald Trump. I thought about all the people I’ve met on my travels and what I’ve learned from them. There was Amilcar, the migrant from Honduras, who risked his life to come to the U.S. so he could better support his daughters. There was the time in 2007 that I was outside of mosque in Bangladesh when it let out, and–this is sad to admit–I was afraid. According to the news, people like them were not supposed to like people like me. Spending a month there having dinner with families and even celebrating a birthday party showed me otherwise.
I put together a talk that was against everything I felt that Donald Trump stood for, but I didn’t mention him or the election once. Here are some of the notes I jotted down:
About the election but not about election
Meet people who are different, embrace diversity, and find ways to connect.
I was different, society wanted me to be something else.
Surround yourself with diversity.
Our responsibility is beyond our own family, state and country.
Do I know my neighbors? Will I let our differences divide us?
How can you be afraid of people you haven’t met.
The world is complex – the world isn’t binary – good and evil.
Travel increases caring.
Listen to people who disagree with you
I don’t think it was the best talk I’ve put together. The flow from story-to-story wasn’t the smoothest, but it FELT GOOD. It was therapeutic. And even if it was a bit disjointed, I felt everything I had to say. It felt important.
I’m very anti-Trump. I don’t post about it on social media or write about it much. Because I feel that all of my work is pro-connection, pro-diversity, pro-empathy, pro-travel, pro-compassion, pro-justice, pro-truth, pro-social responsibility, and those are all things I consider to be anti-Trump.
Recently my opinion of the president was shared in The Guardian in a piece written by Gary Younge, who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know as he has written about Muncie before and after the election.
Here is the passage from Gary’s story that reflect some of my feelings:
Griffin Timmerman, six, is a runner. Given the opportunity, the small, lively boy, who has autism and prefers to play on his own, would just keep going. He once ran into the road; this is one of the reasons why his family moved out of Muncie, Indiana, to the country, giving him more space and free rein for his energy.
It is also why his family paid $20,000 (£14,500) in health insurance last year, which they bought on the Obamacare exchange. For that they got, among other things, a regular assistant for Griffin, who accompanied him to school and helped him integrate socially with his peers. “It’s crazy,” says Kelsey, his father, who is an author. “It’s our biggest expense as a family. But since it got Griffin what he needed, we were prepared to pay it again this year.”
Only this year was not like other years. Since Donald Trump took office, the Republicans have not been able to get rid of Obamacare. But by eliminating many of the provisions in the legislation they have managed to make it even more expensive and less available. “There used to be three or four companies that offered what we needed,” says Kelsey. “This year there was one and it didn’t cover an in-school therapist.”
The last time I saw Kelsey, he was watching the presidential election results come in with a couple of friends. As Pennsylvania fell to Trump, and Wisconsin and Michigan wavered, the nation’s self-image changed overnight – it was not the country many thought it was. When we meet again, it is Griffin’s first day back at school without a teacher’s aide. Kelsey’s wife has been awake at night worrying about it. “Trump’s win came at great personal cost to us,” says Kelsey. “It makes it tough to drive around town and see the Trump signs and bumper stickers.”
The article ended with a quote from me:
“I hoped that after he won he would sober up to the demands of his office, like a drunk dunking their head in the water,” says Kelsey. “But it’s just far worse than I imagined it could be and is having real consequences. Maybe we had to go through this to get to a better place. I just hope he doesn’t do too much permanent damage in the meantime.”
But here’s the thing, there were other people mentioned in the story who I know and respect, who see things differently. My friend Ted said: “Trump hasn’t done just a good job. He’s done a great job!”
I had an office at the incubator Ted manages. When my last book came out, Ted threw me a banana-split book launch party.
My friend Brad also spoke positively about Trump in the story:
Brad Daugherty, a small business owner who voted for Trump because he favoured less business regulation and wanted an anti-abortionist on the supreme court, carries new pairs of warm socks with him in his car in case he meets homeless people.
I strongly disagree with their political views. This wouldn’t come as a surprise to either of them. In fact, I see their support of Trump going against many of their values. We might disagree on this point as well.
A friend of mine, who is politically aligned with me, shared the story on Facebook. One commenter said something on the lines that they knew there was something wrong with the incubator that Ted runs, and that they won’t be going there any more. I like to think this is an extreme view: We should only associate with people and places who vote like us.
But I see it becoming more and more common online and in real life.
“If you support football player kneeling, unfriend me now!”
“If you support Trump, don’t talk to me!”
Maybe I’m naive, but I think we can resist, and stand against the president’s actions without abandoning relationships. The divisions in our community are what Trump capitalized on in the first place.
I live in rural Indiana, and was born in raised in rural Ohio. Some of the most important people in my life are conservative Trump supporters. I love republicans, not all of them, mind you (I don’t love all democrats either), but some of them. I feel like it’s not a choice. We’re friends and we’re family. We build our community together. We’ve faced loss and hardship together.
We shouldn’t follow the lead of our divisive politicians; they should follow ours.