Navigating relationships with people who voted against you

I was interviewed by Kirk LaPointe on Vancouver’s Roundhouse Radio about this website last night. You can listen here: http://cirh.streamon.fm/listenlater-pl-6080

Today what seems to be going on is that we’re struggling with how to navigate relationships with people who voted for Trump and think we should just be cool with it. I want to offer you a framework for making those decisions for yourself.

Two things about this:
1. I am a Christian and was raised ELCA Lutheran, so a lot of the language and concepts I’m using here come from that tradition. If these words don’t click for you, translate into language that makes sense to you.
2. I’m assuming that we’re all traumatized by the last year and especially this week, so our first priority needs to be protecting ourselves and each other so we have a secure place to begin to heal. This is simply a physical and medical reality. You can’t leapfrog to emotional health and strength just because you want to.

A person who voted for Trump voted against you. (Unless you are a straight white cisgender Evangelical Christian man, in which case they voted against someone you love.) They voted to discriminate against Black and Latinx people, to dissolve same-sex marriages and destabilize families, to do harm to transgender people, to ridicule people with disabilities, to deport immigrants, to isolate and register a religious group, and to sanction violence and sexual assault against women. They voted to scare children and encourage bullies. They voted to incite violence and harassment, and make the country less safe and stable.

It does not matter if this is what they intended with their vote or not. They can tell you (and themselves) that they voted for him for any number of his bizarre and unlikely promises to them, but the effect is that they put someone in power who is threatening your safety and health. If someone trips and stabs you with a knife, you are still stabbed even though they didn’t do it on purpose.

Some of these people really didn’t think about what they were doing when they voted for him. But that’s not your fault. You are not required to clean up other people’s mistakes, especially when those mistakes hurt you. You definitely do not have to give anyone a pass for doing something massively stupid (because they knew all the information about Trump that you know) that hurts you just because they didn’t think it through all the way.

So what do you do? I see a few levels of action possible:

a. Cut off all contact. This is totally legit if it’s what you need to do. They don’t get to guilt you into letting them hurt you again. It’s absolutely unreasonable for someone to ask/guilt/manipulate someone they hurt into continuing to maintain a relationship with them. And it’s enraging if they ask you to have sympathy for them for having hurt you. Just no.

b. Limited contact, no real investment in the relationship. You keep the real parts of you for yourself and just let them see what feels safe for you to keep the peace. This is probably the best option for coworkers.

c. Allow them to work toward reconciliation with you. If they want to be in your lives, they need to show that they understand what their decision did to you, accept responsibility, and then work toward restitution. A simple apology doesn’t cut it. They need to work actively to make amends for what they did. What restitution consists of for you is up to you. For me it would mean needing them to financially support organizations that protect us (like the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center), research issues of justice (starting with reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander), and advocate in their own lives among their friends and family for non-sexist and non-racist policies and language. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this happened? You’ll never know unless you ask for it.

d. Accept their apology and allow them back into your life. If you feel strong enough to do this, I am not going to tell you not to. But be very careful that you aren’t choosing this option out of fear or guilt or manipulation. Remember that if you’ve grown up in a sick system in which you were forced to prove your worth, it will be your instinct to violate your own boundaries in able to be able to receive what feels like love. Now is actually an excellent time to start experimenting with what happens if you maintain your own boundaries even if it means not being approved of. (Spoiler: Other people who just accept you at face value show up out of nowhere to be your friends.)

Note that none of those options include you apologizing for anything they did, or for your feelings.

There are people who knew exactly what they were doing when they voted for Trump and how it would affect you. In that case, the only real options that don’t harm you more are for you to cut them out of your life entirely or just allow the contact you have but limit your investment in them (the workplace option). Also know that you are never going to get restitution or even acknowledgement from them. They will never get their comeuppance. They will never figure it out, and will continue to complain and blame others forever. That’s got nothing to do with you.

Hey, but what about forgiveness, Magda?

It’s funny that you asked. I have some strong feelings about forgiveness, both as a concept and in action. First, it’s entirely too soon to even be talking about forgiveness. You can’t forgive someone who’s still actively hurting you, and if they’re trying to gaslight you on Facebook by telling you you need to “get over it” or “just get along” or any of that other tripe, they’re still actively hurting you. Do not participate in your own harm.

Second, asking for forgiveness is almost always punching down. It’s always men asking women for forgiveness, white people asking POC for forgiveness, cisgendered people asking transgender people for forgiveness, etc. Asking for forgiveness just becomes another tool to manipulate marginalized people into giving up their own agency.

Third, in this specific situation, you can’t actually even give forgiveness, because it’s not just about you. Your friend’s vote hurt you, but it also hurt me and our children and everyone else’s kids and POC and sexual assault victims and [insert enormously long list of people Trump and Pence want to harm here]. You can’t forgive them for hurting me. So it doesn’t do them any good.

Now, I do think that forgiveness as a process that helps you recover from trauma is important. But in the initial concept for this website I wasn’t even going to get to that until week 5, so it’s waaaaay too early to talk about that. We will get to it, though, because it’s another tool that gives you yourself.

I hope this helps you decide how to deal with the people you’re struggling with right now. You don’t have to make decisions right now. It’s perfectly ok to not say anything to them, to tell them you need space to think about it, to disappear entirely so they can’t instigate a conversation about it with you. Do what you need to do to protect yourself and don’t get sucked into comforting anyone who harmed you.

This is eventually going to feel better. In the meantime, if you’re still really anxious, click through to this article and listen to the song “Weightless” by Marconi Union that was specifically recorded to calm anxiety. I doubted, but it does. (Don’t listen to it while you’re driving.)

All my love,

Magda

Author: Magda

I teach managers how to love their teams and have their teams love working for them. I also write the parenting and management site askmoxie.org.