October 4, 2016.
“Here we are, light unshown;
One round heart, one round home.”
- Apocalypse Lullaby, The Wailin’ Jennys
There’s been this controversy locally about the upcoming election. Shocking, I know. But there’s a pretty good mix of folks here in Iowa, everyone from hard-core hippies living off the grid to industrial farmers who have probably been working their land for generations. So while I and most of my friends will be voting for Hillary this November, there are also a pretty good handful of Trump signs around. Big signs.
One of these, surrounded by other, tinier signs, stood at the corner of a major intersection. Which in this little town actually means a four-way stop. But nevertheless a place with a lot of visibility and traffic. So when someone spray-painted over the “T” in Trump to make the sign read, “RUMP”, a lot of people saw that, it was pretty hard to miss. The owner of the sign then placed another sign atop the original that read something like, “How Liberal Democrats respect your rights.”
When I saw that second sign, I got a little bit angry - my first thought was, you don’t know it was a Democrat. It could have been a Libertarian, someone from the Green Party, even a disgruntled Republican. Or some drunk college kids. But even I had to reluctantly admit that Democrat was the likely choice.
The sign stood up there for another week, a pretty good illustration of the kind of divisive and bitter rhetoric that has marked this election cycle. And then last weekend, maybe after the second debate, maybe after Trump’s video came out - someone tore this 4' by 8' sign apart and left it in pieces on the ground. It sat there for a few more days and I wondered what would become of it, or if maybe this was the end.
Today I drove up to that same intersection and saw this man putting his sign back together, and something about it broke my heart. I found myself driving through the intersection, turning around, parking my car and walking over to him. He was kneeling on the ground and taping the pieces back together and he was about 90% there. And there was something about this picture that made me feel like, I know this pain. I know the pain of being hurt anonymously, I know the pain of being sucker-punched, I know the pain of being disrespected and misunderstood, I know the pain of being painted with a broad brush.
So I came up to him, told him I was a Democrat and that I was really sorry for what happened to his sign. Really sorry. That no matter who we vote for it’s so important that we try to be kind to each other. He said he had talked to the Democratic party, tried to get them to do some kind of talk on tolerance at the local college, something, without any luck. I get that it’s a hard sell but I could see his point.
We talked for a little bit and introduced ourselves, he seemed like a nice enough guy and I said so. He said the same of me. There could have been another conversation, what are your reasons for supporting Trump, what on earth, do these things bother you about him, what about him appeals to you, what about this video. But something in me felt like - no. Right now, this is just the time for me to apologize to him and let him know that in spite of our differences I see him as human being and I want to live in a world where people don’t rip other people’s signs apart and do hurtful things that they’ll never be accountable for.
I don’t think I could have convinced him to vote for Hillary any more than he could have convinced me to vote for Trump. But who cares. When the election is over we’ll still be neighbors and if my car gets stuck in the snow I bet he’d be as likely as anyone to pull over and help. Sometimes I think the media are all playing us for fools, constantly reminding us of everything that makes us think we’re so different from each other, painting caricatures of tax-and-spend Democrats and gun-toting Republicans.
Having this conversation with this man, I felt like - I don't know who's going to win in November, but today we both won. To hell with all the politicians and pundits, today a transgender woman who early-voted for Hillary yesterday shook hands with a man putting his Trump sign back together and to me that feels like progress.
If there’s a way forward, I know that kindness is a part of it.
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