By Nicky Sontag
Monday, March 21st there was a Trump supporter standing with a sign that read “You Will Submit to Trump” at the intersection by LBC and the CST. As I have never knowingly interacted with someone who supports Trump and because I read Gabe Penk’s piece in the last edition of Fully Present and have had many conversations about the need to listen to those we tend to dismiss, I elected to try to engage him in a conversation. We ended up talking for over an hour about many different topics, most of which he, Mike, flavored with xenophobic, sexist, horrible, racist, disgusting claims and beliefs. Needless to say, it was extremely hard to listen to those words fall from another’s mouth, let alone stay calm and at least attempt to listen and not dismiss. And often, both during and after our conversation, I questioned the productivity of listening to such fucked up bullshit. I still don’t know if it was a good move; on the one hand I was terrified, angry, and pissed off afterwards, but on the other hand I believe I have a slightly better understanding of where his rhetoric comes from and I am therefore able to contextualize him as a human (capable of laughter, a smile, a name, a handshake, having friends, role models, and a phone #… yes, we exchanged #s) instead of just some dark gunk clogging the air with inflammatory language and violence. No doubt, he did those things, too. But that’s not all he is. And if we are to ask Mike, as I did, to rethink the conflation of Islam and Arabs and terrorism because each individual is unique and is deserving of the context in which they breath, and eat and sleep, is it not equally important to do the same with those we radically disagree with?
And yet, considering the conviction with which I wrote that last sentence, I also believe we must not romanticize our ability to contextualize. About halfway through our conversation the public safety SUV drove up next to us, rolling down the window and pulling past me so as to signal the driver wanted to talk to Mike. What was initially slight annoyance and then appreciation for public safety’s engagement with Mike, turned to confusion as I heard the public safety officer, Travis Williams, conversing amiably with Mike. Although I could not hear the majority of their conversation, I did hear Mike ask Travis when he was getting off work that evening before the car pulled off. I immediately, as you are probably doing right now, jumped to loads of conclusions about Travis: that he and Mike are friends who hang out and probably talk about politics, social, or economic issues, or possibly discuss women in their lives – all of which would be, at least from the side of Mike, contaminated by his disturbing beliefs. Upon reflecting on my reaction to this interaction I noticed something strange: it is easier for me to contextualize Mike in the limited knowledge I have of him than it is for me to do so with Travis. Although Travis is closer in relation to me (in association with Earlham) and is in charge of my safety, and therefore supposedly less of an “other,” even the possibility of his association with sexist, racist, xenophobic ideas is more difficult to reconcile. Given that I have never talked to Travis before and know nothing about his life outside of the fact he works for public safety, shouldn’t I treat him with the same exact openness with which I engaged Mike? Is my inability to do so because I fear Travis might hold similar racist, sexist, xenophobic views and that his charge to protect the Earlham campus is therefore severely at risk? And if this lack of openness is driven by fear (like so much of Trump’s own rhetoric) is this not the exact kind of barrier a believer in Bernie Sanders’ phrase “Love trumps hatred” should fight succumbing to?
I highlight the interaction between Mike and Travis not to incite investigation into Travis or distrust of public safety (because those things would be based on assumptions) but instead because a) it forces us to ask hard questions about who we trust, how and why we trust, and the lack of humanity and agency given to those we forgo trusting or contextualizing, and b) to bring it to the campus’s attention because, frankly, I did not know what to make of it.
If you are interested in learning about where some of the ideas, language, and beliefs surrounding Trumps support are coming from, I received several resources from Mike via text: Stefan Molyneux, Black Pigeon Speaks, Rebel Media, Russia Insider, Front Page Magazine, Pamela Geller, Next News Network, Infowars.
A quick Google or YouTube search will suffice.