We came to Washington DC to observe this country’s independence day through the eyes of having been away from it for eleven months.
What struck me most was how many Trump supporters there were. MAGA hats everywhere, as was the the occassional oversized “TRUMP 2020” flag. There were entire families in matching MAGA regalia too, celebrating their nationalism as a family. It made the holiday feel more like a political rally than a celebration of our nation’s history. How many of them, I wondered, were making it to the African American Museum, with its moving exhibit on slavery; to the Native American Museum, with its poignant exhibit on broken treaties by white settlers; or to the Natural Science Museum, with its compelling exhibit on climate change? Wouldn’t that be nice?
In Seattle, I’m so esconsed in a liberal bubble that I’m not accustomed to the energy of so many Trump supporters. It scared me. Upon realizing this, I sank into a deep appreciation. If we were going to experience the United States, it felt important that we do it in a way that fully represents this country, for better or worse.
None of them were outwardly aggressive towards us, and if anything I had to wonder how many received my side-eye and looks of derison as acts of aggression. That’s not the energy I want to bring into the world, so I reminded myself to lean in with curiosity. Instead of dwelling on the offense I felt they were directing at me and marginalized peoples, I reminded myself that very little of what other people do is, in fact, about us; almost all of it is a reflection on them — on their fears, their dreams, their understanding of the world and of themselves.
So instead of busying myself with judgments on their moral character, I looked into their faces with curiosity to see if I could sense what unmet needs they were trying to fill by supporting Trump. What fears were they trying to address? What constructs do they hold that overshadow their capacity to see what I see… or conversely, to see what I do not?
What I saw was a lot of desire for change. I saw young families that want a better life for their children, even if their prescription feels misguided. I saw old men and women who are afraid of letting go of a lifetime of positions that sustain them, even if that’s the right thing to do. I saw people who, like so many of my liberal friends, choose comfort over courage in their beliefs. We are more alike in our human fallacies than we think.
We didn’t stay for Trump’s speech, but I was glad to walk amongst a different crowd for a while. I will continue to fight for what I believe in, but it was a healthy reminder that in that struggle, I must also resist the temptation to deride those who believe differently than I do as being stupid or less than human. We are all trying to do the best we can in this world, some of us more capably or with deeper wisdom than others. If I wish for compassion when I unwittingly fall on the wrong side of things, I must at least extend it in kind.
That evening, after the speech had concluded, we returned to the National Mall to watch the fireworks. Had we arrived a few minutes earlier, we could’ve gotten to the areas closest to the Lincoln Memorial. Instead, we had to settle for watching from farther back behind a chain link fence, an ironic reminder that there remains much that separates us as people in this nation “indivisible”. The air was thick and stale over Washington DC that evening, so the smoke from the fireworks hung in sky, making it difficult to see the bombs bursting through the rockets’ red glare. That too, felt fitting, for our time.
The next morning, we got up and walked amongst throngs of people in Washington DC once again. Except this time, there was hardly a MAGA hat to be seen. Either they had gone home or they chose to blend back into the population following Trump’s rally. But I continued to look upon people’s faces with curiosity, asking myself the same questions, regardless of which way their colors run.
Below: Trump supporters on July 4, plus local grafitti on anti-Trump sentiment
Below: Balloons freely available, which the police made us deflate before we could approach the Lincoln Memorial
Below: Watching the fireworks, a nation divided