Last summer, Donald Trump told four congresswomen, Alexandra-Ocasio Cortez among them, to go back to where they came from if they hate America so much. Yet Trump’s very first speech as a Presidential-hopeful, given in 2015, was predicated on the notion that “the American Dream is dead,” that, because of the way we have been exploited and thrown about by corruption local and abroad, hard work no longer results in wealth or prosperity as it once did.
At its core, this is the same message that Alexandra-Ocasio Cortez herself and many of her colleagues believe; that upwards social mobility is more challenging than ever before because of the sheer size of large corporations, laws lobbied by those corporations, and many other factors that render the American Dream, if not dead, on life support.
Yet Trump supporters would not say that Trump hates America; they wouldn’t tell him to go back where he comes from for pointing out glaring flaws in the ways America operates. They would say that his love for America is what motivates him to make the criticisms in the first place. Say what you will about them, but Trump supporters want nothing if not the nation to be a better place, even if their means to get there differ fundamentally from AOC’s.
“These are people that hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion … the love they have for Al-Qaeda...” Trump said this about members of Congress who disagreed with him last year. Trump often uses similar rhetoric to label those with whom he disagrees; he called the press an “ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,” and those who kneel during NFL games “sons of bitches.”
I saw it so often that kneeling during football games was framed either as “un- American” or “America-hating,” often even within my own social circles. Yet Colin Kaepernick’s statement was hugely understated and even subtle compared to the protests sweeping the nation today. Kaepernick never claimed to hate America; he wanted it to see reform for his black brothers and sisters, and if kneeling is too great an offense for that end, what was he to do? Stay silent?
He has gone on record in a TIME interview: “Once again, I’m not anti-American … I love America.” Most protests around the country are motivated to improve it, not tear it apart. It is unhelpful to frame those who disagree as “America-haters.” Even where there is chaos, protests throughout our history have been chaotic with the end of improving the way we live: think the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement. I am not necessarily supporting violence, but to call protestors at large hateful and anti-American when you disagree with their tactics is disingenuous.
According to just one non-partisan study (there are many on this subject), Americans “not only disagree, according to an in-depth study of the nation's culture wars and partisanship, they have diametrically different values and perspectives on America itself, with the pluralism that once united the country now serving to divide it.”
I strongly feel that ideas perpetuated by those I disagree with are fundamentally harmful and corrosive to the fabric of our nation; I think the kind of rhetoric Trump and many of his supporters often use undermines our ability to discuss anything at all. But it’s important for me, and others, to remember that we all want the same thing: for America to be better than it is now, and better than what it has been. American has perpetuated suffering and misery for millions, but we can’t let that fact get in the way of the reality that we can shape America into a place of further prosperity for those who are here and for those who hope to live here. We want America to prosper because we love this place, because it has been a home for prosperity even through injustice.
If we can’t even agree that those who disagree with us want what’s best, how can we have a conversation at all? Empathy becomes harder and harder as harmful rhetoric becomes louder, more cruel, and more frequent from every side of every aisle. We should not put up with the status-quo that is now before us. Language is often cutting in unhelpful ways; this is a reality that does not have to be. I’m not convinced that we are doing our best. Be thankful this Fourth of July that we are offered the opportunity every day to try harder to empathize, to fiercely debate, and to work towards something better than what we have now.