by Jasmine M. Pulido
In the 2020 presidential election, Trump won the second-highest number of votes by any U.S. presidential candidate in history. Though he still ended up losing the race, this number is nothing to sneeze at. I heard a general outcry of surprise and shock at these statistics, at how close this country was to a second Trump term, particularly from my white progressive liberal peers here in Seattle.
But why are people still so surprised?
Here in Seattle, what I often hear from well-meaning left-leaning friends is that we need to resist Trump. This social justice movement, of resisting the current administration, has been aptly named by some as “The Resistance.” But I propose we change the name to “The Acceptance.” Because if this movement is to continue alongside 72-plus- million Trump supporters, then we have to switch gears to a more long-term strategy, one of acceptance.
We need to first fully accept that Trump and the oppressive ideologies that have come with his administration are an astronomically bigger problem than we have been willing to admit so far. The surprise I’ve observed from progressive liberals is a key indicator that we are still in perpetual denial, failing to recognize how pervasive Trumpist ideals are despite having witnessed the Trump era for ourselves. If it takes looking at cold, hard voting numbers to finally see this fact then, by all means, let’s stare at the numbers. Let’s look at them until it is seared into our minds that we have way more work to do than we previously imagined.
My educational background in biology moves me to look at progressive liberal surprise during this election from a more scientific angle — a neuroscience lens. From this lens, it makes sense that resisting Trump and Trumpisms is our first reaction. The fight reflex is one of our default survival responses on a primal level. However, while this survival mechanism kicks in to temporarily boost our abilities so we can live to the next moment, it does not suffice when the danger is long-term and ongoing. For us, the initial jolt of adrenaline has worn off long ago. If we are hoping to stave off Trumpisms, we need to now adjust to a more sustainable model that transcends merely escaping immediate attack.
Despite the voting numbers squarely in front of us now, there will still be a lot of eyes trying to shut out the truth — that Trumpisms are a dynamic force in our nation despite his loss in the race. Why? Because our brains are still in a fight, flight, or freeze setting in response to the pandemic and all the targeted attacks the Trump administration has made on marginalized communities like BIPOC, women, LGBTQ, low income citizens, and undocumented immigrants. When we are in this mode, getting overwhelmed tempts us to turn to denial so we can experience some relief. Denial gives us permission to not process the complex and daunting truth that our nation is precariously perched in a tenuous place on the ideological spectrum. It gives short-term relief but it’s not a long-term solution.
Even when we try to push past denial, getting overwhelmed again can put us back into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. Also, in this frame of mind, our brains default to binary thinking to keep us safe. When we think in binary, we interpret this election’s voting numbers to mean that almost half our country is in the “bad” group.
But we need to accept that this isn’t simply about labeling a group of people (in this case, Trump supporters) that are different from us as “bad” or “evil.” Continuing from a neuroscience perspective, it makes sense to feel tempted to reduce our political polarization down to a moral matter of who gets kicked off the island and who gets to stay. When we are in danger, our brain wants to automatically label things good or bad, right or wrong, and call it a day. It requires the least amount of mental workload and gets us to safety the quickest. It is because of this programmed short-term tendency that our brain naturally rejects nuanced and multi-layered decisions. Our bodies are exhausted and our minds want a break. We grasp desperately for an easier black-and-white solution so we can rest sooner.
When our “reptilian brain” instincts attempt to hijack our mind with these thoughts,we need to remember we have a higher level of humanity available to us, one where the opportunity exists for us, our kids, and their kids to intentionally self-actualize on a multicultural spectrum. This attempt to collectively self-actualize is the real social experiment we call America. Let’s stop saying that this good vs. bad dichotomy is all it really comes down to in the grander scheme of things. It’s more complicated than that.
Let’s also take a deep breath and swallow the sobering truth that it isn’t one man who is responsible for the state of our nation even though it feels much better to blame it on one individual outside of our control. Let’s look directly at the entirety of this dumpster fire of an administration and accept that it isn’t even just about exiling a group of people who think and vote differently from us. It may feel overwhelming to accept this and it perhaps makes us feel completely powerless too. But human beings are resilient and adaptable. We will survive that feeling and that moment.
Accepting doesn’t mean we are giving up. It means the very opposite — we are opening up. It means we are finally at the very beginning of a real and transcendent solution. We are all responsible for the complicated and divisive state of our nation. We did this to ourselves … we need to accept that. Humbly and without judgment. Completely. When we accept this all on a deeper level, we reach a powerful moment — the moment we wholly understand that we can fix it too.
Jasmine Pulido is a Filipinx American writer in Seattle, WA. You can find her blog at “Shameless Jas,” where she discusses all the topics people are too ashamed to talk about, alongside unapologetically airing anything else on her mind. She enjoys forest bathing, nerdy topics, and racial-social justice. Jasmine holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with an emphasis on Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution and a minor in Psychology from the University of California San Diego.
Featured image is an adapted form of an image attributed to hnt6581; used here under a CC license.