I hate Trump supporters. Especially the working class ones.
The white dudes I grew up with who work in construction alongside Latinx people but who want to “build the wall.” The family friends on Medicare who celebrated Trump’s tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy.
I want to punch them in the face. I want to hold them down and force feed them the awareness that the rich and powerful are swindling them.
But that feels shitty. Not because it’s wrong of me to want to do those things.
Because hate burns. It tenses up my shoulders and my gut. It makes me forget to breathe, to feel my feet on the ground. Hating ends up hurting me.
The 5th century Buddhist scholar Buddhaghoṣa wrote:
By [getting angry] you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.
Here’s how the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön puts it in her book “Start Where You Are”:
When you get to tell someone off, you might feel pretty good for a while, but somehow the sense of righteous indignation and hatred grows, and it hurts you.
It’s hard to let go of hate—even if it’s burning shit. Part of me thinks letting go is rolling over and giving up. I’m afraid of what would happen if there was no one to fight back against Trump supporters.
But another, deeper part of me knows they’re human beings. And like all human beings, they are suffering.
They just have a different story for why they suffer and who’s to blame. A story that happens to benefit the rich and powerful. A story, of course, that endangers people who don’t look like me.
But because you don’t hate someone doesn’t mean you can’t hold them accountable, set boundaries, and defend yourself and others. As social worker and author Brené Brown says:
The most compassionate people I’ve interviewed over the past 13 years were absolutely the most boundaried … loving and generous and really straightforward with what’s okay and what’s not okay.
I once heard a story in a meditation class taught by Kaira Jewel Lingo that helps me navigate all this complexity. It comes from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who lived through the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
Hanh tells of a 12-year-old girl who was raped by a pirate while trying to return to Vietnam after the war. The girl jumped in the ocean and drowned herself.
“When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate,” Nhat Hanh writes. “You naturally take the side of the girl.”
But, he says, when he paused and looked more deeply, he saw it differently.
I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate … I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
Can you imagine? Seeing your homeland occupied and destroyed. Watching your friends and family get slaughtered. Hearing about horrific things happening to your people. And still not hating.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s story reminds me to look for myself in Trump supporters. I know that hate they feel. I’ve felt that same fear. I’ve hurt someone I didn’t mean to because I was afraid. I’m pissed and terrified about all the problems in the world. I’m human too.
If Thich Nhat Hanh can do it. If angel Kyodo williams, a Black queer Buddhist teacher, can see the fear in Trump supporters. Then I — a white, cisgendered, heterosexual man who grew up fishing and shooting guns — can too.
I’m a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. If you’d like to work with me on your meditation practice or being more mindful, reach out. Get my writing straight to your email inbox here.