In the weeks since Donald Trump was elected president, nearly all of my close friends, colleagues, and family members have likened their post-election reaction to grief. “I feel like I lost a loved one.” In this respect, I, and I imagine many of you, feel something similar. The successful election of a presidential candidate who has built a campaign on a platform of lies, hate, bigotry, and intolerance is not only disappointing for social progress, it’s unsettling and frightening. It’s in this collective feeling of fear that gays, Muslims, women, Latinos, African Americans and other historically marginalized groups find common ground. Where Barack gave us hope and change, Trump bonds us with fear and loathing.
As Trump assembles a cabinet that appears to be motivated and even capable of following through with his most alarming “promises,” it’s ever more important for you and I to ground ourselves in reason and hope. Today, I offer you my story with the following intentions:
- To speak for those of us who are afraid — and to tell the Right that our fears are justified; that our worst fears have already been realized. For us, this election is about much more than just economic security.
- To tell you that hate is real – and that hate doesn’t just affect men who identify as women or women wearing hijabs.
- To ask for accountability on both sides – accountability from those who voted for Trump (your responsibility is clear); and accountability from those who didn’t. The Left must mobilize in a meaningful way that doesn’t leave this “silent majority” in the dark.
As you examine the photos, read through my account, and then carry on with the rest of your day – I ask that you keep these three intentions in mind. I can’t change what happened to me, but perhaps my story can prevent it from happening to someone else.
I was brutally attacked on the street in the East Village, New York
On the evening of May 6th 2016, while walking through the East village with two of my closest friends, I was randomly and brutally attacked. Pausing to urinate (full disclosure) and then check my phone while my friends walked ahead, I vaguely recall seeing an idle silhouette standing across the street. Thinking nothing of it, I zipped up and looked back down at my phone. Within moments the man raced across East 3rd and took aim straight at my face. My friends, who were 50 yards ahead but still close enough to hear the crack of his fist against my cheekbone, turned around to see the man beating me.
By the time they had arrived, I had lost my footing and was losing consciousness in the street while preparing to hit again while he stood nearby, preparing to inflict more pain. Before he had a chance my friend Matt ran and picked me up off the ground while my other friend, Honesty, confronted the assailant. In so many ways, I owe them my life and the peace I have today. Their brave exercise of clarity and defiance in a moment of horror not only set the stage for justice, but also healing. Less than two weeks after the assault, my boys had identified this coward in a lineup and he was arrested and charged with assault in additional to other violent crimes.
I look back on the events that followed as if I was in two different places at two different times. Ambulances make my heart stop, but walking into a hospital offers me comfort. Turning a corner on a busy urban block can feel like jumping off a cliff, but three recent back-to-back root canals completed with only topical anesthetic leave me hugging my dentist and thanking her for her compassion — regardless of the $20,000 bill insurance doesn’t cover. If I’ve learned anything these last six months, it’s this: tragedy is a paradox. I’ve seen brightest side of humanity after experiencing the fate of the worst.
Today, I’ve healed. I see differences in my face and I still have several months of dental work to go, but given the extent of damage, I look remarkably ‘the same’. I’m not brain-damaged, deformed or even scarred much. But while I look the same, I’m a different person than I was six months ago and to be honest, it still hurts. The phantom pain, nightmares, and tears revived after Trump’s election. In the immediate day’s after, it’s all I could think about. The hate, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance that Donald Trump has preached almost killed me. Call me dramatic, or simply look at the photos and draw your own conclusions.
I’m not afraid to tell my story anymore.
As a I share my story now, I regret having not opened up about it during his campaign, but I never thought I had to. Nobody wants to see this sort of violence gore. Moreover, at the time, I believed in this great nation. I believed in this great democracy and in this great dream. Now, I just want to fall asleep and wake when the dream-turned-nightmare is over.
Yet I can’t. We can’t. I couldn’t sleep my way through the early stages of my recovery when I felt “like I was trapped in my own head,” and I certainly can’t now. Our country is at a crossroad that is too important for us to sit back idling. It’s time to rebuild and re-root our reality in common experience. To show, as opposed to tell; and to listen even when our own words fall on deaf ears.
In these last three weeks, my reaction to the Trump election has evolved from horror, to mild acceptance, and now, with the most recent cabinet appointments, back to despair. We’re watching rhetoric blossom into chilling policy lead by racist, homophobic, xenophobic hawks. So much of me wants to give this man a chance, to give my conservative brothers and sisters a chance, but Trump’s transition decisions continue to make that more difficult.
How do we move forward?
At this moment, many of us refuse to recognize the Trump presidency. So how do we move forward? How do we channel our anxieties, our anger, and our pain? For starters, we need to forgive those who voted for Trump and let go in order to repair. I’m not talking about the right wing extremists, but rather the voters who checked Trump because they hated Hillary, felt left behind, viewed the establishment as corrupt, or simply wanted more from their tax returns. Do I think their vote is morally wrong and selfish? Absolutely. Do I think they’re all racist? No (but their vote suggests that they feel race issues are not important).
We don’t have to understand all of their thoughts or motives, but we should remember that most of them are only really thinking about two things: themselves and their families. We’re not different. It’s human nature, but in the face of privilege or isolation, self-centered ideology is only exacerbated. If race, gender inequality, immigration status, and sexual orientation are not issues you’ve personally experienced, it’s a lot easier to simply dismiss them as hearsay.
We can’t forget this. Maybe these Trump supporters don’t care about our issues but they’re not all bad people. While I’m not suggesting you accept the Trump presidency, I am asking you to listen to those who support him and dig into their reasoning. Their voice, though often stained, matters just as much as ours. Maybe, just maybe, if we can listen, they will too. If you believe we’re stronger together, then understand that togetherness takes compromise. It takes soul searching, grieving, and asking why when you finally understand the who or what.
Once we’ve opened that door, we need to mobilize our voice and clarify our objectives. We need to take responsibility for our mistakes and shortcomings, to ease our tendency to dismiss those with less progressive ideals and to recognize that we need to be leaders – not just for the disenfranchised – but for the whole country. If we can forgive, listen, and assemble a clear voice we can right these wrongs.
An appeal to Trump supporters
Before I sign off, I want to use this opportunity to make an even more urgent appeal to all Trump supporters:
While I respect your independent reasons for voting as you have, my face (both healed and damaged) staunchly disagrees. At this very moment, half of America is consumed with fear because of the words – now emerging as policy – of our future president. We wonder whether we belong in or are even welcome in Trump’s America. Not because of speculation, but because of we’ve been told. So please DO NOT suggest that our fears are not justified.
Does your distaste for the politicians and policies of the previous administration truly justify a vote for Trump? Does your economic stance permit you to turn a blind eye to the bully who has repeatedly threatened to uproot the foundation of modern America? Realize it or not, a vote for Trump is blatant approval of the bigotry, intolerance, and hate that he has preached throughout this campaign. Maybe you wouldn’t do or say these things, but giving a blanket vote to someone who has repeatedly gone on the record to shame, suppress, and belittle is no different than closing your eyes when the cheater cheats, liar lies, or the assailant beats.
Maybe you can sit idle, but I can’t and won’t. At the very least, I ask that you listen and attempt to empathize with all sides. I ask that you take the responsibility of your vote seriously. I ask that you hold this man – as well as yourselves – accountable for what appear to be some of the most uncertain days of our modern lives. I hope my fears are overblown, but until we have full resolution, I give you this plea, my promise for accountability, my story, peace, and love.
Joel Dixon currently resides in NYC where he works in design and new development for Compass. An old soul, extrovert, and fitness enthusiast — today, Joel is healthy, single, and living life like it’s golden.