Tolerance in Trump’s America

Amid fear and despair, we’ll have to find ways to talk to each other.

 

I live in Los Angeles — a sprawling, polluted, overpopulated megacity — alongside millions of busy strangers.

I like to describe the feel of the place as apocalyptic. But the truth is Los Angeles has a way of functioning despite the odds. I often think about this when I rush out of my apartment each morning and join the flow of cars on the freeway: I can always count on city workers picking up the trash and fixing roads, around the clock. Families, including mine, seem to manage their busy schedules and still spend time together. We endure long hours inside our cars, stuck in traffic, yet we rationalize this mindless activity day in and day out.

Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse cities in America, a hotbed of cultural cross-pollination — the kind of place where we refused to believe that Donald Trump was real.

Pedestrians, and signs in Spanish and English, are reflected in a Lincoln Heights storefront window. Although Latinos are the majority here and the Spanish language predominantes, Cantonese, Vietnamese and English can also be heard along Broadway Avenue.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra

My neighbors are a couple of middle-class Asian and Latino families, an African-American couple, retirees. When we run into each other, we say hello, that’s about it. But in the past few months, as this election’s rhetoric heated up and our mailboxes filled up with angry campaign mailers, I felt an urge to get to know them. As a middle class, college-educated, immigrant woman living in the urban West, I’d wonder if they were in my camp, the kind of Angelenos I’ve come to expect in this huge global city: politically liberal, tolerant, willing to embrace multiculturalism.

Then, one day this fall, I noticed a Trump sign in the window of an apartment a couple of blocks away, along with more than a few “Make America Great Again!” bumper stickers on cars parked in the neighborhood. Still, I refused to accept the possibility of a Trump win. I was confident that the rest of the West — and a majority of voters — shared my logic, that we’d elect the most decent candidate, someone who did not espouse the racist myth that America’s greatness is in its past.

Call me naive. Now we’re all living in a Trump America. Today, there’s a palpable sense of despair coursing through the city, especially among immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews. For me, there’s more than despair. There is real fear.

Three days after the election, I boarded a flight from Denver to Los Angeles. From the back of the plane, I watched a Salvadoran family — mom, dad and three young daughters under the age of 10 — as they tried to find seats that would allow them to stick together. The mom spoke to her oldest daughter in Spanish, telling her to make her way to her seat, alone. Then, in English, she asked fellow passengers if they wouldn’t mind switching, so that she could be with her other kids.

Stuck between two men occupying the aisle and window seats, I could hear my neighbors exchanging complaints about the Salvadoran woman: “Does she not know how to read her seat assignments?” “Speak English, you’re in America.”

Three days is all it took to embolden bigots everywhere, I thought. Before the election, I would have felt the impulse to shame these men in public. This time, I opted for quiet civility, telling myself I’d speak up if it continued. I closed my eyes. I picked up my novel and read. I put on headphones for a while. A couple of hours later, as we began our descent, I met the gaze of the young white male next to me. He wore a white T-shirt and jeans; a dragon tattoo wrapped around his left arm.

“Do you live here?” he asked. His name was Chris and he was 24, from a military family in Colorado Springs. We quickly moved on from small talk and got straight to the topic of the election. “I didn’t vote, but my candidate won,” he said, almost in disbelief. 

Chris couldn’t articulate why he supported Trump, beyond the fact that, at home, everyone else seemed to. He looked like a tough guy, but when he spoke his demeanor was gentle. Like his father and his friends, he was afraid of terrorists and criminals crossing the border, and he believed Trump when he promised he would get rid of all of them.

I let him speak. For those of us who believe in tolerance, the challenge now is twofold: We must keep standing up for our principles, but, increasingly, we must also engage with the other side. This was to be his first time in Los Angeles, Chris went on, a place he hoped to move to some day. “I’ve always wanted to come check it out for myself,” he confessed, as the plane swept over the vastness of my city. “I imagine there is something here for everyone.”

Contributing editor Ruxandra Guidi writes from Los Angeles, California. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...