Why I regret writing about trying to understand Trump supporters

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how I was done trying to understand Trump supporters after having spent four years at it. While I try to only write things I am proud of, I occasionally write something that doesn't sit well with me after it's published. This is one of those times.

I have messages in my inbox from people thanking me for that piece, saying it helped them understand their loved ones better, so I know some people found some parts of it helpful. But ultimately, I would take it back if I could. Please bear with me while I try to explain why.

My goal as a writer is to put stories and ideas out into the world that will, in some small way, help humanity progress toward a better future. Sometimes that means writing something positive that lifts people's spirits and gives them hope. Sometimes it means writing about injustices and hardships that need to be brought into the light and better understood. Sometimes it means challenging the status quo and helping people see things in a different way.

It also means avoiding things that I think are ultimately counterproductive to progress. While I don't shy away from tackling issues, I avoid writing about partisan politics because I see our two-party system as inherently divisive. I try to avoid writing about specific politicians as well, unless they've done something praiseworthy. There are more than enough political pundits putting out hot takes these days, and I have no desire to add my voice to that fray.

These past four years, however, have tested my convictions on these fronts, both internally and externally.


Issues that should not be considered partisan or divisive have become so in the eyes of many, making it nearly impossible to have a conversation that doesn't devolve into labels and generalizations and assumptions. When I write about racism or climate change or human rights—even basic public health at this point—I'm automatically placed into a political box, despite having never aligned myself with any political party. Even if I write about objective reality and verifiable fact, I'm placed into a political box, despite that making no sense whatsoever.

Labeling and categorizing is a natural tendency that's easy to slip into, especially in our current climate. But all it does is create an "us vs. them" filter on everything we discuss. I think that's the point of most political rhetoric, actually. "Us vs. them" is the simplest way to gain political power. Demonizing and "othering" make it easy to maintain.

The sneaky thing is that once that tendency takes hold, it starts to feel not just right, but righteous to "other" the people we see as on the wrong side of history or democracy or justice. It can even feel necessary and truthful to put them in the "other" category. Then it starts to feel okay to state the truth about them more and more harshly. Then we throw some potshots in, because those people deserve it. It so easily escalates from "they're wrong" to "they're insane" to "they're evil."

That's literally how everyone justifies division, on every "side," in every political system. But where does that lead us in the long run?

Whenever divisions seem intractable, I like to zoom out and look at the big picture. It's not like we haven't seen what we're seeing now in various times and places throughout history, from toxic partisanship to populist demagoguery. So the real root of the problem isn't the individual people or politics we keep arguing and complaining about, but something more fundamental.

In my opinion, the root cause of nearly all of our issues is people's inability or unwillingness to recognize that we are all "us." The lack of recognition of our essential oneness as human beings is manifested in all kinds of "othering"—racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious prejudice, political party prejudices, and so on and so on. But no matter the form, the root of most human problems is the "othering" of a group of people. My group = good. Other group = bad. So simple, but so wrong, every time.

I talked in my Trump supporters post about people wanting problems and solutions to be simple, but I should have been clearer that none of us is immune to that pull. We are all tempted to jump down the "us vs. them" hole because problems are simpler down there. It's easier to think in dichotomous groups and "sides" than to wade through complex ideas and nuanced beliefs on an individual level. Everything in our political discourse is designed to draw us into that hole.

And I allowed myself to fall in when I wrote that piece. I made Trump supporters a "them," and by doing so, perpetuated the very thing I see as the root of the problem. I fed the beast I was fighting while trying to fight it.

In the big picture, the beast isn't one individual with power or one political party or the people who support both of those things, no matter how it may appear in this era. The beast is the human tendency towards prejudice—a tendency that we have to overcome in ourselves and convince others to overcome in themselves.

How to get people to understand this is the challenge. But I know that categorizing a group of people in a way that they feel belittles or insults them isn't going to get us where we need to go, no matter how justified it feels. It's just not.

Cynicism about the redeemability of our fellow Americans won't get us where we want to go, and writing off millions of human beings will just have us living in perpetual limbo. Lasting solutions to our problems aren't going to be found in political boxes, and they aren't going to be found down an "us vs. them" hole, either.

We all have to decide how we are going to use our voice and how we're going to contribute to humanity's progress. I'd rather focus on the universal truths at the heart of the issues we face and work toward solutions in that way, rather than analysis of the political labels and ideological "sides" that only serve to divide us further.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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