Surviving Trump


Amy Selwyn is a storyteller, writer, and dog mom. The views and opinions expressed in this article are hers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.

Last Tuesday morning, I cast my vote for the first female president of the United States. At 57 years of age, I was alive to bear witness to the night we voted to shatter that glass ceiling by electing Hillary Clinton as our next leader. I voted for Hillary because I believed in her, I believed in her agenda for social progress and I believed in continuing the work of the Obama mandate.

Leaving the polls, I felt euphoric. And so, so hopeful and excited.

By 10:30 pm on election night (8 November, 2016), my world foundation was destroyed.

Everything I believed about America — how we behave, how we shelter the vulnerable, how we hold as self-evident the truth that says all men and women are created equal — was in tatters. I was desperate, panicked and shaken.

That was five days ago.

Today, I am sad. I am disgusted. I am furious. I am outraged. I am shocked.

I am also wide awake.

This may be the hidden “gift” in what feels to me as the darkest moment in my country’s history. Namely, that a loud, clanging, horrid alarm bell has gone off and, in its unceasing insistence, is going to get me up and into active participation with democracy. I’m gonna work day and night to save it and preserve it.

(Let’s just say the craziest thing happens. Let’s say Trump and Pence turn out to be really progressive leaders who effect positive and radical change. Well, then I’ll rejoice and still be glad I woke up. For the record, I harbor little hope on that one…)

It’s early days. I’ve come up with five things I am committing to right now to help me — and possibly others — get through the next four years. And let me just say what I mean by “get through”. It goes way beyond survival. It means actively working to thwart every single friggin’ attempt to curb our civil liberties, to institutionalize racism, to resist turning inward and isolationist when the world is so obviously interconnected (and, let’s face it, where we’ve left huge messes around the planet). To stand up and speak out and not take bigotry and demagoguery lying down.

Here’s my opening list. Please, I welcome thoughts from others. It has taken on a sad meaning in the last six days, but let’s be what Barack Obama told us to be. Fired Up. Ready to Go.

1. Be civil. Show respect.

There will be many arguments, many discussions. Tweets, posts on Facebook. I will not devolve into Fox News-style screaming matches. I will call people, including my friends and people whose beliefs and opinions mirror my own, on it when they show disrespect. I will not ridicule another’s opinion; that is Trump-like. That is base. Instead, I’m going to say, “I disagree because…”. Social media allows and even encourages us to behave like bullies and a**holes. I will reject it.

When they go low, we go high.

2. Actively get out of my own filter bubble.

Here’s mine: educated, liberal, white, middle class, Jewish, Northeast, Ivy League, socially progressive, multilingual, well-traveled.

And just about everyone in my social media networks and friends/family group can be described in many if not all of the same terms. I know very few people who voted for Trump. I commit to finding some and listening. Speaking, too, but listening, most of all.

I also commit to reading views from “the other side”. There is much written and much available on why people feel Trump is the answer. I will read some pieces like this. And try to understand the deeper story, the human story beneath the facts and figures and use/abuse of statistics.

3. Be an architect of an empathy bridge.

Get friends talking. Get us discussing — arguing, yes, but with respect and civility — and get us listening. Work hard (and it will be hard, no doubt) to explore “the other side”. Not to reach consensus. We’re not going to and we don’t need to. That’s the whole point. This isn’t about uniformity. This is about learning to tolerate difference. To appreciate it. To see its value.

Understanding is the goal, not persuasion, conversion or agreement.

4. Double my support of organizations actively working to preserve human rights and protect our environment.

I am going to take whatever I gave last year (because writing a check was my primary form of involvement) and I will double that figure. I’ll aim to triple it, in truth. It will mean giving up something else, because the budget is already stretched. Supporting the groups that protect the vulnerable — African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, gay people, the disabled, Jews, religious minorities, women and refugees, plus our wildlife, our wilderness, the air we breathe, climate research, and on and on.

5. Speak up. Speak out. Don’t leave the speaking to others.

I used to wonder why people would “bother” with protests when all they could only muster were 10 or 12 locals picketing in front of the town hall. I defined protest as huge, vast and newsworthy. Millions on the mall in DC.

I don’t see it that way anymore. Because the truth is, I remember driving past those 10 or 12 locals. Their signs and their chants made an impression.

I’m going to do more than write a check. I’m going to speak up and speak out against every liberty threatened, every vulnerable person placed at risk, every assault on and affront to this Union and our beloved, precious Constitution and Bill of Rights.


These are my starting points. I welcome other ideas, respectfully expressed. How can we come together as a people — right and left, conservative and liberal, man and woman, black and white, you name it — and fight for what many of us, myself included, took for granted and always assumed would be preserved?

We can — and must — get fired up. And be 100% ready to go.

This story first appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.

The most colorful countries


From all shades of blue to rainbow-like color schemes or fiery skies, one of the things I love most about travelling is discovering colorful places. It inspires me deeply and offers great insight into local culture and traditions. Often I feel as though color lets a place come to life and it’s that feeling of vibrancy I carry with me long after. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I collated photographs from my recent adventures through Canada, into Europe, throughout Northern Africa, over China, and right down to the tip of Aotearoa [New Zealand]. Continue reading The most colorful countries

Thanksgiving and Native Americans


Photo: fivehanks

Forty-one years ago my Native community began a November “Harvest Dinner” thanks-giving tradition. It’s an intertribal time honoring our traditions with traditional foods, song, dance, prayer, storytelling, conversation, and laughter. Initially, these gatherings began as a way to include Native students at the nearby university who did not travel home to their families on reservations or distant cities and were left alone on campus during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Like many Native American people we do not celebrate Thanksgiving, as it has been coined in America. Instead, we honor “American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month” as our celebration of life past, present, and future.

I find it ironic and sad that Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage month have been braided together in the month of November. America is slow to learn from its mistakes. Thanksgiving — as it is recognized in America –has become a time of mourning for many Native People. It serves as a period of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, extermination of many Native people due to disease, and near total elimination of many more from forced assimilation. As celebrated in America, Thanksgiving is a reminder of 500 years of betrayal.

My family is mixed race and multi-ethnic. I’m of Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca, and German descent and my immediate family was formed through marriage, adoption, kinship care, love, and community. We have loved ones who survived Nazi Germany, and aunties and uncles who lived under the Japanese occupation in Korea through the end of World War II. They left Korea to immigrate to America. Others in my blended family emigrated from Balikpapan.

My loved ones tell me when they came to the United States everything was new — the foods, the smells, the language, and the people. They felt alone and out of place while learning to become fluent in English in those early years. But most of all they were thankful for the privilege of gaining American citizenship. A sense of belonging began to take hold. They were encouraged to assimilate, but they were not forced to let go of their traditions, language, and cultural heritage. From that deep place of thankfulness, a respect for the holiday known as Thanksgiving was born.

This is in great contrast to my American Indian ancestry, identity, mindset, and Native community belonging. Thanksgiving and the myths associated with it have done damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Americans by perpetuating cultural misappropriation and stereotyping that leave harmful images and lasting negative impressions in Native American and non-Native minds.

My immigrant family members and intimates know all too well the effects of assimilation. It gave way for thoughtful examination of cultural differences with emphasis on renewal and survival. Never having been washed in the American tradition of the First Thanksgiving falsehoods, there is no standard set linking it to a day in 1621. No myths carried about roasted meats and Indians sharing a table with Plymouth settlers.

I’m well into grandmotherhood now, doing my best to learn what I need in order to grow right as an elder and to do my part to make better for the next seven generations. I tell stories to the children and parents in my community. They ask me many questions about Native Americans and Thanksgiving. I tell them about the Wampanoag people. About this tribe of Southern Massachusetts and how their ancestors ensured the survival of the Pilgrims in New England, and how they lived to regret it, and that now the tribe is growing strong again. I tell them Native people have a history largely untold and that gathering to give thanks for the harvest did not originate in America with the Pilgrims, it was always our way. I read books to the kids written by Native American authors who are working to make sure that Native lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity.

And so the histories of Native People are painful to hear; still, they need to be told and retold and never forgotten by generations of Americans.

But I tell this story today for all people in America, with the hope that through truthful knowledge of the past we will not allow another group of people in America to have their life ways taken from them, to have their ethnicities and cultures erased, to be exterminated and reach near total elimination, ever again.

Traveler’s guide to disagreement

I AM A TRAVELER, so I have spent a lot of time talking to people who believe very different things than me, and who I will probably never share worldviews with: The communist student in China who believed the Tiananmen Square Massacre was justified; the South African cabbie who loved George W. Bush because “he kills Muslims”; the Argentine barfly who insisted that the racist gringos would murder Barack Obama in the first year of his term.

I was never going to agree with these guys. But over time, I learned how to have conversations with them that were productive and illuminating for both sides — even though neither of us changed our minds in the end.

Last week got ugly. Trump’s election sparked a horrific flame war on social media, and in many cases, it looked as if a lot of hot air was being blown, but no progress was actually being made. Liberals were “elitist.” Conservatives were “stupid.” Everyone got to feel superior to one another, and nothing got done.

But this isn’t a particularly helpful or enriching way to engage with people who think differently than you. As someone who has had some (mild) success in engaging people who are fundamentally different to myself, I wanted to share a few pointers that I have learned as an argumentative wanderer.

1. Don’t rely too much on facts.

There’s a popular saying from the former US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” This is true! But saying to someone you’re arguing with is a very good way to get yourself punched in your stupid smug face.

Look: there are no “false” facts. Facts are either facts or they aren’t. So yes: there’s a good chance that someone you’re arguing with is factually wrong about one thing or the other. But the problem with facts is that there are a lot of them. There are 7 billion sentient human beings living on this planet, and what we don’t collectively know could (nearly) fill a universe.

A single person doesn’t have a chance at fully understanding anything. You are confronted with constant information, and have to develop some system for sifting through all of it, selecting the information that’s important, and organizing it in your mind in a meaningful way. We humans like to organize our facts using stories.

This is important: when talking to someone you disagree with, listen to their story, not their facts. Trying to fight someone on facts is like trying to destroy a beach one grain of sand at a time. Stories are also not easy to change, but they are where the real power is. Which brings us to step 2:

2. Trade stories.

Stories are like assholes: everyone knows a lot of them. The most fulfilling moments while you’re traveling are when someone tells you their story, and gives you a glimpse into their (very different) life. These stories are incredible reminders both of the diversity of human experience, and of the fundamental humanity that holds us all together.

They’re also a great way of explaining political or ideological differences. Last week, post-election, I got into an argument with a Trump supporter who was pretty furious with liberal America. I identified myself as a liberal, and he kinda hated on me for a second, but when I refused to get into the my facts vs. your facts war, he opened up about his family’s escape from Cuba a generation ago.

He told me how Castro had destroyed his country, and how communism had hurt his family. He saw Barack Obama’s form of government as creeping communism, and that’s why he was so opposed to “liberals” like myself.

I disagree with this interpretation of Barack Obama, but it’s hard to not sympathize with a family that was driven from its own country. I will not change this man’s mind — his history is too strong — but he got to tell his story, then I told mine. I told of my family’s experiences with right-wing El Salvador, which in some ways mirrored his family’s experiences.

And he was totally cool about it. We could both acknowledge one another as human. He will no longer be able to say “All liberals are smug and elitist.” I will no longer be able to say, “All Trump supporters are idiots.” A very small amount of progress was made.

And then, of course, another liberal hopped on, started debating him on the facts of the matter, and the flame war restarted.

3. Be vulnerable.

If you want to really get to know someone, you have to let your guard down. This is actually a much easier thing to do when you’re traveling than when you’re at home. At home, you build up walls to protect yourself. You have routines, you have defenses, and you can spend a huge amount of time making sure that the people who you spend most of your time around know the least about you. Until I opened up about it, my closest family members didn’t know I’d been struggling with depression for years.

This was one of the most fundamental facts of my existence during my late 20s. But I successfully walled it off so that only one person — my wife — could see it.

But when you’re traveling, you’re in a new place, surrounded by people you will probably never see again. There is much less risk in making yourself vulnerable. So you have bizarre, deep, intense, intimate conversations with strangers under the stars, or in the backseats of busses, or in the corner of grimy pubs.

Vulnerability is scary, but it is, in part, what gives travelers such a high when they go out and see new people. Because often — not always, but often — you bare yourself to someone and they don’t blanch in horror. They smile and say, “me too.”

People will not always recognize your common humanity. But you will get nowhere if you don’t recognize theirs. And there’s no way to recognize theirs without also revealing yours. Show your true self to people. It’s scary, and yes, you may get hurt. But human frailty is one thing we all have in common.

4. Don’t give into anger, contempt, or hate.

Hate takes up a lot of energy, and it hurts you more than it hurts the people you’re aiming at. There is a philosophy among the Bantu people of South Africa known as “ubuntu.” This roughly translates to “I am because we are.” It is important to remember that by recognizing other people’s dignity and worth, you are affirming your own. This goes not only for friendly strangers you meet on the road, but for personal acquaintances you have intense disagreements with.

But hate doesn’t appear in a vacuum. It tends to, as Master Yoda says, come from fear and anger. It also comes from contempt. Relationship psychologists have found that the one factor that is most predictive of future trouble in a relationship is the presence of contempt. Contempt basically poisons the well — you can’t have a good relationship with someone if you think you’re better than them.

You can fight contempt with the other steps — usually, knowing someone’s story helps explain why they are the way they are. And by making yourself vulnerable, you are essentially humbling yourself — it’s hard to convince yourself that you’re better than someone when you’ve just shown them your weakness, your sadness, or your fear.

By being humble and by listening, you can begin to understand the lives of others. You may not be able to change their minds, or bend them according to your will, but you’ll both leave your encounter richer for the experience, and a little less alone.