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  • Rebecca Branle

Spit and Shit

On Saturday, Anna and I were outside playing. Or, truthfully, I was trying to have a rare phone conversation and Anna was following me around demanding I jump on the trampoline.

As we did our little march back and forth, a yellow and black Dodge Charger came up the road, slowed, and stopped at our gate. I looked up, smiling, assuming it was someone I knew. Instead, a stranger leaned out of his car, stared right at me and my 5-year-old daughter, and spit at us.

We were too far away for him to hit us, but we were close enough to see his spit fly over the fence, and the drool hanging from his bottom lip. We were close enough for my daughter to be confused and scared and ask, "Why does he hate us? He doesn’t even know us.”

What struck me was that this man looked at us, but he failed to see us. He failed to see a mama and her baby girl, standing outside on a sunny day. He saw our Liberty Barn, but he failed to understand its message. The signs on our barn say "Hate Has No Home Here," "Hate Cannot Drive out Hate, Only Love Can Do That," "No Matter Where You’re From, We Are Glad You're Our Neighbor," "Black Lives Matter," and, yes, "Biden Harris." Our signs don’t disparage anyone. Our signs are designed to lift people up, everyone.

But he failed to see that, and I think that's the problem today. The not seeing. The not listening. The assigned sides. The assigned anger.


I let my feelings simmer for a few days, and two trains of thought kept emerging. First is this idea of not listening and not seeing. The kids and I recently read "To Kill a Mockingbird.” When we finished, I asked them what they learned, and they all agreed that Atticus's last words were the most profound. He tells Scout that most people are good, "when we finally see them." His comment encompasses race, class, and mental health - all the ways society seeks to divide us. Atticus understood that when we stop seeing ideas of people and start seeing the whole individual, we find common ground; we cultivate love and peace.

But that's the next thing, the ideas, the labels, they’re branding us, and they’re blinding us. I don’t give Donald Trump credit for much, but he is an expert at branding. He erases humanity and replaces it with a label. The result? He makes hate easy. We stop seeing each other and start seeing ideas of each other. We don’t listen to each other’s stories or imagine ourselves in each other’s realities. Instead, we assume we know because of the brand that’s been assigned. We don’t learn. We don’t grow. We see the world through a lens of “me,” rather than one of “we.”

He has us so divided that his followers are excusing the inexcusable. To break with the president would be to entertain the idea that those who stand against him might be right, and how could radical anarchist, rioters who hate our country be right? I mean, I wouldn’t want to hang with a crowd like that, and that’s not who I am, but the branding has worked. The short angry phrases are easy to remember, create a visceral reaction, and turn off reason.

So, when the president is recorded, in January, saying he knows COVID is a monumental crisis and can spread through the air, his supporters can’t even fathom leaving him, because his branding has made the other side so evil. They shrug their shoulders and say, “You would have been mad if he had told you the truth and tried to do something.” I mean, I haven’t gotten mad at a restriction yet, and this doesn’t explain him calling it a hoax, holding rallies in packed indoor arenas, and poking fun at politicians and reporters who wear masks. He branded the disease, like he branded us. He branded it as a hoax, and even now, even when we all know it’s not, that branding still stands in the way of progress. He still holds maskless, packed indoor rallies. He puts his biggest supporters in danger. His branding is so powerful that it “trumps” the indisputable fact that his inaction led to the loss of nearly 200,000 lives.

His branding is so powerful that his relationship with Epstein and the accusations of 20+ women and his own words on tape aren’t enough. His branding is so powerful that his attacks on John McCain, wounded warriors, Gold Star families, and our generals, aren’t enough. His branding is so powerful that kids in cages and forced hysterectomies and abandoning allies isn’t enough.

His branding is so powerful that we ignore bounties on our soldier’s heads and we don’t even wince when he calls his opponent “Sleepy Joe” on a worldwide stage, breaking all norms for decorum, and, frankly, making us the laughing stock of world.

He normalizes bullying and then his supporters are aghast when they find out their own children are bullies (umm, of course they are). And his bully-branding keeps working. I see so many parroting the lies that Joe Biden wants to take away your guns, murder babies after they’re born, abolish the police, raise taxes, and take away your religious freedom. None of these things are true. I mean, unless you’re making over $400,000 a year. Then, yes, your taxes will go up. Before Trump, conservatives and liberals alike lauded Biden’s character. It was nearly universally agreed that he was a good guy, not because he’s good at branding, or because he’s perfect, but because he’s just good.

And good matters.

Trump’s branding is so powerful it made a man spit at a mom and her little girl. But I won’t let it change me. I won’t let it twist my heart, or my children’s hearts, into dark knots. It won’t make me brand his supporters the way he’s branded me. I’ll still listen to you. I’ll speak up to correct falsehoods, I'll push back against racism, and I’ll search for common ground.

But Trump supporters, I will ask you to see us. To listen to our stories. And to consult your heart. Because I know it’s good, and I know that, without this branding, you’d be disgusted and alarmed at what’s happening to our country. So I’ll wait, and when you’re ready, we can move forward, together. If we just see each other, we can find compromise. We can create change. We can create a kinder world, one that has room for all of us, not just the privileged few.

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