Sherri was a fat girl that lived down the road from us. She and I didn't like each other—our families didn't really get along but we had to ride the bus together and wait for it on the end of a long country road every single weekday morning. And I threw rocks at her on most mornings.
I don't know why. It was the thing she and I did every morning. She would insult me in some way, I would call her fat, she would call me stupid and I'd start flinging rocks at her. I never started the melee but I always ended it by throwing rocks at her. (This was the country and there were plenty of rocks around.) We were in eighth grade. We were stupid.
My mother (whom I had watched be brutalized by my first stepfather but had seemingly not connected that to my own behavior) let me know that that behavior was not acceptable. To be fair, my tiny spitfire mom didn't tell me this quite so politely. I pretty much had my ass handed to me for taunting a fat girl (mom was a heavy girl growing up) and throwing rocks at her at the bus stop.
As any thirteen-year-old-boy would, I felt maligned and angry... at Sherri. She had gotten me in trouble. It was her fault! She called me stupid and she laughed at my clothes! It was her fault that my mother had read me the riot act and I got grounded for doing NOTHING WRONG!
One day, I restrained myself from taking my unfocused masculine rage out on our neighbor. And I came home, proud of myself. I told my mother than I hadn't thrown any rocks at Sherri that morning. And all I got was a nod. "Can I be ungrounded?"
I'll never forget what she said in response to that.
"Donald. You don't get rewarded for not doing something you know is wrong. Your reward is that you are a better human being because you didn't bully that girl. Your reward is that you weren't an awful person... this morning. Make not doing the wrong thing a habit and you just might not be killed by your mother before you graduate eighth grade. Your reward is being allowed to live."
I did live. I didn't throw rocks at girls anymore. I learned one of the multitudes of lessons my mother was trying to instill in my clay-like brain.
Setting aside the obvious misogynist overtones of my thoughtlessness, there's more to it than merely a teenage boy being called names by a girl and retailiating with rage.
In the metaphorical world, Sherri grew up and voted for Trump in 2016. I voted for Clinton (although I really wanted Sanders). Sherri (metaphorically) voted for Bush in 2000, and every morning I told her how stupid she was. I didn't throw rocks but I made it clear what a backward thinking moron I thought she was. For eight years I did this. Every misstep, every awful warmongering, elitist tax-cutting for the wealthy move her president made, I loaded up my ammo and let it fly.
Then the tides changed and my guy got in the Oval Office. Sherri was angry and maligned and retaliated by doing almost exactly the same thing as I had. She passionately heaped on the hatred of Obama, questioning his credentials, his motives, his nationality just as I had questioned Bushie’s intelligence, cowardice and shitty business acumen. I compared Bushie to a monkey so she compared Obama to a monkey (the racist overtones be damned in her rage and urgency for retribution). The rocks continued to be thrown at each other.
The concepts of arguing over policy become a quaint nostalgia as our fights were now over the politicians and parties enacting these policies. We almost never debated the pros and cons of potential legislation. It was an ongoing shit-flinging battle of who was the most right, who was the most put upon, and the ideals of compromise and listening to the arguments of the other were discarded altogether.
And now Trump. Full circle. Knowing that this vicious, stupid circumambulate amounted to fuckall in the end, I realize that I will not get rewarded for refraining from joining right back in on her. My reward is that I am a better human being because I chose to discuss policy rather than politics with Sherri. I need to make not doing the wrong (and endlessly pointless) thing a habit and perhaps the cycle of screaming insults and throwing polemic rocks at one another can end.
This is not a call to appease Sherri nor is it a request that we empathize with her. It is, however, a caution that to return to the bullshit name calling and personal attack is just another turn in the cul de sac. Donald Trump will not be president forever but we all will need to learn (or re-learn) how to make this shit work once he's gone. We’re all taking the same bus to school so let’s see if we can ride that yellow monster with a bit more strategic thought and actually, you know, get to school.