I Understand, by Hutch Harris (the Thermals)

Harris speaks to those who voted Trump.

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, the Talkhouse asked musicians for their reactions to the results. Hutch Harris of the Thermals shares his thoughts below. Keep an eye here for future posts from musicians and filmmakers.
— Brenna Ehrlich, The Talkhouse Music Editor-in-Chief

I was not glued to any television the evening of Tuesday, November 8, 2016. I was with my band mate Kathy Foster, at the modest practice space in southeast Portland, Oregon, that the Thermals have occupied since the beginning of George W. Bush’s second term. For those of you who are as bad at math as Bush was, we’ve been in that space for twelve years.

Kathy and I were practicing sans drums; our drummer, Westin Glass, had stayed an extra night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his father was recuperating from a recent bicycle accident. The night before, Westin had joked to us via group text that if Donald Trump won the election, he might need his passport to get out of New Mexico. We all laughed, confident in the knowledge that Hillary Clinton would easily win. Twenty-four hours later, all three of us were shocked and saddened beyond belief.

This year, the United States was presented with a few stark, terrifying truths.

This year, the United States was presented with a few stark, terrifying truths: we do not live in a post-racial world. Racism is not only prevalent, it appears stronger than ever. Sexism is thriving as well. Not only is a man able to assault a women without consequences, he is also free to boast about it publicly. He may be scolded for his words and actions, but will ultimately pay no price as long as he holds some amount of money and power. In some cases, a man’s evil deeds will lead him to even more money and power. In one case, they led a man to the highest elected office in the country.

Donald Trump has just been elected the 45th President of the United States. A man who has never held public office and has never served in the military, a man who claims to be a highly successful businessman but is by all accounts an utter failure, will now lead us. Hillary Clinton has conceded. We can no longer try to stop Trump from winning. At this point, I am just trying to understand how it happened. As it turns out, I understand a lot more than I thought I did.

If you didn’t vote for Clinton, I understand.

If you didn’t vote for Clinton, I understand. In my opinion, a vote for Hillary to become our first female President was a vote for progress. But I understand that the baggage she would have carried into the office was too heavy and burdensome for some voters. Maybe you didn’t want Bill Clinton back in the White House, running around like a horny schoolboy. It’s embarrassing that, no matter what major party candidate got elected, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was going to be occupied by a man who treats women as little more than sex objects. Maybe you really did want to see a woman elected President — you just didn’t want Hillary. Maybe you voted for Jill Stein.

If you voted for a candidate other than Clinton or Trump, I understand. Clinton is a career politician that probably has no idea what it’s like to be a private citizen. Trump is a billionaire from New York City who has never known what it means to work for an honest living. Clinton would be the first President who is not male, Trump the first President who is not qualified. But neither represents a real change. Both have ties to big money, and both know more about how to work within the machine than rage against it. If you voted for a third party candidate, you voted against the corrupt, complacent surrogate for democracy we currently have in place. I understand.

If you chose not to vote at all, for the same reasons one may have voted for a third party, or for any reason at all, I understand. I have voted in every election since I turned eighteen, and will vote in every subsequent election until I die. But I would never tell anyone that it is their duty. Voting is a right, not an obligation. You are free to sit and watch from the sidelines, but know that your decision still affects the outcome. If you chose not to decide, you have still made a choice.

If you voted for Trump, here’s what I understand: you’re afraid.

If you voted for Trump, here’s what I understand: you’re afraid. You see “your” country, a country whites have ruled for hundreds of years, slipping away from you. You see Mexicans and Muslims who you feel threaten your job, your freedom, your safety. You see Black Americans making great strides. You saw a black man get elected President —twice. You didn’t like much of what you’ve seen in the past eight years, and you liked the thought of a woman in charge even less than a black man in charge.

Then Donald Trump came along, and you heard his plans to keep Mexicans out, to deport Muslims, to punish women. Donald Trump didn’t promise to just Make America Great, he promised to Make America Great Again. In the “Again” is where the heart of Trump’s true message lies. America was great once upon a time, but all the so-called “progress” has put the U.S.A. on the brink of total ruination in your eyes. You voted for Trump because he hates everything — and everyone — you hate. The only way to make America great again is, apparently, with hatred. Hatred for women, for minorities — for anyone black or brown or queer. If you voted for Trump, you voted with hatred, or for hatred, or both.

I fear you, and I hate you. But I do understand you.

And you know what? I understand that, too. Because if you voted for Trump, the hate you hold in your heart for “the other” is only rivaled by the hate I hold in my heart for you. To me, you are “the other.” You are what has tarnished our nation. You are the reason we are not great. I fear you, and I hate you. But I do understand you. I understand hate. I feel it deep within my being.

But it’s not the only thing I feel, and it wasn’t the first thing I felt that night, as Kathy and I sat on the carpet of our practice space, staring at our phones, jaws dropping to the filthy floor as we watched state after state on the electoral map turn red. The first emotion I felt that night was utter sadness as I stared into the eyes of my best friend in the world. We didn’t cry. We still had each other. We still had love. We had love before Trump was elected, and we will still have it when he is dead and gone. I know that ultimately love will save us. But at this point, love is facing a tough battle to occupy a place in my heart, which is consumed by sadness and hatred.

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)