When I came back from the Middle East in 2004, I was beyond disillusioned. Six months in Egypt had taught me so much. I couldn’t have stuck out more if I tried but all stereotypes that were spoon-fed to me were gone as I navigated the foreign waters of the once alien world of ‘other.’ I don’t think I could be more grateful for an experience in this lifetime if I tried. As I watched the Egyptian people cheering as Saddam’s statue was pulled down in Baghdad, the hope of real change reflected in their faces, I learned that the news media lied, a lot. That what we saw in the West on our consumerism focused screens was a constructed, censored reality shaped to make us hate, not love, make us accept, not question, make us divided, not united.

And then of course, I went to Jerusalem for a week and my entire everything came crashing to the ground.

I had gone to see if I could find the faith I had lost on the streets of Belfast and came home realizing everything I had been taught to believe since childhood was based on a constructed perception. A narrowed view that gave unconscious permission to war makers to further the cause of their misguided beliefs. I realized that those that had suffered the worst of modern history’s brutality had turned around and done it to somebody else. That the perpetrated become the perpetrators. I wonder every day if the children I met in Jericho ever made it to adulthood. I think about the Muslim woman being helped across the partition wall by her ailing husband who looked at me and said: “Now do you see? Do you see how we really live?” And as I followed behind her making sure the Israeli soldiers were looking the other way, I didn’t begin to realize just how much I would see from that moment on. The world was broken. I was broken.

So back in Pennsylvania the world now seemed so plastic and fake (although I was very grateful for a return to the many privileges of America-modern plumbing, bomb free streets, children wearing shoes, public education for the working class) and I couldn’t wrap my head around anything, was so angry at it all and wanted to scream at everyone: “Why can’t you see this isn’t real? Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”

Instead, I continued working my college tutoring job at Penn State watching the economy collapse around us, the steel belt become the rust belt in no small part due to NAFTA and Clinton putting profit over people and taking blue collar jobs overseas. Restless and ready for change, we started looking for work nationwide and decided to take it where we found it. Then came the email from some place called Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming, a word on a history test in Belfast when I was 16, studying the Mormons in America, was now a real place I was going to go live in. We had to get a map out to find it.

I tutored college English with a very wise elderly woman who I am sure has gone on to a better place by now. She told me stories of her life, imparted sage advice and was someone I could rely on to help me think critically not emotionally. She taught me to reason above all else. She endured me sitting next to her reading Kapital and getting angry. She had watched my excitement and fear when I was accepted to go to Egypt on the day we declared war on Iraq. She sat with me as I worried that moving to this place called Wyoming may be the wrong thing to do. That I was making a really, really bad decision.

“The people in Wyoming are not like you,” she said. “They do not think like you or believe as you believe. They will challenge you to either reject your politics or will reinforce them by their actions. Many will be shocked by your lack of faith and many will try to convert you to their way of thinking, much more so than here. But I know you will keep an open mind and see them for what they are for you: a part of your journey, a way to make you a better person, a more tolerant person, a more forgiving person. You never know, you may make some really good friends. Yes Trish, I don’t think you should worry too much. I think spending some time out west would be good for you. Go, become a better person. Keep growing.”

And so I did. And here I am. A radical, mouthy, faithless immigrant living in the heart of conservative Christian America. And right now, right now at this moment in history, I could not be more grateful for the insight of my circumstances.

In the coming days and weeks the media will bombard you with tales of evil, racist, sexist, uneducated Republicans bent on the destruction of democracy. You will hear how it is the “fault” of the conservative Americans that this inexperienced Hitler like buffoon who may get us all killed (which I am not saying he won’t) is with us now because of those darn racist, backward, right wing Christians and if we could only get rid of those sort of people ‘Murica could be America again and everything could be alright. But that’s not true. Not true at all.

As a journalist in Wyoming I have had the privilege of interviewing the blue collar Democrat and the doctorated Republican, the wrong-headed liberal and the misguided conservative, the forward thinking Progressive and the well meaning Libertarian, the faith filled, the faithless, the compliant and the questioning and I will tell you, that not all Republicans are what the media keeps telling you and not everybody voted for Trump because they were misguided, vindictive, racist, sexist or uneducated. This country is broken. You will not fix it by blaming others for a mess you helped create. You will not achieve a tolerant democracy by demonizing your political opponents or thinking yourself superior because you chose the other evil. That is not tolerance. That’s being a part of the problem.

I have conservative friends fighting hard against the DAPL pipeline, disgusted by the treatment of the native people. I have Republican friends adopting more kids from Africa because they were accidentally put on the adoption list again by mistake but hey who cares one more kid to love. I know conservatives who will call you out for using the n-word, for being sexist, for being intolerant, for being un-American. I know Republicans who think my ideas on politics are completely out there but they hug me in the streets and turn to me to help organize community events. I have conservative friends that I make twitchy with some of my online posts but who stand by me regardless because they see beyond the politics to the person beneath just trying to do what they think is right.

I have Republican friends. And even today, now, in the wake of this historic event, I am proud to admit that. I will not abandon my educated, tolerant, open minded, caring, loyal Republican friends who voted for Trump. And I don’t care who knows it.

So before you spend the next few days or weeks looking for a person or group to blame for the outcome of this election, look first at yourself. This nation is divided and you won’t fix it or get through these next four years by demonizing half of your fellow Americans. It’s time to reach across the aisle, open your mind and stop lumping everyone together. Sure, there are some bad apples out there (some really bad, scary, disappointing, rotten apples) but it is our job to help not hinder, be kind not hateful, move forward not backward. You can completely change your perspective if you are willing. I did. This is your country. We the People. Remember what it stands for. Forget about the government. Go take back your country by doing the right thing. Stop blaming and start healing. United We Stand.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of West Winds Magazines or its affiliates.

Trish Popovitch