I think I’m a reasonable and fair-minded person. I have beliefs and opinions, some of which are deeply held and admittedly would be difficult to change. But I can also usually understand and appreciate how others might see things differently and arrive at conclusions that are the opposite of mine.
I was opposed to Donald Trump’s candidacy from the beginning (having been profoundly offended by his persistence in pursuing the lie that President Obama was not born in the United States, among many other reasons I’ve detailed in previous posts), and I was appalled that such a man would actually be elected president. But in the interests of fairness, I have tried to understand why so many people—including friends and family and others I like and respect—supported Trump’s candidacy, voted for him, and are happy with the way things are going one year into his presidency. In spite of my efforts to understand, however, some days I really feel like I am living in an alternate universe from those who remain steadfast in their support of the president.
This week, the New York Times solicited and then published letters to the editor from Trump supporters on its editorial page. These letters were in general thoughtful, reasonable, well-written, and provided me with some helpful insights. I took notes on the reasons the writers gave for their support for President Trump, and divided those reasons into three categories (the list is not exhaustive, but illustrative):
Reasons that make sense to me (even if I don’t completely agree with all the particulars):
- Booming economy (stock market setting records, etc., unemployment is down)
- Tax reform/tax cuts which will stimulate the private sector
- More conservative judges (especially a new anti-abortion Supreme Court justice)
- ISIS defeated
Reasons I can understand but don’t agree with:
- Americans prioritized over illegal immigrants. I understand the premise, and agree that every country has the right and duty to look out for its own interests. However, I don’t like the negative attitudes toward “the other,” especially black and brown people, that is often the subtext of these discussions. Also, I prefer a world where we recognize and celebrate our global interdependence, and work together to make a better world for everyone. I actually like living in a multicultural society and don’t fear immigrants (my ancestors were immigrants after all).
- De-regulation. I lament weakened environmental and consumer protections. As just two small examples, why would we not want financial advisers to be required to operate in their clients’ best interests, and do we really want mining companies to be free to dump their waste in local streams?
- Repeal of mandatory insurance coverage and “mortal wounding” of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. I want everyone to have access to health care, and the ACA was working toward that goal. Why can’t the president and Congress work together to come up with fixes and improvements to what was actually beginning to achieve its goals despite its flaws?
- Withdrawing from international agreements, such as the Paris climate agreement. Why would we want to be the only nation not to commit ourselves to be part of global efforts to protect the planet we all share?
Reasons that reinforce my sense that we live in alternate universes (the quotation marks indicate direct quotes from the letters):
- Trump’s “vision, chutzpah, and testosterone.” What vision? His kind of chutzpah is a good thing? We don’t have enough testosterone ruling the world already?
- His “respect for the flag and the rule of law.” For the umpteenth time, kneeling at NFL games to protest police brutality against blacks has nothing to do with disrespecting the flag.
- His “iconoclastic nature, optimism, and unapologetic humanity.” I don’t know what is meant by “unapologetic humanity,” but what I see when Trump incites violence against opponents, bullies people and calls them belittling names, doesn’t show much concern for the plight of refugees, says hateful (racist) things about people from black and brown countries, and never apologizes is not the kind of humanity I respect.
- Belief that he “ends up being right about the most important things.” What things specifically? There are so many things he’s done that I don’t consider “right.”
- Before Trump, “we were scared of any volatility….The more chaos there was, the worse we were. Now volatility is our friend. The more chaos, the better!….Good old American problem solving is back!” Personally, I prefer less chaos and more predictability and order. And what does it mean to say that American problem-solving is back—where did it go?
- The “unscripted Trump feels more authentic to me.” Maybe more authentic at some level, but well below the dignity of the presidency and not the kind of authenticity I want in a president.
Despite the ongoing “alternative universe” feeling, I finished reading the letters with a better understanding of why many continue to support President Trump. I am glad that the New York Times gave Trump supporters this opportunity to articulate their reasons, and I disagree with those who castigated the paper for publishing them.
From the beginning of this administration, I have tried to make a distinction between policy changes and the character of the president. The former is a normal part of the push-and-pull of politics when the party in power changes, while the latter can affect the very nature of our democracy and values as a nation. On character issues, I am profoundly frustrated and disappointed with this president:
- He appears to have no regard for the truth, repeating hundreds of demonstrably false statements, and it feels like he is trying to gas-light the entire country into agreeing with his version of reality on the apparent theory that if he says it often enough everyone will believe it.
- He constantly assaults the free press when it tells stories he doesn’t like (“fake news”), and attacks the judiciary when it rules against his administration. He displays authoritarian tendencies, as when he said, “I have absolute right to do what I want with the Department of Justice,” despite the long understanding that the president should not interfere with the judiciary, especially on matters pertaining to him. These feel like fundamental threats to our democracy and the rule of law from which it may take a long time to recover.
- His personal conduct is far beneath the dignity and basic decorum I expect from someone in his position of leadership, and he engages in behavior most of us wouldn’t even accept from young children: bullying and calling opponents demeaning childish names; bragging about sexual assault; saying things that are at best racially charged and at worst downright racist and bigoted; threatening to get revenge on opponents or prosecute and jail them. He seems incapable of apologizing or otherwise taking responsibility for mistakes, whether big or small, but always casts the blame elsewhere.
- He is extremely narcissistic, everything is always all about him, and he speaks in ridiculous hyperboles (“I’m the least racist person you will ever meet”).
- He has no apparent regard for the appearance of numerous financial conflicts of interest for him and family members who work in the White House, and there is much about his business dealings over many years that seems highly questionable.
The list above only scratches the surface of the issues I have with President Trump, from before he was elected to this past year after his inauguration. Hard as I try, even when he does something I can support, I am unable to put aside all the things I find so offensive about his character and personal conduct and simply focus on policy. So much of his character directly contradicts my values, many of which are informed by my Christian faith. And then many of his policies seem to fit his character as well, plus they also contradict my values, which doesn’t help.
The problem with living in alternate universes is that it’s difficult to talk to each other. I started by saying that I think I’m a reasonable and fair-minded person, although I know some might disagree after reading this. Over the past year, I have tried to “give him a chance,” as a friend told me I should soon after the inauguration, but he has made it extremely difficult. Nevertheless, I probably need to try harder and reach out more from my “universe” to the other one. Admittedly, this will be difficult, given how far apart I feel like our universes are, but it’s important to try.