I believe when we say ”I just can’t understand why anyone would believe that?” it is an indictment of ourselves not them. I think we all have the responsibility to do our best to try to understand each other. That, of course, doesn’t mean we will agree with each other. I’ve spent the last four years trying to understand why millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump and would vote for him again. Here are some things I have observed:
- People want to feel safe. They want to feel like they can make sense of the world. For many, the past feels more secure than the present. They worry that the world they once knew is eroding around them.
- They feel like as a nation we have lost our moral compass.
- They genuinely care about the unborn and have a deep love of God and country.
- They see America as a land of opportunity if you are willing to work for it.
- They believe in equality of opportunity and often see government action as a stumbling block to progress.
- They feel frustrated by career politicians who seem heavy on words and light on action.
- They find the way Mr. Trump speaks authentic, even if they don’t condone all that he says (or tweets).
- Many worry that Democrats have a fixation on social justice and big government. They worry that this system rewards laziness and focuses too much on the evils of the past instead of recognizing the progress that’s been made. Many believe that we would be better off if we did not view each other as black or white but as children of God and fellow citizens of the greatest nation on earth.
- Most conservatives I know who support Mr. Trump are not sycophants, they see and acknowledge his many personal flaws, but feel more comfortable with him than the Democrats.
- Many have no illusions that the Republican party has their best interest at heart. This phrase:“I know the Republicans won’t do anything for me, but I am afraid the Democrats will do something to me.” is something I think resonates with many of my conservative friends. I am sympathetic to many of these views.
Like others, I’m exhausted by the political tribalism we see. It feels like partisan politics has permeated every aspect of our life. What once was something discussed occasionally seems to now be all-encompassing. The fatigue of politics is real and it’s mentally and emotionally draining. Even though I try to understand why people support Mr. Trump, I think he is an existential threat to our Republic. I’m not alone in that assessment. More than two dozen prominent Republicans have not only denounced the President but they have also endorsed his opponent along with dozens of senior staff who served the last three GOP presidential nominees. Perhaps most withering is General James Mattis’ warnings about the dangers of the Trump Presidency:
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
I believe we need two strong political parties. I believe we need competing ideas in the marketplace of democracy. I reject the over simplistic caricatures of either party. Political parties give us a mechanism to articulate, debate and put policy into practice, thus proving or refuting our ideas of good governance. The conflict of ideas can lead to statesmanship if conflicting ideas are tempered by shared values. If political parties become about winning and not about ideas we do not engage in healthy democratic debate but instead descend into tribalistic ruin.
So to my fellow liberals, I implore you to do all you can to find common ground with those you disagree with. Mr. Trump no doubt lacks the capacity, judgment and moral character for one who holds such high office, yet here he is, and tens of millions of people voted for him. Spoiler alert: they are all not ignorant, redneck, racist boobs. They have real reasons and real concerns for the country. Many are convinced the negative attention drawn to Mr. Trump is no more than sour grapes by the left for a lost election. Don’t prove them right. If you’re spending more time reading NYT opinion pieces and watching Rachel Maddow than getting to know Trump voters—check your tribalism. Spend some time getting to know why people voted for him. You don’t have to agree with them but you should at least be able to understand where they are coming from.
To my conservative friends: If you think Bill Clinton should have been impeached for lying under oath about an affair, but Mr. Trump has been framed by a partisan witch hunt—check your tribalism. If you dismiss Mr. Trump’s poor leadership, relationship with honesty, racism, corruption and moral character—check your tribalism. Admitting Mr. Trump lacks moral character and leadership doesn’t mean you have to embrace liberalism. Now is the time for your party to own this. The party of Lincoln is being eroded by this presidency, and the future of the Republic is at stake. If you can’t see that, you may be blinded by partisanship.
Here’s a question for all of us: What are your core political beliefs? Where do they come from? How did you arrive at them?
We can’t let parties divide our attention from the shared core beliefs that this Republic was built on. These are solid ideals that are worth defending. We are better united than divided. We should not agree on everything but we should work together with the same end in mind—that together we can and should “form a more perfect union.”