Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why I respect Trump supporters, but not Trump

I have to get a few things off my chest. 

During the election, I regularly sparred with Trump supporters on a variety of topics. My sense back then, which hasn't changed much, is that there are three types of people who support Donald Trump:

People who legitimately want change. There are a lot of people that fit in this category across the political spectrum. They believe that Washington has become a vast wasteland filled with politicians who no longer understand what we, as citizens, truly need. They see our system trip over itself repeatedly. They watch the US struggling to maintain its position as the world's only superpower. They want the America that our parents and grandparents fought for in World War II. And they believe that the best way to accomplish this is to brush aside the way things have been done and bring in an outsider who isn't bound by tradition and rules. These people may identify as members of any party, although for the most part they're disaffected Republicans who feel like their party no longer speaks for them. They have been looking for a voice that speaks to their ideals without the political rhetoric.

People who hate Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I originally separated these two, but realized that there's a near-100% overlap. There are plenty of reasons to despise Hillary Clinton that don't involve ideology. They range from the legitimate (concerns about dynasties) to the questionable (she was unwise in how she handled her private email server) to the ridiculous (she callously and intentionally left Americans to die at Benghazi) to the borderline-insane (her campaign manager and implicitly Clinton herself ran a child sex-trafficking ring out of pizza shops). And there are similar reasons why Obama is hated - he swung the country further left, polarized the relationship between police and citizens, enacted a healthcare system that is being crushed under its own weight. For this group, voting for Clinton was simply never, ever going to happen. 

People who felt disenfranchised. This group has a lot of overlap with the previous groups (particularly the Clinton/Obama-haters). They have watched what they perceive as political correctness weaken their standing in their communities and in the world at large. They have long believed that immigrants were at the heart of the American problem, having watched both legal and illegal immigrants lower overall income by accepting lower wages. They've been waiting for someone to stand up for them, to say, "We're looking out for American citizens. You're first on our agenda. Yes, we know America is a country of immigrants, but you were here first."

I have a lot of trouble arguing with any of these positions (although the last one makes me a little ill). I disagree with them in general, but having spent considerable time thinking about each position, I realized that it's not the positions I have trouble accepting. I agree that our political system has become a swamp, and all sides (Democratic, Republican, Independent, others) have contributed to the overall swampiness. I agree that our status as leader of the free world is in danger.

In 2016, we were all unfortunate enough to have perhaps the two worst candidates for President in the history of US presidential elections. I'm not going to defend Hillary Clinton, even though I voted for her - I would have been much happier voting for Bernie Sanders, who I believed (and still believe) is the closest thing to a legitimate "people's candidate" that we've ever seen. Clinton had much going for her, but she was a distant candidate who was difficult to love or even like, and she carried a veritable Tumi warehouse of baggage from both her political past and her husband's.

All of that having been said, there's a fundamental point that the Administration's opposition clearly understands, but that Trump supporters have yet to realize (for the most part). There is a system in Washington that has developed over our 241 years. It's very far from perfect, but it protects us from tyranny by distributing power among three branches of government. There are many cases in which that very system has been responsible for gross inaction (see the housing collapse of 2007) or action that was poorly planned and executed (see Obamacare). But the solution to that problem isn't to put the system to death (see Trump's 100+ executive orders since his inauguration).

Trump decided a long time ago, certainly well before his election, that the United States isn't all that different from a big company. It has income, expenses and employees. Flying over it at 30,000 feet, it certainly looks like a business. It therefore makes some sense that applying sound business principles to government could help right the ship. In practice, though, the United States only looks like a business. In business, if the strategic and/or tactical groups fail, leadership replaces management or the entire team. In government, the team isn't hired by leadership, and can't be fired by them. Trump has attempted to end-around this problem via (a) executive orders, (b) harassing, demeaning and threatening Congress, even within his own party and (c) ignoring sound principles of government that have, for better or worse, worked for 200+ years.

There's an important underlying lesson here, and I hope that at least a few Trump supporters have made it far enough to hear this. Those of us who oppose Trump do not - repeat do not - necessarily disagree with any of the three points I made above. Washington has, in fact, become a vast swamp. It was a swamp when Democrats controlled both Congress and the presidency. It was a swamp when power was split. It's a swamp now. No one was thrilled with our choices in 2016. And we have all felt disenfranchised to one degree or another.

The problem we have isn't with the issues that brought you to support someone who wasn't Clinton. And the problem isn't with you, the Trump supporter, either. The problem we have is with the specific person that became the only viable alternative to Clinton. You may believe at some level that he represents you, but you also know that a guy who grew up with nannies and servants is probably fundamentally different from you, and is unlikely to truly empathize with your plight.

We will always disagree on ideology. Some of us believe that abortion should be a woman's choice; some don't. We want our economy to be strong, but disagree on the means to accomplish that. We want the world to respect (and in some cases fear) us, but we want to be neither the world's policeman nor its bully. When I argue with you about Trump, it's not because I don't respect your deeply-held beliefs (I may disagree, but that's different). It's because the person who is carrying the standard for your beliefs is far less believable, far less trustworthy and far less deserving of my respect than you are.

Bottom line: we don't disagree as much as you think. So let's make a deal moving forward. I won't call you racist or socially irresponsible. You don't call me a snowflake and stop saying "yeah, but Clinton" every time I criticize the president. And let's agree that, regardless of who's on top, regardless of who's in the swamp, we're all in this together, and tearing one another apart is never going to result in something better.

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