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Some of My Best Friends Voted for Donald Trump Twice
As a Passionate Progressive Democrat I Don't Understand Their Votes But They Remind Me to Be Openminded
Some of my best friends voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Some will likely vote for him again in 2024. As a partisan, progressive Democrat, I don’t understand their votes. Perhaps, I should.
As I reflect on the politics of my adulthood, most policy arguments were over taxes. Almost everything seemed to come down to the marginal tax rate on high-income earners. In the end, partisans often solved disagreements over tax rates with increased debt, allowing hawks to continue funding the military and doves to support social programs.
In recent years, however, that dynamic shifted. Rhetoric and vitriol have increased, and more fundamental issues have been thrust front and center. Marginal tax rates lose their seeming importance in debates that more directly impact lives.
Interestingly, both Republicans and Democrats are screaming about losing rights. Republicans, sadly, seem to see rights accruing to the LGBTQ community as somehow reducing their own. They also worry about losing unfettered access to guns—but they haven’t. On the left, the recent Supreme Court ruling did remove a right to privacy that resulted in a woman’s right to an abortion, shocking a population raised to believe that was settled law.
An important area of disagreement highlights the difficulty of productive conversations. When we talk about climate change, it is easy for folks like me to see that lives and livelihoods hang in the balance. We see the need for immediate action.
At the same time, conservatives see an attack on their values and lifestyles. They don’t want the government to force them to drive EVs. Not always believing that climate change is human-caused or within our influence to address, they conclude that it is a political smokescreen put forward by lefties and communists to end capitalism.
It is challenging to have a constructive dialog about climate remedies between people who, on the one hand, see (correctly, I believe) that climate change threatens the lives of hundreds of millions of people and the livelihoods and financial security of almost everyone and those, on the other hand, who see any discussion of climate action as a fundamental threat to free enterprise.
The rhetoric we spew on both sides vilifies those on the other side, which takes the difficult and makes it impossible. We are slowly changing our perception of our friends and neighbors with whom we have policy disagreements into villains who are either fascists or communists but unequivocally evil.
With respect to those who support Donald Trump, folks who vote like me are going absolutely nuts. We see a twice-impeached criminal who seems to have supported an insurrection—treason in our book. Those who support him must, therefore, be co-conspirators, traitors even.
I don’t understand all that goes on inside my friends’ minds, but my friends didn’t participate in the insurrection (they likely don’t call it that, probably opting for riot or protest). They do belong to Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, churches and synagogues where they support all sorts of good things. (Of course, not all members of Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis clubs, churches and synagogues are Trump voters.)
They plant trees, clean up or even create parks, tutor children in reading, and donate to public health efforts like fighting polio or treating blindness. They are not attending meetings plotting the overthrow of the democratically elected president (which is not to say such meetings don’t happen and that the ones who attend aren’t Trump voters).
There are lots of reasons that they come to different conclusions. A primary reason is Fox News’s attack on the credibility of the “mainstream media.” No one can argue with a straight face that CBS, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times or Washington Post never made reporting mistakes. They have. Commentary and opinion pieces in those venues often skew left, alienating folks on the right.
But there is a fundamental difference, I believe, between Fox News (and the right-wing media that take more extreme positions like the Infowars effort to falsely claim Sandyhook was faked) and the mainstream media. Mainstream publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have hired reporters with one goal in mind: to report the truth. Fox and its ilk exist to provide the conservative spin.
A 2012 study found that Fox News viewers knew less about current news stories than people who claimed to watch no news. CNN and MSNBC viewers didn’t score much better than those who consumed no news. NPR listeners were the best informed.
Partisan news outlets on both sides make their audiences dumber.
I observe that The New York Times, a favorite target of folks on the right, is more frequently critiqued on Twitter by folks on the left who don’t like balanced reporting or its occasional publication of right-leaning opinions.
Most of us would benefit from anchoring our national news by reading from both the Wall Street Journal, complete with its appreciation for capitalism, and the New York Times or Washington Post.
You are unlikely to read an opinion piece in either publication that would inspire you to arm yourself to attend a rally or to improvise weapons like Molotov cocktails for damaging property. In neither publication are you likely to read a piece that describes your friends and neighbors as evil villains—or the current or past president as a superhero.
Are there right-wing organizations that should worry people of good character? Yes. The Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers are examples. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a list of 72 organizations. As a proportion of the population, they are tiny. The problem, of course, is that they are often well-armed.
The left is not exempt. Too many of us have been too tolerant of the loose federation of people who arm themselves for protests, calling themselves Antifa—anti-fascists. Let’s agree that being against fascism is a good thing. Let’s also channel heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who taught us that being willing to die for a cause does not require us to be willing to kill for it.
If we continue the practice of vilifying those who disagree with us, we doom ourselves to a generation of violence that will cost us more than the freedoms we seek to preserve or restore. If we strip away villainous labels and reduce policy disagreements to what they are, we can return to days when neighbors can have polite conversations about solutions to our problems.