Here we go again. As the country careens towards an election outcome which thus far (fingers crossed!) appears to portend a significant, wide-ranging Democratic victory– much like it did two years ago— we are once again hit with a deluge of well-intended advice (from both the left and right) reminding us how we Democrats must learn to understand, if not necessarily empathize, with the views of those who, in spite of all that has occurred over the last four years, will continue to support Donald Trump. That we need to reach out and extend our hand to those who–despite an out-of control pandemic that has taken over a quarter million American lives, and despite an economy that continues to teeter over a vast abyss– have clung to the belief that a future under the aegis of Donald Trump and the Republican Party is somehow preferable to Democratic governance.
There are a myriad of keen, sympathetic analyses explaining the reasons why Trump voters support authoritarianism, ignoring or rationalizing Trump’s racism, abusive acts, and repugnant policies. They are all implicitly couched in urgent terms of how Democrats need to come to terms with the belief systems of these people in order to somehow “bring them around.”
To their credit, not all of these exhortations place much faith in making such an effort. Some, such as this piece by Sarah Longwell in the Atlantic, are satisfied to simply point out the daunting challenge Democrats face in “understanding” Trump’s base of support, the die-hard stalwarts that due to their inherent hatred for Democrats, will refuse to cast a vote for Joe Biden even though they may think Trump himself has done a terrible job as president:
Some meaningful number of voters who are clear-eyed about Trump and his manifest failures—even those who think he is plainly doing a bad job—will stick with the president because they believe Democrats are worse and the media aren’t to be trusted. And these aren’t voters who are glued to Fox News and reading Breitbart News. Often they don’t think about politics at all—and they certainly don’t follow the daily machinations of Washington. They’re typically not on Twitter. Instead they swim in a cultural soup of Trumpism, surrounded by friends, family, and social-media acquaintances who do live more exclusively in a right-wing-media ecosystem.
Some, such as this piece by Jack Luna for Medium emphasize the vital need to accommodate what the author describes as a need for white identity and “heritage” outside the pejorative of “racism” so commonly hurled at these people. For example, as he puts it:
For the sake of the country and to increase their chances of winning the election decisively, Democrats need to emotionally connect with white voters and convince them that President Trump is not the only person in American politics who can help them feel proud of themselves and their heritage.
But what we don’t see—in fact, what we almost never, ever see—are any appeals or arguments urging Trump supporters to “accommodate” Democrats and Democratic views. Nowhere, it seems, is there a treatise or article or publication or even a website out there that patiently extols to stalwart Trump supporters the virtues of why they should undertake a similar sympathetic analysis of Democratic values and belief systems. That suggests to them they should sublimate their personal prejudices or convictions for the good of the country, or even consider the opinions of others, for that matter.
Nowhere is there any effort being made on the part of the right, as far as I see, to even comprehend, much less “accommodate” perceptions on the left. Rather the carefully cultivated position of the Trump-supporting right, I think fairly stated, is to never compromise, never give ground, and treat all Democrats as illegitimate. These “principles”—such as they are—are fixed and immutable. They will not and do not brook any deviance from the one true path, and they are reinforced ad nauseum by Fox News and other right-wing media.
So be it. We aren’t engaging in some type of “false equivalency” here. Democrats abhor racism, for example, because racism is objectively wrong for people to engage in. It is evil, it is bad, it hurts people—even kills people, for the purpose of maintaining one race’s untrammeled power and control over another. The consequences of American racism are as patent and horrific as they are historically obvious. There is no bogeyman spun and hurled by the right towards the left which even approaches the degree of unbridled moral clarity as the Democratic opposition to racism. Not “socialism,” not “political correctness,” not “cancel culture” not any of the tropes the right typically employs to criticize or vilify the left. To the extent they have any tiny kernel of legitimacy at all, what all of these right-wing slurs have in common, in fact, is that they all boil down to complaining about the right being “denied” from acting on their worst, most unjust impulses.
So the next time you hear or read someone telling you that we should all work to understand the motivation of these Trump supporters—to somehow bridge this chasm between a wide-ranging spectrum of views on the left and a totally insular, rigid and intolerant right—just ask yourself when, if ever, have these people on the right—now embodied in the inflexible 40% or so who have wedded themselves to the likes of Donald Trump–ever made a similar effort? When have any of them ever expressed the slightest inclination toward unity with their fellow Americans in any capacity beyond exchanging their occasional labor and currency, before quickly retreating back into their enclaves to generate ever more spite and vitriol?
Former President Barack Obama famously said in 2004, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America.” That was a heartfelt expression of hope.
But one of those Americas voluntarily resolved to never compromise, as Obama’s presidency clearly showed, and as the Trump presidency has revealed in spades.
If Democrats win this election, they should never, ever forget that lesson.