Throughout our country’s history politics have always been divisive, so much so that the Civil War was fought over slavery, at times pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. Treatment of Native Americans, women’s right to vote, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Viet Nam, the war in Iraq have divided us…and for good reason. There has been no time where there have not been serious political disagreements that caused rifts in society including between family members and friends.
So, it is no surprise that the majority of us who find Donald Trump so repugnant and unacceptable, as both a person and President, find it so difficult to understand and accept those who do support Trump. Though I found Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 to all be awful leaders, it did not dramatically effect friendships I had with conservative friends. But I have found that for me and others that it is different with Trump. I know people who have ended friendships (in one case of over 40 years) and it certainly has made me think much less of my few friends who do support Trump. I have some thoughts why this is true for so many people.
GASLIGHTING – One of the worst things in life is to have one’s reality denied, to be told that something you absolutely know to be true is a delusion.
(The phrase “gaslighting” comes from the famous play and movie, “Gaslight”, where a husband is trying to drive his wife crazy by surreptitiously raising and lowering the intensity of the gaslights in their home – and then telling her that this is not really happening.)
This is what Trump’s critics feel when a Trump supporter denies the reality of what going on. And if you have friends or loved ones who assert things that you know are not true, it is very upsetting. It makes you respect them less. Trump supporters will suggest that Trump is a strong leader when it’s clear he’s in Putin’s pocket; that he is a brilliant businessman despite that fact that he is a tax cheat, corrupt and has gone bankrupt four times; that he “says it like it is” when in fact he is a pathological liar. And the notion that he has the interests of the working class at heart is belied by the tax cut that benefits the Koch Brothers and super rich and his determination to destroy the Affordable Care Act. The irony is that a large percentage of Trump’s fans are the ones getting screwed by his policies, which is more frustrating to those who see him for who he is – a blatant liar and hypocrite.
Trump is so clearly a fraud and a con man, that to suggest otherwise is, in fact, delusional and crazy-making to people like myself. We view those making these arguments as either stupid or brainwashed or engaged in the worst kind of sophistry and political spin. It is hard to take seriously a friend or family member who defends the indefensible.
FALSE EQUIVALENCY – One of the worst aspects of the news media, and discourse in general, is the notion that “both sides” do it. As Norm Ornstein notes, this is simply not true. Republicans are the problem. Republicans have frequently violated the norms (ie. Merrick Garland) and then justify their behavior with absurd and dishonest assertions and justifications, that Democrats do it too or you don’t approve a Supreme Court justice in an election year.
Trump’s supporters have taken this to a new level. For instance, they argue that “all politicians lie” to suggest that the President’s thousands of prevarications are somehow comparable to other politicians. “Obama said you could keep your doctor and that wasn’t true.” So, in one of the rare instances where Obama said something that was not 100% accurate, this is somehow the same as Trump’s chronic and outrageous fabrications (over 6000 in less than two years in office)? It’s ridiculous. The truth was that most people could keep their doctor. At worst, Obama’s assertion was a mild exaggeration. Trump just makes up shit all the time, statements with no basis in fact that are easily disprovable – the size of his inauguration crowd, Obama’s birth certificate, terrorists coming over the border, and on and on.
Again, one feels like they are a victim of gaslighting and profoundly disrespected when this false equivalency argument is used to defend Trump. If you can’t be honest with me about what is obviously the reality of Trump and his presidency, then how I can trust you as a friend or family member? And this is not just a difference over policy, but over character, and it is insulting. You are treating me as someone who is naïve and dumb by forwarding such dishonest and absurd arguments.
POLICY OUTCOMES – One of my oldest friends voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court, and there are those who hold their noses for this and other policy reasons. He commented right after the election, “Well I had to put up with Obama for eight years.” I think that made me the angriest of all. I haven’t asked him what he thinks now two years later because I don’t want to any more pissed off than I am. If he were to argue that the ends justifies means (ie. the Supreme Court), despite the fact that Trump is clearly a malignant narcissist and sociopath who is wrecking our alliances with our allies and kissing the asses of dictators; is under at least 17 investigations; may be a traitor; is a pathological liar; is clearly self-dealing for financial gain; has had numerous members of his campaign or administration either plead guilty to felonies or are under investigation; I would likely say something that would end a lifelong friendship.
Does my friend really think Trump is a better representative and symbol for our country than Obama? Obama had NO SCANDALS and was and is widely respected around the world. It’s not even close. To support someone who is so transparently unqualified and unfit in exchange for some policy goals demonstrates a mind numbing level of hypocrisy. Had Obama behaved similarly and as corruptly, I’m sure my friend and other Trump supporters would be screaming from the rafters for him to be impeached and removed from office.
RACISM: Trump is a racist – full stop. Charlottesville, shit-hole countries, the Muslim ban, child separation at the border, the border wall (that Mexico was supposed to pay for), Mexicans are drug-dealers and rapists: all these make it clear that Trump is primarily appealing to the most ugly side of white anger. Now some Trump supporters ignore all this grotesque bigotry because of tribalism or for some policy outcomes they desire.
They don’t understand that when you support a racist man because he is on your team (Republican) or because of the Supreme Court you are enabling and endorsing his behavior, whether you claim to or not. I can’t respect someone who supports a racist.
Though George W. Bush engaged in some racist policies for political gain (suppressing the black vote), he did not engage in the casual and blatant racism that Trump regularly traffics in. And Bush wanted to deal with our immigration issues. Don’t get me wrong, Bush’s actions and the Supreme Court that gutted the Voting Rights Act were reprehensible. But Trump is in a class by himself.
The President’s supporters diminish themselves regularly by endorsing and repeating the same tired tropes put forward by their leader. To us, it’s a case of the Emperor’s Clothes. We clearly see the Trump is nakedly unfit and immoral to be holding the most powerful position in the world. When Trump’s people contend that his critics – us – are just liberal elites who don’t get it, they are at the same time ignoring reality and insulting those who believe in facts and truth. It is hard to stay friends with and love people who deny your reality…and ultimately theirs.