I didn’t take the #NeverTrump movement literally, and figured they might someday concede he’d done something right. I didn’t think “someday” was Election Day.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I voted for Gary Johnson. I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for a man who stood in such stark contrast with every value I hold dear. I could list the particulars here, but why bother? You may or may not agree, and that’s not the point. I was true to myself, and that’s all anyone should ever be. And yet, I’m glad Hillary lost. I’m ecstatic actually. She didn’t deserve to win for more reasons than I’d care to list, but the fact that it had to be Donald Trump who defeated her takes the joy out of it for me.
I don’t mean to be such a negative nelly. I like some of his cabinet appointments, and it’s possible he’ll do some good. My problem is that it’s becoming obvious looking around this week that I don’t know where I fit in politically anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was squarely in the GOP camp before this election either. I’ve been registered “Undeclared” for at least 12 years. But until now, I could still look around and feel aligned with most people who called themselves Republican, especially when it came time to vote for president. I knew that no matter what social policy they put forth that I didn’t like, I was probably going to approve of most of their economic agenda, and at least it wouldn’t be as bad as the Democrats’ so it was a no-brainer. I was safe and dry under the tent.
When Mitt Romney ran in the 2012 election, I was surprised that so many right-leaning folks were complaining that he wasn’t “conservative” enough, and they accused me of lacking principles, and being too much of a “pragmatist” when I supported him wholeheartedly. I was surprised, because to me, compared to Barack Obama, he was William F. Buckley, but I was told such comparisons didn’t matter. The important thing was to stop losing to the left by being too wishy washy. Wishy washy then meant “too willing to compromise” or “too eager to grow government just like a liberal.”
The “growing government” complaint was something they hurled at George W. Bush too! I heard people who liked the President for his social policies complain that he was too liberal fiscally, with his “compassionate conservatism,” and Medicare Part D program. I’m even old enough to remember the day they went insane because he put a tariff on foreign steel to help the steelworkers, only to realize later that he was hurting the manufacturers who could no longer afford steel. Even then, when I would shake my head, and disagree, I felt like I wasn’t alone, like I still belonged. Our differences of opinion were not so great. We could argue the finer points of a bill, but support the people who voted for it or against it in the end, most of the time.
These same folks became the #NeverTrump people I knew. From the time he announced, until Election Day, they were adamant that he was a New York Liberal, farther to the left than Romney, but dangerous because of his populist tendencies. Many even joined me in voting third party, or not at all. Some held their noses, insisting it was just to keep Hillary out, and promised to “hold his feet to the fire” if he won, an easy promise to make, they admitted, because “winning” was not something they expected him to do. And then he did.
Suddenly, “never” was over. I went to sleep on November 8th with a long list of friends who were as amazed as I was that Donald Trump was getting any support, and I woke up to find that this lifetime Democrat, this supporter of eminent domain, this self-proclaimed “King of Debt” was the darling of the same people. The same people who ripped Romney for being too liberal, were embracing Donald Trump. The man who contributed to Hillary’s Senatorial campaign, called her a “good friend” and “terrific woman,” and who said on numerous occasions that he supported single-payer healthcare. I was incredulous.
One by one, close friends started modifying their views, altering their values, bit by bit, compromising their principles, and making excuses for Donald Trump. I don’t like to sound hyperbolic, but it was more than a little scary. Had they been able to explain it with arguments more rational than “He’s not Hillary,” and “Well he’s not as bad as Obama,” maybe I would feel less strange about their transformation, but they couldn’t. In most cases, it was more like “I don’t know what it is about the guy, but I really like the way our enemies hate him. It’s about time someone gave them a taste of their own!”
In other cases, I was told I was being too picky, too much of a “purist,” and that principles don’t win elections. Still others told me “Give him a chance! Judge him by the results.” How ironic. I’d asked them to give Mitt the same chance based a record of achievement as governor, and they told me I was foolish to give someone a chance to make mistakes in the first place. Mitt couldn’t stop “Romney-care” in Massachusetts, so he was too liberal for the presidency! I disagreed, and they called me a pragmatist. In short, they were the last people I expected would give Trump a pass on anything, ever.
But the more “the left” hated Trump, the more my #NeverTrump friends warmed to him. When the media, Hollywood, and different activist groups criticized or protested, they defended him. It started to seem like they took every accusation and insult personally, as if an attack on him was an attack on them. I saw so many formerly rational people begin lumping every Trump critic into one group. There was no “I,” only “we,” and “us,” and naturally, “them.”
I tried to remind them how much they hated it when Hillary lumped everyone who didn’t support her into one group, calling us all “Deplorable,” and “racist” and “misogynist.” I implored them not to become like her, not to assume every Trump critic was the “enemy.” I asked them to listen, and to remember how nervous they’d been about him when he was just a candidate. It’s like they had collective amnesia, and they started asking questions like: “When did you become a leftist Deb?!” Or accusing me of secretly preferring Hillary.
It wasn’t just about celebrating his victory. They were rethinking their positions. Maybe they’d judged him too harshly, maybe they’d missed the sheer genius of his approach. Maybe it was part of his plan all along, to play the “troll” to draw out their worst elements, and drive away anyone sane who might oppose him, and so on. The more they talked, the more I felt alienated. I didn’t want revenge. I didn’t want Hillary to win, but I didn’t want rational thought to lose with her.
He hadn’t just been elected King after all. As much as I wanted decisions un-made, and polices un-done or replaced, I knew he was just one man. We had to be careful not to be hypocrites. Victory didn’t give him a blank check any more than it gave Obama. I remembered how frustrating it was when Obama said “Elections have consequences…We won, get used to it.” I didn’t see how behaving the same way was good for the country. Instead, I thought we had a golden opportunity to look inward, at ourselves, to better understand how we ended up here. I didn’t see the value in gloating.
One week into Trump’s presidency, resisting the temptation to bash my head on this keyboard has become a daily effort. No matter what this president does, it’s amazing, awesome, fantastic, the best. If I ask questions about why it’s so great, I’m told to shut up, called a “cuck,” accused of being a closet leftist, and a lousy patriot. I’m seeing people who supported Ted Cruz, and before him, Rand Paul, because they wanted a President who respected the Constitution, and civil rights, suddenly all-in for building a wall, and forcibly registering American Muslims so we can keep track of them. I’m seeing people who ranted and raved when Obama declared war on Fox News, cheering and gloating as Trump shuts out CNN. The same people who defended the free speech of people who called Obama and his family names, are calling for people who do the same to Trump to be fired.
It’s only been one week, but already I feel pretty isolated. There are, of course, exceptions. I still have some friends who send me messages privately, or even dare to publicly ask the same questions I ask. I find myself seeking them out too, not because I need a high-five. My ego doesn’t depend upon people agreeing with me all the time. I seek them out because I genuinely believe the only way to “Make America Great Again” is to highlight what is and always was great about America: IDEAS.
That’s the problem I have with Donald Trump, and with the people who seem to have thrown all in with him so quickly. They are turning into the people they claimed to despise: statists who are just happy it’s their “team” pulling the strings, wielding the power, talking about shredding the Constitution. “Buy American, Hire American?” How about “Buy the best, hire the best?” What’s the difference, really, between “Hire American” and “Hire a minority?” When it comes right down to it, when gov’t puts pressure on you to hire for some arbitrary reason like that, isn’t it the same thing?
The media right now is reinforcing this “us vs. them” dynamic. They can’t seem to stop. After Trump’s speech, they spent days focusing on crowd size! Back and forth, who’s was bigger, his or Obama’s? As if we should care. Then they focused on protests, which were about as substantive in their focus as the debate about crowd size. And there I sat, feeling alone again. I wanted to ignore the protesters, not fan the flames by harping on how stupid they were. Friends would demand to know why I wasn’t talking about the protests. I would say supported their right to protest peacefully. They would accuse me of being a secret leftist again. I would ask them how they’d feel if he were a Democrat, talking about “solidarity,” and issuing a “decree” defining patriotism. Would they freak out? I reminded them of the things Obama said when he was sworn in, and how they winced at the way he made himself seem larger than the office he was about to occupy. They called me paranoid. No matter what I said, they had an answer, a defense for everything. As he said during the campaign, if I’d told them he just shot someone on Fifth Avenue, I’m fairly certain they’d have said “Probably a Marxist protester who deserved it!”
Nevertheless, here I sit, stubbornly refusing to give the man who would inspire this much knee-jerk devotion “a chance.” It’s the knee-jerk devotion I oppose, more than the man. It’s the feeling that everyone is missing the point, that people are digging in, on both sides, and I don’t fit in either because they’re too far apart. I crave balance. I crave self-reflection. I crave intellectual honesty. I crave conversations with people who don’t share my opinions about everything, but who can talk to me about theirs without attacking me as a person; people who aren’t interested in winning for winning’s sake, people who understand that too much power amassed in the hands of the few, even if you agree with those few, is a bad idea. I crave interaction with people who think what makes America great is a set of ideas, not slogans.
I know these people are out there. They must be. Common sense tells me I’m not alone. There have to be others, rolling their eyes at the division, wincing at Trump’s tweets when he threatens martial law in Chicago, and attacks anyone and everyone who challenges him, never once trying to persuade, or explain his position, just writing people off as wrong or “losers” because they won’t praise him. Maybe you are one of them? Maybe you wouldn’t agree with me down to every policy particular, but would agree that this back and forth ad hominem is not good for our republic? If you do, I hope you’ll comment, or better yet, join us here at Practical Politicking.
We don’t need to form a third group, or party, we just need to stand up, on our own, as individuals, asking questions, demanding answers. We need to be skeptics who resist the urge to follow the crowd, or get caught up in the undertow of right-left politics. I know I’m not alone, and if you can relate to me, you now know you’re not too. But as long as the partisans think we are, they will dominate. This site was created to prove they’re wrong. Let’s use it.