Some optimistic progressives say we need to build a bridge to President Donald Trump’s supporters. We, so it goes, can find some sweet spot commonality with them, a Bernie Sanders-populist-working class coalition that can transcend all racial and other divisions to stick it to the 1%.
That’s a very shiny bright bridge, but I’m not buying it. On the other end of the spectrum, where I lean in my darkest moments, are those hell-bent on burning any possible bridges. The chasm is too wide and deep, and we’re fooling ourselves and wasting our energy if we think the Trumpistas would want to even step onto our bridge, much less cross over. And, anyway, do we even want them to?
The truth, so the lie goes, is usually somewhere in the middle. But it’s not. There’s no moral equivalency in this particular struggle. Progressives do not own the whole truth, certainly, but morally and ethically—I’ll concede we have no absolute claim politically—we own much more of it than Trump and many of his supporters.
Stepping away from my dark side, I would like to help build a different kind of bridge than either the shiny bright one or the deep chasm nonbridge. Sorry, not everyone will be invited onto this bridge,. There will be border checks, perhaps even a wall. But I’ll make it as inclusive as I possibly can without selling out on any principles.
I agree to some extent with this Nicholas Kristof column, though he is much more forgiving than I can ever be, at least for now. I understand his main point about coalition-building. I just don’t see how a certain segment of the Trumpistas can—or should— be won over.
Full disclosure, I was a Clinton voter and strong supporter, to the point of being annoyed no end with the Sandernistas and their passionate “nonpractical” (as I thought it then) progressivism. I’ve come around. I admit I might have been wrong about the election’s dynamic. We’ll never know, but Bernie’s working class coalition might have convinced enough Rust Belt voters to keep Hillary’s house of cards blue wall intact, and then some. He might have gotten closer to President Obama’s electoral map: Not just the traitorous Michigan-Wisconsin-Pennsylvania triad, but maybe Iowa, Ohio and Florida. Then again, he might not have—there’s no knowing, exit polls be damned, just what lies in the heart of hearts of the Trump voter.
I don’t agree with Clinton’s damning—for her—appraisal that 50% of them were “deplorable.” And yet . . . oh so many were, to varying degrees. The Trump voter is not monolithic, and the reasons they voted for him are myriad. And some of those reasons may even be, dare I say, acceptable?
Economic dislocation, distrust of the Clintons, generalized anger and disgust at the Establishment and its embrace of a mediocre status quo. By themselves, not reasons to get thrown off my bridge.
Conservative opposition to progressive policies—even on hot-button issues such as immigration, reproductive rights, the minimum wage or climate change—OK not to my liking, but a nice gesture to invite them on the bridge at least. Let’s talk. As long as they can be civil—and I will reciprocate—and only if they don’t bring certain disqualifying baggage along. There will be a baggage check.
Cultural differences? Now it gets a little trickier. You don’t think my gay friends should be able to marry? God told you a woman has no choice over her body? You hate Broadway and New Yorkers are not “real Americans” (how did one ever get your vote?!)? I want to keep you off my bridge, because I find all of that intolerant.
But, again, if these attitudes are free of that baggage I mentioned, maybe we can at least chat at the gate, get to know each other, see where that takes us. Because I may be just as intolerant against your cultural beliefs, I’ll own that. Maybe there’s some learning to be had there.
Now, for that baggage check.
Trump, in his presidential campaign, to his credit or discredit, was at least bold enough to clearly lay out the dark, angry narrative he seems to believe is true. There were still some dog whistles in there, but for the most part he was more explicit and less mushy than your average conservative politician about what, apparently, many Americans hold true in their deep dark hearts.
So I’ll be just as bold. I can’t rightly call him racist or anti-Semitic, without knowing his heart. But much of what he said (and now the policies he actively undertakes) was racist and more. He blithely demonized and scapegoated immigrants, documented or not, and insulted women, ethnic and religious groups, the disabled and war heroes. The list goes on and on, he mocks them all.
Some of that I felt personally. That’s me he’s talking about when he questions the impartiality of a U.S.-born Mexican-heritage judge. Do I have to prove my patriotism, my Americanness, if I am Latino? How many others felt it personally, and felt dismayed that he could get away with what he said, apparently acceptable to his followers?
This man is all about denigrating and disrespecting anyone who is not like him—a white male. He showed a deep disrespect not just for his political opponents, but for the voters behind them. (And yes, so did Hillary at times, but not even close in degree or violence). It was a generally insulting tone, the swagger of a bully.
What was disconcerting was that he was so fervently cheered on, not so much for his policy statements (sparse as they were), but for his insults and tone. The worst, those who engaged or threatened physical violence at campaign rallies, or shouted racist or misogynist insults, don’t even try to come on this bridge. Out!
If you weren’t there, but thought the same vile thoughts, and let such anti-American vitriol guide you to vote for him: Banished!
If you are a “reasonable nationalist”—fooling yourself that you bear no hatred or judgment, but just want what “real Americans” (read white) deserve, to “take their country back”—we’re not stupid, stay on that far shore.
There is no hope for such non-Americans. We have nothing in common with you. Even with the rare policy agreement, your attitude toward the inclusivity that has made this nation what it is marks you as unworthy.
And what about the rest who voted for him? I struggle about you. I want to understand you, but I’m having so much trouble with that. How could you, I keep asking myself? How could you pull that lever? Even if you disagreed with Hillary or even hated her, did you really think this undignified man deserved such an important and dignified office? Better you had just stayed home, which I never ever support . . . but maybe this once the circumstances were dire enough.
Can I be forgiving, understanding? For one, have you come around to see that this is a White House of madness (the latest, as I publish this, with a tweetstorm full of false accusations against his predecessor, calling him “sick”)?
This bridge-building, it’s not going to be easy, but I’ll take a bridge over a wall any day.