This is for Rose.
She is a nice lady who wrote me a nice email in which she spoke about the need to try to understand Donald Trump’s supporters. As Rose put it, “We need to not close ourselves off to how the other side thinks.” It’s a sentiment I hear a lot from progressives, and it bespeaks a great generosity of spirit.
But I couldn’t disagree more.
Don’t get me wrong. Thinking people will always try to see past their own ideological blind spots, to put themselves into the shoes of those they disagree with. That’s an admirable trait. In normal times it’s a trait I would applaud with enthusiasm.
But these are not normal times. Indeed, sometimes, I wonder if we appreciate just how abnormal — how fraught with danger — they really are. Under Trump, American laws, news media and mores are under assault, to say nothing of American democracy itself.
And I’m sorry, but I don’t think “understanding” Trump followers will ameliorate — or even address — any of that. Besides which, is there really so much left to “understand?”
Not from where I sit. Long before Trump even existed as a political force, many of us noted with alarm the rise of a backlash among right wingers deeply angry and profoundly terrified by the writing on the demographic wall. Said writing foretold — and for that matter, still foretells — the declining preeminence of white, Christian America. As several studies now show, a sense of alarmed displacement among white, Christian America is the soil from which the weed of Trumpism grew.
The idea that we must “understand” those folks carries with it an implicit suggestion that in so doing, we might find some ground for compromise. It would be a great idea in normal times. But again, these times are not normal.
No compromise is possible here for a simple reason Trump followers seem to understand better than the rest of us: You can’t compromise with demography, can’t order numbers to stop being what they are and saying what they say about the coming tide of change. But what you can do is seize the levers of power and change the rules of the game in hopes of blunting the force of that tide. That — again, look at the studies — is what Trump supporters elected him to do.
So while, it is admirable to think “understanding” can fix this country, it is also naive. Progressives should ask themselves: When’s the last time you heard any Trump supporters talking about the need to understand you? You haven’t — and that ought to tell you something.
Here’s the thing: the rest of us have the moral high ground here. We see the same demographic writing on the wall that Trump followers see, but where it makes them angry and fearful, it leaves us energized. Many of us are excited to see the nation that will arise from this cauldron of change.
That’s because the idea of change doesn’t threaten us. It will challenge us, yes, but we’re ready for that. We know that this a big country, big enough for many different kinds of people, many different ways of life. We know what it means to live and let live. And we know that welcoming the stranger, caring for the stranger, is simply what you do as a human being.
I submit that those are core American virtues. And that now would be an excellent time for progressives to exhibit a little courage in their defense. Trump followers see a nation in demographic peril, so they seek a nation where those who frighten them can be regulated into irrelevance. There’s no big mystery about that. There never has been. So no, they don’t really need to be understood.
What they need to be, is defeated.