I really have to get to some garage cleaning, but a bit of procrastination brought me to this Facebook post by Phil Eil, in which he writes:
Trump did so many unacceptable, reprehensible things on the campaign trail. He insulted veterans, a disabled reporter, a Gold Star family, Mexicans, and the women who had accused him of sexual assault. He vowed to ban Muslims from entering the country. He was caught boasting about grabbing women’s genitals. He vowed to commit war crimes. He undermined the electoral process, by calling the election “rigged.” He fanned the flames of virulent anti-journalism hatred. …
This leaves non-Trump voters looking at millions of their fellow citizens – including friends, co-workers, family members, neighbors – and thinking, “I never knew these people were OK with sexual assault, insulting veterans, undermining the electoral process, committing war crimes, demonizing the press, and so much more.” It’s quite a shock.
My first thought is that, as much as the urge may be to respond in political battle mode, we should be grateful to those who are attempting to work through their reactions to the election results with measured tones in an open forum. My experience interacting with Phil before and after the election shows that the inexplicability of the other side cuts both way. The divide in our country, right now, is in no way superficial; it starts at our basic beliefs and runs right through the words out of our mouths. For a lengthy articulation of an opposing view to Phil’s, see Doug Futz’s comment to the post.
If we were to try to adopt the perspective of the wizened grandmother as her two adult grandchildren simmer at Thanksgiving over a long-running feud, I think what we’d conclude is that pretty basic human nature is to blame. Both candidates were so, so horrible that, upon making a choice between them, plenty of material was available to proclaim the awfulness of the other as an excusing balance for the preferred candidate. At the end of the day, Phil would have preferred the policies that a Clinton presidency would have enabled, while I prefer the other outcome (either side in an imperfect, probably often-disappointing way). Once we each made the call, the rest was just filling in the blanks.*
That said, I’ll step off the high wire of equivalence to make one point: I do think progressives have more of a tendency to focus on talk. Even back to undergrad classroom arguments, I’ve gotten the impression that people who fall to the progressive side tend to place more priority on stated intentions and presentation. That is, they’d rather support somebody who proclaims an intention to make everybody happy, while implementing the sorts of policies that created Detroit and Venezuela, than somebody who gives a harsh-seeming rationale for the sorts of policies that brought us, well, the advancements of Western Civilization.
And obviously, the equivalence also evaporates in the heat of the specific policies that probably led us each to pick one side or the other in the balance of horribleness. Frankly, supporting the policies and ideology that Clinton would have advanced is much more problematic, from my perspective, than voting for the candidate herself, and I suspect if he thought in those terms, Phil would find he objects much more to my policy prescriptions than whatever degree my extremely reluctant vote for Trump indicates that I’m “OK with sexual assault, insulting veterans, undermining the electoral process, committing war crimes, demonizing the press.”**
It shouldn’t take but a few moments consideration to realize that all those friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers weren’t voting out of sympathy for Trump’s grossness. But progressives may find it even more disturbing that those same people prefer conservative policies to progressive ones. On that score, I can only respectfully suggest to Phil and his fellow progressives that their acquaintances are correct.
* For another angle on convenient rationalizations, I’d highlight how Phil insisted, before the election, that there was no comparison between Trump saying objectionable things and Clinton campaigning with her similarly compromised cad of a husband or standing with vile rappers. “They are not the candidate,” he said (paraphrased). Yet, now progressives are insisting it’s a stain on all Trump supporters that some group of deranged KKK members are celebrating. It’s all about where one draws the lines of association and accountability, and human nature leads us to draw convenient distinctions in the service of prior conclusions.
** Let it be noted, for the record, that I’m absolutely OK with “demonizing the press” at the national level and find it self-serving for Phil to include that on his list of horribles.