Many of my oldest friends are voting for President Trump on Tuesday.
They’re supporting Trump despite the arguments my pundit colleagues and I have been making — or perhaps because of them. My pro-Trump friends and readers complain that the mainstream media are biased against Trump, and thus they tune us out for being unfair and piling on.
“The picture painted by the media is a caricature of the person,” said my high school buddy Dave Richardson, who voted for Trump warily in 2016 but is supporting him enthusiastically this time.
The conundrum for those of us trying to change minds is that the more urgently we shout, the less we’re heard. “We’re not stupid, gullible sheep,” one reader, Frank J., complained. “Be fair and balanced in your reporting and it would have more power.”
My childhood friend Mary Mayor likewise supported Trump and is turned off by coverage that she regards as hostile. “I’ve never known a president who has gone through so much scrutiny, overlooking all the positives he has done,” she told me.
I understand why people like Mary voted for Trump. The loss of well-paying jobs devastated places like my hometown, Yamhill, Ore. Mary spent seven years homeless, lost four relatives to suicide, and herself once put a gun to her own head, before she pulled herself together with the help of a local church. Trump talked about bringing jobs back and helping ordinary workers — so she voted for the first time in her life, for Trump.
“We hoped Trump would help boost the economy and jobs,” my old friend Jani Sitton said, explaining her vote for Trump in 2016.
The challenge for opponents of Trump like myself is that our denunciations of the president sometimes backfire and help him, just as polls suggest that impeachment increased support for him (Gallup shows him with his highest presidential approval numbers after being impeached). As Jani said: “The condescension from very loud and aggressive Trump critics has contributed big time toward conservatives feeling sympathy for him.”
So in my last column before Election Day, let me explain as respectfully as I can why I’m so worked up about this election.
It’s partly because I believe that Trump is a charlatan who preys on my friends who trust him. Trump’s own sister has said he is a liar with “no principles,” and his former chief of staff Gen. John Kelly reportedly referred to him as “the most flawed person” he has known.
So if I’m passionate, it’s because I feel he has exploited my friends and then betrayed them with his policies.
How can a president be called “pro-life” when he has presided over the deaths of more than 225,000 Americans from Covid-19 and still doesn’t have a strategy to fight it? Trump is also working to take away health insurance from my friends: Already, the number of Americans with health insurance has dropped by 5.2 million since Trump took office, and he is trying to completely overturn the Affordable Care Act right after the election.
I’m a great believer in community, in the idea that what makes countries strong is “social capital” — the web of relationships, beliefs, trust, decency and identity that make a society work. Trump has taken this social fabric and acted as the Great Unraveler.
He replaces accepted facts with lies, baseless accusations, support for QAnon and even a conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama had SEAL Team 6 killed instead of Osama bin Laden. In both supporters and opponents, Trump nurtures hate. He is what Proverbs 6:19 calls “a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
Trump has been a corrosive acid on America’s social capital. He has cost us trust. He has dissolved our connectivity.
I understand now why kindergarten teachers sometimes want to remove a loudmouth bully who disrupts the class and leaves it dysfunctional. That is what Trump has done to our democracy.
For much of my career, I’ve written about national security, from Afghanistan to North Korea, China to Iran. But great nations more often rot from within than suffer defeat from outside, and Trump is exacerbating longstanding divisions and weaknesses in this country.
So to those who think I suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” let me explain — with respect, but also urgency — that my intensity arises because I see Trump as not just a phony but also a threat. He has left the United States a more turbulent and divided nation, one close to war with itself.
Today the greatest threat I perceive to America’s national security isn’t from Qaeda terrorists, Russian cyberattacks or Chinese missiles. As I see it, it’s from Trump’s re-election.
This is when conversations with friends become awkward. I may think that Trump bamboozled my pals, and they may think I’m manipulated by leftist propaganda, but we all have agency — and we each think the other is using that agency to endanger a country we all love.
I doubt I’ll change many minds. But the only thing I can do is reach out in a good-faith effort to undecided voters.
Sometimes it works. Jani, a committed Christian, has worried about Democrats and abortion. But this time she will vote for Biden because she’s appalled at Trump’s policies toward migrants, Black Lives Matter and health care, and because “God cares about oppression, justice, the voiceless.”
As Jani goes, so, I hope, will the nation.
Spot illustration by Chloe Scheffe
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