Inside the mind of a Trump supporter
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, America is grappling with an uncomfortable truth: we are a deeply divided nation, perhaps more so than at any time since the Civil War.
Like many Americans, this year’s campaigns and ensuing elections reinforced my belief that the two sides of our political spectrum have little in common other than the borders that contain us.
While it’s still too early to tell, it appears that former vice president Joe Biden will be the country’s next president.
But even if President Trump loses and steps down, his influence on the views, attitudes, and behavior of his supporters will likely remain with us well into the future. In the Trump era, the Republican party and the Trump movement have become one — and few expect Trump to go quietly into retirement.
In fact, Trump on Thursday further stoked divide by falsely claiming that Biden’s progress toward winning the election was fueled by multiple instances of fraud.
As vote-counting concludes, some leaders have suggested that it’s time for the country to set aside our differences and come together.
“Both parties need to listen to what the other party wants,” former governor of Ohio John Kasich said during a CNN interview on Wednesday. “We’ve got to get this country united, and that requires listening. Let’s listen to what the people are saying who did not vote for us.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden also called for unity in a speech Wednesday delivered from Wilmington, Delaware.
“Once this election is finalized and behind us,” Biden said, “it will be time to do what we’ve always done as Americans: put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us. Lower the temperature. See each other again. Listen to one another. Hear each other again. Respect and care for another again. To unite and heal and come together as a nation.”
But is this really possible? Can common ground be found between today’s Red and Blue America? Will listening to each other sway opinions or foster deeper understanding?
Just before the election, I attempted to find out.
Seeking common ground
Late last week, I came across a Facebook post started by a woman with whom I grew up. The post showcased a patriotic photo of my friend and her husband. Beneath the image was an overlay of the following:
TEXT VOTE TO 88002
More than 75 people, many of them childhood friends and acquaintances, expressed support for the post.
I waded in and queried the group:
“Honest question, asked with respect: what is it about Donald Trump that you all support? I’m trying to understand….”
The original poster was the only Trump supporter to respond, and she did so with kindness and respect.
But her lengthy response, sent in a private message, laid bare my fears and convinced me that the chasm between America’s right and left is indeed wide and deep — perhaps too wide and deep to be bridged by simply listening to one another.
What astounded me were the stark differences between our values and beliefs, despite the similarity of our backgrounds:
- We grew up in the same white, upper-middle-class neighborhood, a few hundred yards apart, in a left-of-center Rocky Mountain college town.
- Our fathers were respected professionals in the community and provided for their families in ways that allowed our mothers to stay at home and care for us.
- We attended the same schools from kindergarten through high school.
- We shared many common friends and acquaintances throughout childhood and beyond.
- We both received college educations from respected universities.
But what surprised me most was my friend’s willingness to accept the tales Trump and Republicans have spun, and how transparently manipulative and disingenuous those same tales appear to me.
- Where my friend applauds Trump’s effective implementation of immigration reform, I see overt racism. I see the inhuman spectacle of children separated from their parents and locked in cages, 545 of whom are effectively orphaned and may never see their families again.
- Where she sees Trump “draining the swamp,” I see corruption and incompetence on an almost unimaginable scale, evidenced by the multitude of ethics complaints, federal charges, prison sentences, and impeachment issued against Trump, his campaign, and his administration.
- Where she sees support of our military, I see a president who dodged the Vietnam draft on three separate occasions and then publicly disrespected our servicemen and women by calling them “losers” and “suckers.”
- Where she sees admirable leadership in Trump’s fast-tracking of vaccines & treatment for COVID-19, I see a bungled and utterly criminal response to a pandemic that, had it been handled correctly, scientifically, and truthfully, could potentially have saved hundreds of thousands of American lives.
- Where she sees a successful businessman, I see a six-time-bankrupt con artist who likely cheats on his taxes, refuses to release his tax returns, and owes up to $1 billion to unknown entities, foreign and domestic.
Given the similarity of our upbringings, I assume our views are in part formed and reinforced by the outlets from which we obtain our news and information.
But our differences go deeper than that. My friend’s response to my query indicated that we’ve developed entirely incompatible ethical foundations. We disagree on the meaning of right and wrong. The concepts of truth, honor, and human dignity signify different things to us.
My friend’s message confirmed my suspicion that Trump’s supporters occupy a world far removed from my own. We adhere to alternate realities, between which there exist no working lines of communication.
Our ensuing discussions suggest that nothing I could say would persuade her to see things from my perspective. Likewise, her beliefs are so foreign to my own that meeting in the middle — or even comprehending her views — seems unlikely.
The encounter left me dispirited and pessimistic for America’s future.
To be clear, there were a few things we could agree on. Neither of us believes Trump has the “gift of public speaking” or a “great grasp on the English language.” We both wish “someone would edit his tweets or take his phone away.”
We both “hate the name calling” and Trump’s constant “exaggerations.” We despise “the things he has said in his public life, prior to the Presidency, about women.” Neither of us looks to Donald Trump to be our “moral compass.”
But that’s where our ability to agree comes to an end.
For my friend, those qualities are something to look past; she is able to set them aside because she believes in Trump’s policies. She finds in her faith the capacity to forgive the past version of Trump in order to accept his current incarnation.
To me, those same qualities are part and parcel of who Donald Trump is. They inform his past and his present, his positions and policies. There is no separating the man from his politics. He is incapable of growth or change.
My friend sees Trump’s presidency as the virtuous redemption of a man who is simply flawed like the rest of us. To me, the Trump presidency is an abhorrent extension of the deplorable man he has always been.
And therein lies the barrier that obstructs any meaningful reconciliation between red and blue America. Listening to each other—hearing what the other side has to say and attempting to find common ground—relies on a shared set of values and a mutually agreed upon set of facts and truth.
- Until my friend can acknowledge that the man offering comfort to Kyle Rittenhouse for killing innocent protestors in Kenosha — or defending police officers for gunning down countless unarmed black people — is the same man who took out full page ads in New York newspapers 30 years ago demanding that five innocent black men (the Central Park Five) be given the death penalty, I see little chance for common ground.
- Until my friend can admit that her privilege allows her to judge desperate immigrants seeking opportunity for their children and then cavalierly dismiss Trump’s inhumane treatment of them, I see little chance for common ground.
- Until my friend can accept that the Trump presidency has represented a terrifying rejection of democracy and a downward slide toward autocracy, I see little chance for common ground.
- Until my friend can confess to the utter dishonesty, immorality, greed, and selfishness of the entire Trump experiment, I see little chance for common ground.
In my mind, supporting Trump without owning his atrocities is a logical fallacy. One cannot accept Trump’s immigration policies without being willing to personally lock the cage door that incarcerates innocent children. One cannot accept Trump’s “very fine people” comment or his “stand down, stand by” remark without marching lockstep with Nazis and white supremacists. One cannot applaud Trump’s energy and forest management policies without stepping foot into America’s largest unspoiled temperate rainforest, holding the chainsaw, and cutting down the first 800-year-old tree.
I don’t pretend to know how to bridge our country’s divisions. But I do know that it will take more than listening to one another. It will require a fundamental transformation on the right, one that accepts facts, science and truth; one that confronts racism and respects the rights to freedom, safety, and opportunity we all share; and one the addresses the hypocrisy, dishonesty, and ethical lapses that defined the Trump presidency.
Below is the message my friend sent, reprinted with her permission. The original text has been formatted for ease of reading.
An explanation of support for Donald Trump
Thanks for asking why I support President Trump. I could make this really long, but I want you to read it, so I’m going to give you the cliff notes version.
First, let me note the things we probably agree on. The President does not have the gift of public speaking and in some cases does not have a great grasp on the English language. On most days, I wish someone would edit his tweets or take his phone away.
I hate the name calling. I hate the exaggerations. I hate the things he has said in his public life, prior to the Presidency, about women.
I do not look to Donald Trump to be my moral compass, and I believe that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
My faith causes me to believe that we can all ask for forgiveness and the slate is wiped clean (you have no idea how grateful I am for that!). I do not know if Donald Trump has asked for forgiveness for his past sins (no one does) but I was not put on earth to judge him. Only Christ will judge him and that is why I don’t spend a lot of time on his past — only what he has done during his presidency.
Most conversations about Donald Trump are based on the cult of personality. I prefer to view him based on his administration’s policies. With that preamble, these are some of the reasons I support Donald Trump and his administration.
I love, Love, LOVE that he isn’t a politician. He is a businessman running the country. Because of this, he came into the office without owing anybody. He didn’t have past promises that were made during a lifetime in politics.
I love that he is “draining the swamp.” Politics is a very dirty business and the cabal that has run our political system for years is having a light shined on their actions and how it has hurt the American people.
I’m grateful that President Trump has a focus on this. Dirty politicians need to go. Lifetime politicians need to go. Both sides of the aisle.
I love that he puts America first. He is looking out for the best interest of our country and the people that legally reside in it (yes, we’ll get to immigration in a minute).
I love that he is trying to get the United States out of the business of being the world’s police force and bank.
I love that he is building up, and supportive of, our military.
I love that he is supporting industries and policies to make America energy-independent.
I like the people he has placed in his administration. They support my beliefs and how I think the country should be managed.
I LOVE that he is protecting America and is doing what is necessary to protect the southern border from people entering illegally. This is important to slow the flow of drugs and human trafficking into our country.
I LOVE that he has accomplished much of what he campaigned on. Highlights of the things that are important to me:
- Record low unemployment (pre-COVID)
- Record-setting stock market
- Fast-tracking of vaccines & treatment for COVID-19
- 12-week paid parental leave for Federal workers
- Criminal justice reform
- Welfare reform and revising public assistance
- Development and success of Community Opportunity Zones
- SPACE FORCE!
- Focus on the elimination of human trafficking
- Negotiated the freedom of US hostages
- Medicare reform
There are so many details that go into this list, but my email is already long. If President Trump is elected to a second term, I hope that the Affordable Care Act and Immigration Reform is at the top of his list.
I don’t know if this is helpful information to you. But I sure appreciate you asking the question. I hope you and your family are well.