Differences of Opinion

The other day, I asked my circle of friends if a Trump supporter was willing to answer “a carefully worded” question with the commitment that I wouldn’t attack the answer or the person. I’m posting my question and the response here, with the authors approval.

While thinking about the question to ask, I decided to offer something of a framework that – if followed – I hoped would be useful for me to understand where we diverged in opinion. This isn’t intended as a call for argument or rebuttal of my or his position. This is intended as a window into someone whom I consider intelligent and thoughtful, despite us routinely falling on opposite sides of the political fence. [Edit: formatting of response.]

Thanks for offering to answer. We’ve known each other for a long time, and while for much of that time it’s been clear we have different political positions I’ve always found you to be thoughtful and reasoned in your opinions. It seems unfair to ask a short question and expect a deep answer, it also seems difficult to ask the question without offering some context for how I’ll evaluate the answer.

I’m an independent voter – I’ve never been registered with either the Republican or Democratic party. I take steps to avoid living in a news bubble – seeking sources inside and outside the US and attempting to understand their political leanings. I favor small government and believe that government has no business dictating details of my – or anyone else’s – private lives, but believe that government does have a critical role in regulating financial markets and corporate behavior.

I support a woman’s right to reproductive choice. I support equal recognition under the law for same sex unions. The word “marriage” is the right word, in my opinion, because it’s ensconced so many places in law.

I believe the preponderance of evidence supports the idea that human behavior has an affect on the environment and ecosystem, and even if that weren’t so, behaving as if it does is the safe long term strategy. I believe the scientific method of inquiry is the most effective method we have for understanding and solving problems.

I believe words matter – they shape and affect our thoughts and influence our actions. I’m highly dissatisfied with the state of the federal government. I do not believe that putting rank amateurs in charge of the government of arguably the most powerful country in the west will make things better, for Americans or the global community. I believe that governance, like any other complex skill, benefits from experience but that we’ve built a system so ripe for abuse that it’s hard for many people to even imagine how to begin fixing it.

I did not support HRC. I thought she was poor at connecting with people in her speeches, poor at explaining the benefits of her proposed policies, and it was hard to believe she was the best candidate the Democrats could have forwarded.

I do not believe HRC is the corrupt liar that one side spends so much time painting her as. Given the number of times she’s been actively investigated and nothing actionable found I must conclude that either: her accusers are consistently incompetent, she’s a James Bond-esque super villain, or there’s been precious little there to warrant the persecution. Occam’s razor suggests the last.

I didn’t support Sanders. To me Sanders and Trump are in some sense flip sides of a coin. Where Trump is a populist nationalist Sanders is a populist socialist – they both rile up their respective bases with impossible vague promises.

I actively opposed Trump. He has no experience governing and did not lucidly describe any policy positions that I could support. As a businessman he’s an accidental success who incorrectly attributes his success to skill. In both his business and in his private dealings I see ample evidence that he treats those he has power over badly, and as an orator he panders to fear and division and gives people permission and encouragement to act out their baser violent instincts.

He seems different than any other presidential candidate in my lifetime. I disagree with him not only on matters of policy – which I’ve disagreed with every president in my adult life – but also about what it means to be a decent human and member of society. I can’t find a way to separate support for his policies (which he never actually enumerated or explained) with support for his behavior, which I found reprehensible. I believe his primary interest in the presidency is to enrich himself and his family and don’t believe he cares about bettering the lives of the nearly 320 million people he’s going to lead, except by happy accident.

So with all that in mind, the question: What encouraged and enabled you to overlook Trump’s lack of experience and his repeated demonstrations of xenophobia, misogyny, racial and cultural bias, his tacit approval of intolerance and violence as a means to settle debate, and his outright fabrications and conclude he was the best candidate for the office of the president?

I got this answer:

I’ll try and give you some context as to my worldview and how I’ll answer your question. If you wish to post my answer on Facebook, go right ahead. I am a registered Republican. I do not agree with everything in the party platform – in fact, I lean more towards Libertarian, but many of their ideals are close enough to Republican ideals. I have voted for Democrats in the past and have not ruled out doing so in the future. Libertarians, unfortunately, tend to run idiots for office instead of reasonable, articulate folks.

I, too, try to avoid living in a bubble. People in my line of work tend to be quite conservative, and it is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking alike with everyone around you. I read and view articles from a variety of sources and run it through the filter of, “What is the slant of the author/news organization?”

I have a deep distrust of “mainstream media” due to their nearly universal bias against conservatives and their desire to tell a story rather than seek the truth. Another part of me was quite happy to see the mainstream media and talking heads go into full freak-out mode as the election got closer. Their bias and antipathy towards Trump turned more people off to the media than they turned off people to Trump.

As a Republi-tarian, I also favor limited government and the idea that freedom, even if dangerous to self, is better than a nanny-state that tells you how to live every facet of your life. Gun control laws, the war on drugs, etc. have produced more problems and have suffocated freedom. Economic meddling by the government in the name of fairness tends to break more things than it fixes.

I do believe abortion should be, as Bill Clinton put it, “safe, legal, and rare.” As a father who has raised babies and adopted children, I find the practice of abortion abhorrent, but that genie can’t be put back into the bottle. Adoption and contraception should be emphasized, and abortion should be a last resort rather than another form of birth control.

My view of same sex marriage has evolved over the years. I was against it at first for religious reasons, but the Libertarian in me recognizes that “if it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket,” I could really care less. Two guys want to get married? Eh, doesn’t affect me – have at it.

I am skeptical of the idea that man can affect the climate of our planet – solar activity has far more effect on our climate compared with anything man could produce. That is not to say that we should do nothing – mankind should have a keen interest in the preservation of the environment, and I sort of like having clean air and water. I may not always agree with how the heavy hand of government should dictate this, but I’d also rather not have to chew the air I breathe.

The scientific method works pretty well for solving a lot of problems, but not everything can fit into that box. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and I also believe we can learn a lot about how to solve our current problems by looking at how similar problems were dealt with in the past.

I believe words matter, but actions and deeds matter more. Fighting over nuances of meaning distracts from the fact that a problem needs to be dealt with. I’m also highly dissatisfied with the state of the federal government. It is sprawling, inefficient, and tends to throw money at problems instead of finding innovative solutions.

I differ a bit here when it comes to putting amateurs in charge of government. Some effective government leaders and presidents have come from all walks of life. Being educated, well-spoken, or well-connected doesn’t always mean that you will be a good leader. The political / administrative dichotomy exists, and while their worlds often overlap, one isn’t always better than the other. Different strokes and all that. Unfortunately, the idea of public service is a punchline for most office-holders.

I was not a fan of Trump in the primaries. He struck me as bloviating, pompous, arrogant, and at times barely coherent. I really liked Ted Cruz and hoped he would be nominated. Once Trump became the nominee (and Gary Johnson and his VP turned out to be morons) I realized that the choice would be either Trump or Hillary. While I wasn’t a fan of Trump, I absolutely could not stomach the idea of HRC as president.

Hillary has always been out for herself. Years of scandal after scandal, which she and her cronies avoided prosecution in a way which mafia dons would have been proud, absolutely turned me off to her. The email scandal and Clinton Foundation touched at the very heart of how she operates. Her intention was to operate without transparency and to find ways to shake down governments for money.

Trump connected with many people due to his desire to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. We used to be a country that built things. Now we are a service economy. There are a variety of reasons about how things got this way, and I don’t think all of Trump’s ideas will bring the economy around. One thing for sure, though, is that we can’t tax ourselves into prosperity. Trump’s foibles and his treatment of women are terrible. While his flaws are personal, HRC’s venality and paranoia would make Nixon proud.

Ultimately, I had to weigh the two candidates on this scale – who would operate in the best interests of the United States? In this regard, it was Trump hands down. Warts, ego, and all, I do believe he genuinely wants to do right by our country. Furthermore, a Republican president and Republican Congress will have several Supreme Court picks. With our freedoms hanging in the balance, I believe a conservative court will be more likely to rein in an overzealous federal government.

Lastly, Trump has indicated he will strengthen and protect the Second Amendment. He supports national concealed carry reciprocity (which makes perfect sense if you believe “full faith and credit” means what it says) and other measures which are near and dear to my heart.

Bottom line – Trump has said things that are stupid, thoughtless, and show a marked lack of respect for women. Some of the shocking and outrageous things he has said must also be viewed in the context that he has been an entertainer (and entertainers do entertaining and controversial things to self-promote) and he is not a polished, professional speaker. After looking at the context of the other criticisms (xenophobia and racism) I don’t believe that there is either smoke or fire there.

Ultimately, there were more pluses in Trump’s column than there were minuses (of which there were several). Hillary’s column was almost entirely minuses for me. The choice, to me, was clear.

Democracy is Coming

This morning I sat in a coffee shop near Edinburgh university. It’s been five days since the American electorate handed the reins of the country over to a mad man.

The crowd that grew over the morning was mixed; mostly students – accents from all over. An elegant middle aged mum with her two sons – dressed in sweater vests and wearing poppies for remembrance day – had breakfast.

I drank a good cup of coffee, scanned the morning paper, and listened to the conversation around me.

Listening to the conversation – snippets about the election and Brexit mixed in with exams and romantic intrigue – gave me the first glimmer of hope in days.

They will outlive and undo our stupidity and go on to be stupid in new and amazing ways.