As it turns out, I haven’t written about politics since election week 2016. There’s always a part of me just itching to write and express and persuade and contribute to the conversation. But as I grow and work on myself, I increasingly suppress that urge. Do I have a meaningful perspective or is my ego just whining to be heard? Am I blabbing at my own keyboard when I should be listening to others? Is immersing myself in the political conversation of 2020 even a remotely positive or soul-feeding exercise? (Uhh obviously you can all answer that last one. In case you need to phone a friend, ring ring ring hi what’s up the answer is NO.)
And while I have mostly stayed off things like Facebook and the Hellhole popularly known as Twitter, when I was invited by a friend and former Bush colleague to be a part of the launch of Republican Voters Against Trump, I jumped on it. I appeared in broadcast ads nationally and in Pennsylvania, gave interviews to Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and several international outlets, published an op-ed unloading all my outrage over his coronavirus response. I say this not to toot my own tuba, but to just record this contribution for perpetuity. I go to sleep tonight on election eve totally at peace, knowing that no matter what happens, our thousands-strong movement can be proud we did our part to speak out this year. And I wear my Human Scum badge with pride, even though that’s a pretty messed up thing to say of your constituents.
But before I’m a Republican I’m an American, and before I’m an American I’m a Christian. And for that reason, I have never, not for one second since 2015, considered supporting Trump. When I teach Sunday School to our church’s preschoolers, I love to frame the Greatest Commandment by asking them about all the rules they have to follow at home and at school. Don’t do this, don’t do that, go here, go there, blah blah! Tough being four years old, right? (It’s not, and I deeply wish the totality of my life responsibilities was eating crackers and going to bed at 8 p.m., but you gotta work your audience.) Teacher Jesus has only ONE RULE!, I tell them: Love God and love your neighbor.
Not super complicated, but also not the easiest to live and practice, for sure. So I would never hold it against Trump that he wasn’t perfect at it, because obviously I sin 6,539 times before I’ve had my bowl of breakfast cereal, and so do all of us, but it should at least be our guiding principle. Whether we do it as followers of a religion, or we do it as agnostic/athiestic folk who just want to do right by humanity, is unimportant. The world just works best when we extend goodness and decency and respect and love to one another. If you can’t at least try – even feebly – to live and lead by this philosophy, you will not ever earn my vote to lead this country, no matter how much we agree on paper politically.
I think also of the goofy WWJD? friendship bracelets from middle school. I then want to pass out on the ground ROFLing at the Build the Wall movement. Build a wall? Jesus, who loved the dirty, the destitute, the poor, the lepers, the outcast – would be taking them in and breaking bread with them! (Oh, and by the way, a real REPUBLICAN would be asking how to dismantle the bureaucracy of immigration to make it workable and accessible, not spending $21 billion on a boondoggle wall.) I will not be a part of a movement that does the literal exact opposite of what Jesus lived. I will not support a president who told his own Department of Homeland Security to pause their work on genuine security threats to explore how much it would cost to sharpen the spikes atop the wall to make them more damaging to human flesh. I will not support a president whose policy separated a four-month-old from his parents and breastfeeding mothers from infants. (Do NOT click those links unless you want to cry and be depressed all day, just there so you know I’m not making it up.) This is simply one of many deal-breaking offenses of his, to this voter.
Also important to note, this is how I interpret and practice my faith as I feel it, as the Holy Spirit has worked in my heart. I honor the fact that others interpret theirs differently, or interpret theirs in a way that calls them to support Trump, and I honor and respect that.
I will say this to my fellow Republicans: I share your concerns about everything. About our freedom, about commerce and industry being choked and regulated and taxed into oblivion, about our energy jobs in Pennsylvania, about the keys to our country being handed over the wishes and whims-du-jour of the lunatic progressive Twitter mob. I share your concerns. But there is nothing – no single issue, no political advantage, nothing – that is worth selling the soul of our country for. If we allow our political agenda to become more important than the soul and very fabric of our country, what have we become? What is all the power in the world worth if Americans are left broken, sick, hurting and warring with each other? (The “Queen of the Ashes” analogy comes to mind from GOT.)
There is no meaningful progress to be made on any issue – we cannot even begin to explore the complex questions of policing or healthcare or environment or the economy or anything – until we get to a healthier place where we can hear each other, talk to each other, empathize with each other, have a freaking civil conversation without lobbing nasty, knee-jerk insults at each other within 2.3 seconds. We also can’t begin this work until we can sleep at night knowing our democracy is firmly grounded in the rule of law, under the watch of a careful, reverent steward. I am skeptical that Biden is this knight in shining armor, but he is, at the very least, a step in the right direction, and that’s enough for me this year. We will never get to that place under Trump. It is also because of the importance of these issues that we are owed real, actual leadership and not the nonstop psychotic Twitter ramblings of a narcissistic teenager who probably needs his smartphone pitched down the nearest sewer drain.
I will say this to my friends on the left: Take a brief break from pointing the finger at the right, humble yourselves, and own the ways that you have contributed to this nightmare as well. As I wrote in 2016, Trump won because huge populations of people were dismissed and rendered voiceless by the left. Millions of decent, working people, people who got up every day, toiled physically for modest incomes, people who voted blue for generations! Their Main Streets collapsed, their industries that provided prideful work and family-sustaining incomes collapsed, and you were too busy getting worked up over culture politics to notice. Trump HEARD them and WENT to them. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this weekend:
Has Mr. Trump done enough for these struggling fellow citizens? No. But he recognized them. Maybe he was not articulate, but he recognized their pain. No one ever asked the American people, or the people in “flyover,” country, if they wanted to send their jobs abroad — until Mr. Trump.
Now, the dude is obviously a calculating, opportunistic monster, so I question if this was ever genuine or just part of his power-attaining strategy. The account from a defector in his own White House wherein he called COVID “good” because “I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people” suggests the latter, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. This is a positive contribution he made and I give him credit. And obviously there was a confluence of factors that contributed to 2016, but THIS is what happened in the Rust Belt, and the Rust Belt got him to 270.
My hope is we begin the process of waking up from this nightmare tomorrow, and begin the work of healing and reuniting ourselves. Continuing to hope for our reconciliation feels a little like I’m living in a Lennonesque fantasy dreamworld where wine cascades from waterfalls and centaurs bathe in chocolate fountains, but I will not stop believing we can get to a better place. A place where we see each other not as enemies, but as vital organs in the same body, as Jeff Flake beautifully describes.
However, I also know that loving your neighbor doesn’t always look quiet and gentle. Loving your neighbor can be loud and forceful, when the situation requires us to stand up for the vulnerable and voiceless. And it is for them that I cast my vote: the children at the border, the lives senselessly lost to COVID, the people in our cities crying out to be heard this summer who found no empathy from our leader. And it is for the vulnerable populations here in Appalachia that I commend President Trump for his work and outreach.
No matter what happens tomorrow and in the vote-counting hellscape that will likely follow, when I feel the anger and the outrage rising, I will remember that if we are to oppose Trump on the grounds of goodness and decency, we must ourselves live those values and not contribute to hate and hurtful discourse. Go in peace, friends. And God bless our beautiful democracy.