Does Contempt for a Leader Mean Disrespecting His Followers? | Opinion

Does profound contempt for Donald Trump signify similar disdain for all 74 million Americans who backed his bid for reelection?

Many of the former president's most fervent admirers believe that it does. In the throes of a second impeachment crisis, Trumpian true believers remain painfully sensitive to disparagement from media, academia, Hollywood, Democratic power brokers and other left-leaning elements of the American establishment. They still recall when Hillary Clinton, at a decisive moment of the 2016 campaign, dismissed the core of Trump's base as a "basket of deplorables."

By deriding Trump as a grifter and a demagogue, these sneering elites also seem to disrespect the hardworking, patriotic MAGA multitudes who gave him their votes, sent him their small-dollar contributions and even, on January 6th, trekked to Washington to overturn an election their leader falsely insisted he had won.

That's why any meaningful effort to heal our internal divisions must include an open acknowledgment that voting for one presidential candidate or another doesn't automatically render anyone an unworthy citizen or a despicable human being. Good people sometimes support bad policies, and occasionally make the mistake of backing undeserving, demagogic candidates; it happens all the time, on the Left as well as the Right.

But even badly misguided voters can be good neighbors and decent people. It makes no sense to judge the nobility or corruption of ordinary citizens on the basis of some ideological checklist. Sure, participation in violent fringe movements—like Antifa, Q-Anon or the Proud Boys—qualifies as immoral, irresponsible and self-destructive, but it's ridiculous to insist that all active Republicans seek to destroy democracy or that Democrats, as a whole, mean to impose the fetters of socialist dictatorship.

Such canards not only destroy hopes of reconciliation and compromise, but separate those who repeat them from reality, and from constructive engagement with their wider community. Present feuds become eternal ones if you insist on seeing your adversaries as the incarnation of evil or, perhaps even worse, if those with whom you disagree sense that you look down on them.

In that context, the notion that enthusiastic admiration for Donald Trump comes exclusively from lunatics and losers—the sort of thuggish yahoos who participated in the raid on the Capitol building—ignores the obvious fact that he has drawn support from every element in society, with brilliant scientists, noted philanthropists, battlefield veterans, helpers and heroes easily identifiable among his stalwart supporters.

The tendency to judge people on their politics rather than their personal behavior can distort how one responds even to acts of extraordinary graciousness. In a recent column for the L.A. Times, Virginia Heffernan expressed genuine anguish over the fact that after a snow storm "the Trumpites next door...plowed our driveway without being asked and did a great job." In response to this "act of aggressive niceness" she compared her neighbors to the murderous Lebanese terrorists of Hezbollah and the Nazis in occupied France, who also showed kindness and generosity to those who shared their racial or religious background.

Trump supporters
People listen as U.S. president Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again rally at Cherry Capital Airport November 2, 2020, in Traverse City, Michigan. Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty

"I also can't give my neighbors absolution," Heffernan writes. "It's not mine to give. Free driveway work, as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth." She concludes with "a standing invitation to make amends. Not with a snowplow but by recognizing the truth about the Trump administration and, more important, by working for justice for all those whom the administration harmed."

In other words, Heffernan suggests that despite a significant, unsolicited favor from her neighbors, the price of real friendship with such "Trumpites" is a wrenching confession of political error accompanied by a pledge for penance.

Imagine if the differences between these two families had been religious rather than political. No self-respecting progressive would ever dream of suggesting that the folks next door must recognize and reject the flaws of their Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Zoroastrian faith before their gestures of good will could comfortably be accepted.

Why would some of these same woke and enlightened sophisticates, who aver that political disagreements can never be bridged, be so much more willing to accept faith-based differences?

In part, the contrast reflects the growing segment of the population that takes politics more seriously than religion. According to numerous polls, a full quarter of contemporary adults identify as "nones"—those with no religious affiliation whatever. Meanwhile, while our contentious politics brings lofty ratings to partisan pundits who peddle anger and anxiety, we saw record-breaking voter turnout for the desultory choice in 2020.

For too many Americans, politics has become a substitute for faith, with people basing their evaluation of others more on attitudes toward Trump than on relationships with God, or on commitment to Biblical commandments mandating upright behavior. In an era when we can comfortably, respectfully disagree about the afterlife, the ministry of Jesus, the purpose of Creation or the demands of the Creator (if any), we surely can do a better job relating to those who prefer a different presidential candidate.

In this increasingly secular, incurably skeptical age, it ought to be obvious that both major parties mobilize a maddening mix of the noble and the corrupt, the gracious and the grotesque. No candidate holds a monopoly on support from kind-hearted characters, or from ruthless scoundrels. And even the most devoted adoration of an elderly office-seeker, whether it's Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, can't guarantee a reliable road to redemption or a proven path to perdition.

In judging ourselves, and others, we need to look elsewhere for guidance.

Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show and is author, most recently, of God's Hand On America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era. Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.