Wake-up call to trump voters: your life will be worse if he wins
Having watched some of the Republican National Convention and felt, at moments, the surges of panic that I get every once in a while when I contemplate the idea that Trump's con might succeed again and condemn the country and world to another four years of him, I feel a need to tell people what it means to me and what I think would happen to people and relationships and the country if he won again. No one should harbor the illusion that his re-election would be the same as his election, and the next four years like these four years. A lot of bonds would be ruptured or forever changed. The calculus of life and relationships changes when an abhorrent situation goes from being a one-off to a confirmed choice. Many Trump supporters seem not to sense the horror and despair with which a Trump re-election would be met. The country would change on the spot, even if it took a while for it all to shake out. Many Trump supporters seem to relish the feelings he arouses in those who oppose him. This is callous; but it also leads to a misreading of the situation. It creates a false picture of symmetry, as if the emotions he provoked were the mirror opposite of the dismay conservatives feel about liberal policies. But there is a big difference, because Trump actually harms people and really does fundamentally change how the country works, whereas the bogeyman visions of Biden are all rhetoric and the people using the rhetoric know it, because they have lived through eight years of Biden already. For all the talk of persecution, in some corner of the mind people know that Joe Biden is not stopping them from saying “Merry Christmas” or trampling all over the constitution. Everyone knows that Joe Biden, like it or not, represents the same America that has existed throughout the lifetime of almost everyone alive, and that he would preserve the constitution in every sense that it was preserved before Trump. Like it or not, it is a predictable and non-threatening prospect. Anyone who says otherwise is telling a lie or has no grip on reality. And everyone with a shred of knowledge also knows that Trump has changed many things that seemed unchangeable before. There is no substance to the picture of symmetry that many who wish to rationalize their support for him present. “We will be just as upset as you are now if Biden wins,” they say. In reality, conservatives will not experience persecution or see their lives changed in any material way if Biden is elected, notwithstanding their culture of persecution rhetoric. But if Trump wins, many non-conservatives, and especially but not only non-whites, will suffer material changes in their lives and life conditions in ways that range from life being just a bit harder to utterly devastating and life-changing. I could list many examples of great suffering caused by Trump and his policies, but we all know enough of them, if we’re honest, to recognize that the point is true. We have seen the grief in the faces of tiny children separated from their parents. This asymmetry in what is, in reality, at stake for the different sides, and the sense of mockery created by the disingenuous refusal to recognize that difference, like a millionaire suffering an inconvenience comparing his plight to that of a pauper, combined with the real and obvious difference in relation to the constitution – people know not only that Trump is different than Biden, but that he is in fact different than any other Republican in his ignorance of and lack of respect for any institution of government; even Nixon only lied to escape personal consequences, not to neutralize the very mechanisms of accountability – set the table for understanding why the response to Trump's re-election would be different from what anyone steeped in conservative narratives could imagine. Trump's regime has been traumatic for many. Not traumatic in the hysterical, meaningless sense conjured up by every minute of FOX News, but actually life-changing in reality. My life has been impacted by him because my wife is an immigrant and because I haven't been able to see my wife or my son and daughter-in-law for many months now because they were abroad when this crisis began and Trump's negligence has both lengthened the period in which intercontinental flight seems reckless and closed the world's doors to Americans. I still feel very fortunate compared to so many people whose lives have been irrevocably devastated by Trump's actions – nothing permanent has happened to us. But taking just one example, for one otherwise very lucky person: For me, the coronavirus means making sure that I, and my loved ones, make it to the other side so we can see each other again. For me, that's what makes it threatening and scary, and what generates anger when people are careless. Perhaps it comes out more in anger because it's too hard to focus on the other emotions.
I think that's what it's probably like for many people in many ways or questions of life. I honestly hate Donald Trump, and I am angry at his supporters – even people I know and love – because his words and his actions bring grave realities and possibilities and emotions to life that can feel too heavy to bear, and yet he just mocks and speaks with careless disdain for the people affected by what he causes, and other people laugh and cheer. And my experience is nothing compared to what so many others have experienced. In fact, the reason I hate him is not even for me. I will be fine. If it came to that, I could leave and live more peacefully with my family and friends in Europe. I hate him for what he does to others – my own experience just gives me a path to imagining what it must be like for them. And for what he does to the institutions that protect us through law. Without them we are at the mercy of people like him. I hate him for taking things that are priceless to us just for his own convenience. All this is bad enough, but his re-election would have other meanings as well. It would mean there is no longer any way to give people the benefit of the doubt. People are not seeing this momentous fact. For those of us who are harmed by or despise Trump for other reasons – some people like to forget than there were three million more people against him than for him in 2016, and no doubt that number has grown even as the electoral college offers no certainties –, these four years have been a struggle in many relationships. As irrational as it is in many cases, because people have signaled their ongoing support for Trump, until now it's been possible to think of the situation as one that could still turn for the better. Maybe there would be that one thing that finally tips the scales for someone who, until now, has been indifferent to Trump's behavior or willing to write it off as mere personality defects. We all know that many people are not very plugged-in to current events, and many others get their information from propaganda sources like FOX News. It's not easy, as time and universally known examples of Trump's behavior pile up – you have to stretch a lot to imagine people might not be sufficiently informed of things everyone knows or in some other way give people the benefit of the doubt. But you want to. You do this work of giving people the benefit of the doubt because they mean something to you or you love them and you want to think the best of them for their sake and your own, because it would be a loss otherwise. (Many Trump supporters see hatred of Trump, but believe me: Much of the hatred directed at Trump is people pointing their ire at him instead of at family members or friends who have let them down. He is a lightning rod that keeps anger and sadness from hitting relationships that the "hater" values. Think about it.) The fact that this is the first instance makes it possible to uphold the benefit of the doubt well beyond the point when the evidence has stacked up high. And the possibility of Trump losing, even if you know or suspect people voted for him, has the potential to render the question moot. That's the stroke of fortune that could allow us to step back from the brink because we wouldn't be forced to think about it or stake out our position on that question anymore. We could conveniently forget about it – let grass grow over it as German-speakers say. (Aside: How much of community is enabled by letting things slide past each other without having a status-check at every point of interaction? We need to not care about figuring out if we're on the same page all the time. But Trump makes that impossible. He doesn't allow us to go about our daily lives without planting our flags on issues big and small because his personal style of exerting power and getting what he wants is based on generating conflict that propels his endeavor. He doesn't persuade or ask for support – he starts fights and tries to rally support to his side by creating an adversarial situation and demonizing the other. And he does this by being controversial about everything big and small, because that is what creates the dynamic of us-against-them. His inability to use any more decent means of achieving things means that all of us are constantly pulled into fights that we would never start on our own. How many arguments have happened in the US over the past four years over issues that one never even remotely cared about or was even aware of before? How many more points of contention are there in American society now just because of him?) Beyond his addiction to causing and exploiting conflict, the thing that makes Trump different, and why it's so hard to give people the benefit of the doubt in the first place, is his cruelty. For all their faults and in some cases crimes, recent previous presidents were not overtly cruel people, and this made it possible to view support for any of them as being an acceptable difference of opinion. But to support Trump, you have to decide not to care that he is being cruel to people and harming them. It begs for a response. How do you explain that? And if you can't, which of course you can't, you have to change or I have to draw my own conclusions about you. That is the dilemma that Trump poses, and it's an untenable situation long-term because accepting you, as a Trump voter, without an answer as to how you can support his cruelty, forces me to swallow my own principles to maintain my relationship with you. You do the shitty thing and I do the work of rehabilitating you in my mind and heart.
But how can I do that when you have ratified the situation? Do you expect me to go on making allowances for you condoning cruelty? Choosing your own interest knowing full well it will mean real-life suffering for others?
This is a problem that few people seem to be anticipating. If Trump is re-elected, all the self-preservational tricks that allow a person to regard the situation as temporary or just a regrettable mistake go out the window. What's left will be the undeniable confirmation that this is what Trump people wanted. That is their answer to the cruelty. That is their answer to what is happening to the people who are hurt by Trump. At that point giving people the benefit of the doubt changes from being a way of preserving a cherished belief or relationship to being self-harm. If the question is still open, investing in it or withholding judgment is a vote for the outcome you want and hope for. But if the question has been answered and it's not a good answer for you, continued investment, at least on the same basis, is self-deceptive and harmful. It becomes a question of just trying to keep the door open in the hope of other circumstances at some point in the future. I think that would be a very big change in many relationships; a backing-off at the least. Many other relationships would just immediately seem pointless. How can you get along, and why should you, with people who don't mind harm being done to you? You have to have a damn good reason to even bother to try at that point. And that is different than the situation that occurred when Trump won the first time. That didn't “prove” anything. But his re-election would. I'm not writing this as a threat. That's not my thing. I, and I'm sure many other people, would struggle mightily to preserve relationships that are important to them in spite of everything. It's not a question of punishing people for displeasing me or going against what I want. It's a question of how it makes me feel to realize that someone watched this four-year shitshow of mockery and cruelty and confirmed that they support it. It's a deep blow. And it's the loss of the ability to give the benefit of the doubt, or just leave the question unanswered. That doesn't work when the question has been posed, and answered, a second time. I really hope that people on all sides of this situation will give this some thought. This election will be the point of no return for many things that were still intact because of people reserving judgment or giving the benefit of the doubt. We need to be aware of how much is hanging from a thread. Is Trump really worth that to anyone?