Donald Trump’s stunning 305-233 electoral victory (with the popular vote almost a dead-heat, but still counting) begs a question: how could so few endorse, yet so many vote for Mr. Trump? Having made a qualified public endorsement of Mr. Trump during the midst of the campaign, I have a few thoughts on the so-called “Secret Trump Voters.”
Sometimes one has to be willing to stand in the other person shoes – literally stand in them ― to understand how it feels to be the other.
The name-calling, “gotcha”, identity campaign of 2016 was failing us. It did not address the fundamental difficulty of the last 8 years: namely, as a nation our inability to find common ground with anyone who disagrees with us over any matter. Over the last years in my university setting, I have brought scholars and public figures together to ascertain what could return us to a workable government with genuine legislative success in taking up economic inequality, domestic violence, terrorism, fairness and security in immigration, and our care of the environment. There are many suggestions with one of the most intriguing being rediscovery of the framer’s intention to have the vice president play a lead role in coordinating the pursuit of common ground.
I believe history supports the view that the VP was intended to have the job of uniting divided power into a workable whole by giving the vice president a unique legislative assignment as president of the Senate, together with a working relationship with the executive but who is nevertheless independent of the President. Obviously, when the GOP wasted months trying repeatedly to repeal, rather than repair, Obamacare, the Congress was doing nothing about a broken immigration system, the economically fragile position of working men and women, etc. Do either of the present candidates for the vice presidency know this history?
Frustrated with a campaign of lie and insult on all sides, but believing there is good to be found in everyone, I set out to learn why millions of my fellow citizens felt so intensely about Mr. Trump’s candidacy.
Endorsements have played an interesting role in my life. Born a Kennedy Democrat (my father worked for JFK’s election as part of the regular Democratic Party in Cook County, IL), politics was part of my life in ways other did not experience. Mostly I learned how much my father loved people and enjoyed assisting them. As I was beginning my professional life as a lawyer and law professor in the late 1970s, it seemed to me that Ronald Reagan was the candidate capable of honoring things that really matter – as he put it, “family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.” Ultimately, life found me serving President Reagan as his head constitutional lawyer.
So it came as quite a surprise to some of my closest Reagan friends when I endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, especially since I had worked for Governor Romney until he was defeated in the primary process by John McCain. Obama’s eloquence, openness to understanding the important role of faith in individual life as well as the life of the nation, and the historic nature of his candidacy brought me to his side. The endorsement was greatly influenced by hours upon hours of cherished and wise conversation with a close friend who was my personal confessor and a Catholic Monsignor. The Monsignor was cut from the same cloth as Pope Francis.
Endorsing Obama came at a cost. Some badly misinformed clergy in my church had lost the ability to be prayerful and open minded such that Communion became an instrument of intimidation. Denied the receipt of the sacrament, I was prompted to write a book that explained how one could honor key faith commitments, particularly related to the protection of innocent life, but in different ways.
The newly elected President Obama was grateful for my willingness to collaborate and help Catholic voters understand how that collaboration need not represent an abandonment of principle on either side. That gratefulness became a diplomatic assignment in the extraordinary country of faith and uncommon kindness, the Republic of Malta. Some of that assignment was to be devoted to promoting a better understanding of Islamic belief and how interfaith or faith-based diplomacy might contribute to the reduction of sectarian violence in the Middle East and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the initiative was undermined by bureaucrats within the Clinton state department. Rather than forsake principle, I returned home earlier than I would have liked, but government service, as I see it, must allow men and women to honor their principles for as St. Thomas More reflected, “a statesman who forsakes his own private conscience for the sake of his public duties leads their country by a short route to chaos.”
Enter the Clinton-Trump contest. The more experienced Mrs. Clinton was opposed by the rough-hewn, but interestingly more rightly principled, Donald Trump – or so I perceived from the outside, but there was hesitation because Mr. Trump seemed less than consistent over time. Was his defense, for example, of human life merely a salesman’s device to attract votes? Was his articulated concern with addressing the overlooked needs of working families genuine? I needed a means to find out.
So that is the context of my Trump endorsement, but to fully grasp what your old friend, diplomatic colleague, or professor has been up to with my statement of “support” for Mr. Trump, you have a small homework assignment; that is, watching a vintage 1947 movie – ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’. In the movie, Gregory Peck is a recently widowed, distinguished journalist, who decides that the only way he can write about anti-Semitism is to convince a new local community and employer that he is actually Jewish. In so doing, all of the closeted hate that would otherwise have been hidden from him was instead unleashed and visited upon him, and his child, and indeed, every aspect of his life.
The experiment of being Jewish almost cost him his remarriage because his fiancée comforts ― with “Christian” charity and understanding ― the child (Gregory Peck’s son in the movie). The boy was harassed at school because his father is thought to be Jewish. The fiancé discloses the experiment which to that point had been very tightly held. The fiancé calms the boy saying:”don’t worry son you’re not really Jewish your father’s just doing his job.” Obviously, that response is meant to be a kind reassurance for the child, but it is denigrating of the entire Jewish race.
So my friends, I regret your bewilderment, but since I know you share my frustration with the redundant circle of finger-pointing, I dared to assume the identity of a Trump convert, not for the purpose of mocking him or anyone who sees him as a force for good, but rather for the purpose of asking, as only a fellow traveler could: what do those in support of Mr. Trump identify as the positive aspects of his promised leadership of our nation?
You don’t get an honest answer if the predicate of asking the question is merely looking for additional reason to label him “unfit,” as President Obama seemed to do. So too, the search for common ground was not advanced by Mrs. Clinton and her campaign by their labeling those expressing confidence in Mr. Trump to be “deplorable.”
So what did endorsing Mr. Trump teach me. Just this: both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are at their best when they reaffirm the worth of a human person — any and every human person — whether they are the overlooked working families feeling marginalized, the victims of urban violence or even old political adversaries.
Mr. Trump wants to clear the deck, and that can be good if it means he will be open to the possibility of new alliances that are best for America. When at his best, Mr. Trump is able to convey to people of goodwill that if we are going to address human rights violations, we must not ignore the feeling of abandonment or economic disadvantage of average American families. If we’re going to address the lives of people of all colors and orientations and faiths, we have to burnish the capacity to see some good in the other, and that good must be prudently separated from the reality that there will always be some people (but they won’t always be the same people) who work overtime to use our humanity as a weapon against us or as an opportunity to take unfair advantage.
This was my small contribution to discerning the secret of Trump’s success and his growing appeal.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton were wrong to denigrate Mr. Trump and to do it so sneeringly and gleefully in unguarded moments among their natural supporters. Mrs. Clinton’s obvious joy before one of her many exclusive gatherings in calling out the supposed “phobias” of Mr. Trump’s supporters solidifies in the Trump supporters’ minds that Mrs. Clinton will only be in it for herself and her friends and never, ever see a different perspective. The Trump supporter also perceives that this one-sidedness is the cause of Obama not finding the common ground to achieve more greatly.
But you left out Mrs. Clinton in your experiment?
Yes, of course, Gregory Peck to get the truth could not be non-Jewish (which he was) and Jewish at the same time. In any case, I did not have to do the experiment to understand Mrs. Clinton’s good and less desirable features. She is a problem solver, but her talent for problem solving can be undermined by reverting to a small circle of old friends or those she already perceives to be on her side. Unfortunately, such practices tend to continue government paralysis.
I am greatly troubled by Mrs. Clinton’s misjudgment supporting the war in Iraq, but even more troubled with reference to Libya that she sold this intervention to the President on humanitarian pretext (see the 5-part Libya YouTube video on my Facebook site) when it really was wholesale regime change. As someone in the region at the time who tried to broker peace from neutral territory, I was instructed to stand down multiple times by the Secretary’s direction not to pursue meetings with Libyan negotiators and to convey to U.S. friends in the neutral country that they should not meet for purposes of negotiated peace either. Gaddafi was a brutal, oppressive person who could not always be trusted (even as prior administrations clearly and expediently had done). Peace was not well served when it was not allowed to be perceived. The strange, detached comment of Mrs. Clinton’s ― ”I came, I saw, he died” (laughter) ― caught on camera when told of Gaddafi’s equally bloody murder at the hands of a mob is another one of those unmasked moments that undercut confidence in our commitment to human rights; worse, having sold the President on the intervention to then send a diplomatic mission into the chaos without adequate security is difficult to accept as the best of U.S. foreign policy. (Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Ty Woods, and Glen Doherty RIP). (Again, If interested, check out the 5-part YouTube video, “The truth about Gaddafi”).
So at the end of my thought experiment as a Trump endorser I asked Who should prevail?
My answer was : the candidate who puts the dignity of the human person in the center of his or her campaign over money or power.
Did my endorsement and now the vote meet this standard?
As we find out, my prayer for all of us is that we have eyes to see the best in us, hearts that can forgive worst, and if our hearts cannot forgive, minds that can forget, and a soul that never loses faith.