12/23/2016 04:08 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2017

How Reluctant Trump Voters Can Reply To Their Critics

Dear Reluctant Trump Voters,

You voted for Trump despite serious misgivings about a certain issue or issues. Perhaps it was Trump's dog whistles to racist groups. Or perhaps it was his willingness to make blatantly false statements. Or maybe it was some aspect(s) of his personality (e.g. his sexism). These are just examples; there are other possibilities.

Now your friends (and relatives) are accusing you of enabling a racist, a liar, a narcissist, etc. Worse yet, they are calling you a racist, a dupe, and an authoritarian.

Relax! This article is a safe-space for you. I am not going to accuse you of anything, or call you anything nasty just because Trump's defects were not deal-breakers for you. Unlike some liberals, I understand your position. Indeed, I am going to help you defend yourself against your critics.

Why these accusations are misguided

Different people have different views about what defects in a candidate should be deal-breakers. Some people consider a pro-life or pro-choice stance to be a deal-breaker. Others won't vote for a flip-flopping candidate or a dogmatic candidate. Yet others take gun regulation or gun non-regulation to be deal-breakers. Different people have wildly different views about what is crucial in a candidate.

But your dispute with your friends was not a dispute over what constitutes a deal-breaker. You agree with them about deal-breakers. You were seriously worried about the same set of Trump's drawbacks that worried your friends. That is why you were a reluctant Trump voter.

Why then did you vote for Trump when your friends voted against him? You thought he was the best viable candidate despite these drawbacks because you thought these drawbacks were not so bad. You disagreed with your friends about the likely consequences of these drawbacks.

You and your friends might disagree about multiple drawbacks, but for the sake of simplicity I'll work through one example. Suppose you were bothered by Trump's racist remarks. Yet after some consideration, you decided that his remarks only seemed racist, or were only marginally racist. Or perhaps you allowed that they were very racist, but predicted that they would be ignored by everyone, or that he would repudiate these remarks when elected. You would never have said such things, yourself, and you regretted having to vote for someone who said such things, but in one way or another, you expected that they would have no significant bad effects.

Alternatively, maybe you thought Trump's racist remarks really would have a significant bad effect (e.g. a major increase in hate crimes). But you acknowledged that they are part of the package which is Trump. You rightly recognized that in every election, from dogcatcher to president, the best available candidate is not a perfect candidate. Every vote is a moral compromise. Every voter has dirty hands. In particular, every election benefits some people and harms others. We should opt for candidates who are overall-beneficial to the country even though their policies will surely hurt some people (so long as huge numbers of people are not horribly hurt). So you said to yourself, "It is very unfortunate that Trump's racism will hurt people of color, but the harm won't be terrible, and Trump will be overall beneficial for the country, so I'll vote for him, anyway."

These are not racist lines of thought. Getting to Trump in either of these ways does not, by itself, justify your friends' accusation of racism. Without some other evidence of racism, you should be presumed innocent. The worst you could be accused of is having unrealistic expectations about the future, and the jury is still out on that accusation.

Your worried response to name-calling

In light of this, you are naturally angry at the accusations leveled by your friends. You would like to fend off the accusation. Maybe you would even like to turn it back against your accusers and accuse them, in turn, of unfairly jumping to blame you without evidence. You would like to accuse them of prejudice against Trump voters.

But something is holding you back from defending yourself or launching a counter-attack. Or perhaps you have been asserting your innocence, but with a nagging worry in the back of your mind.

You are still worried about certain problematic aspects of Trump. You were a reluctant Trump voter, after all. You were willing to vote for Trump because you thought that Trump would not have terrible effects. But what if you were wrong and your friends were right? What if Trump's drawbacks do have terrible effects?

Let me offer you a two-part suggestion about what to say to your critical friends.

Place your bets

People don't want to think of themselves as closed-minded pessimists. So begin by offering your critics a deal. If the predicted terrible effects do come to pass, you will admit that your vote for Trump was a mistake, and seriously consider joining the anti-Trump opposition. On the other hand, if the terrible effects don't come to pass, your critics will admit that they were wrong and seriously consider joining the pro-Trump team.

The problem with bets like this is that they seldom get cashed out because the endpoint of judgment is in the far future, and because the terms of the bet are vague. We tend to forget about such bets. And even if we remember, we can't agree about who won because we never settled on what counts as winning in the first place. Because the criteria are not specified up front, the goalposts tend to migrate. What would have counted as terrible at first comes to seem acceptable as time goes on. Or vice versa.

Technology to the rescue

Luckily, these problems have easy fixes.

For example, your friends predicted that Trump's racist remarks would cause a significant spike in hate crimes, and you agreed that this would be a terrible result. It so happens that the FBI reports hate crimes every November for the previous year, and the Southern Poverty and Law Center also keeps track. You and your friends can check these websites in December 2017. Compare the statistics for hate crimes in 2015 and 2016 (while Trump's campaign was in full swing) with the statistics for 2013 and 2014. If the incidence of hate crimes spiked while Trump was campaigning, then your friends were right. You need to consider voting for Democrats in 2018. If there was no spike, then you were right. Your friends owe you an apology and Trump a serious second look.

Another example: You and your friends agreed that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) needed improvement. However, you thought that Trump would improve the availability, quality, and cost of health insurance, while your friends thought he would make things worse. Of course, whatever changes Trump makes will be evaluated by numerous partisan groups, but objective evaluations will be available, too. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine, a premier medical journal, evaluated the ACA in 2015, and will probably evaluate any changes or replacement programs, too. You might use The New England Journal of Medicine's evaluation as a basis for deciding whether you or your friends were right about Trump's changes to health insurance in the USA.

These are just examples, but you can adapt them to whatever disputes you and your friends had over Trump. Talk to your friends now, before the inauguration. Agree on the terms and end point of the bet. Put a reminder on your phone specifying when and how you will settle the bet.