There was a time when the debate between candidates and their supporters revolved around issues such as defense spending, tax policy, safety nets, federal deficits and debt. No longer. This election cycle has revolved around character – not just the character of candidates. But that of their supporters.
Here’s a case in point: Someone I know has been agonizing over a health crisis his wife is facing. Yet when he told a long-time friend and Trump supporter, the friend chose to use the situation to score political points by attacking Obamacare. Seriously? In fact, the wife would not be alive today without Obamacare. But his friend failed to consider that. So, instead of displaying a shred of sympathy or humanity, the friend chose to try to score political points!
As bad as that may seem, the example is far from unique.
Emboldened by Trump, people I’ve long known and cared about have made horribly racist statements. I’ve seen them reflexively attack Trump’s victims of sexual assault without knowing the women or the circumstances. I’ve heard them call for the exclusion of Muslims from the US and the deportation of Mexicans. I’ve heard them say that Hillary should be locked up even though they have not taken the time to examine the facts of her supposed transgressions. I’ve seen them repeat vicious, false and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories despite all the evidence to the contrary. I’ve heard them say that they admire how Trump “tells it like it is” even though independent fact-checking organizations have concluded that a vast majority of his statements are false.
I’ve seen these people support a candidate who has bragged about refusing to pay suppliers; who has filed hundreds of frivolous lawsuits out of spite; who calls himself smart for evading taxes; who has encouraged violence; who has embraced the endorsement of the KKK, who has supported the torture of our enemies; who has called for the murder of combatants’ families; and who has stated that our democratic process is rigged so he may be unwilling to accept the outcome of the election. He has even suggested that the only remedy for his defeat is for his supporters to “exercise their second amendment rights.”
Any one of these things would be disqualifying for someone seeking to become a third world dictator, let alone for a candidate for President of the United States.
But what about his supporters – those who have helped Trump attain the nomination of a once-great party? How should we view them? Is it possible to remain friends with those who have revealed themselves to be of such questionable character? Personally, I don’t think so.
I can be friends with those who disagree with me on policy. Indeed, I encourage it. I learn little when I’m surrounded by like-minded people – they simply reinforce the views I already have. I thrive on debate – thoughtful, insightful and sometimes impassioned debate on issues that are supported by facts. But I do not care to engage in relationships with those who hold racist beliefs; those who would deny civil rights to others; those who choose hatred and meanness over respect and kindness; those who would deny aid to families in need; those who place partisanship over country; those who choose unsubstantiated lies over truth; those who care so little for the circumstances and feelings of others that they no longer understand what it means to be human.
In this regard, the 2016 election has done us all a great favor. It has helped us know our families, friends and acquaintances as never before.