When Trump Supporters Defend the Indefensible by Matthew Williams
I’m 34 years old and I argue with strangers on the Internet.
This is not a point of pride. It just happens to be the starting point for this particular reflection.
While it happens much less frequently than it used to, I still find myself in the occasional Internet altercation, and it always goes just about as well as you’re thinking. That is to say, it usually ends with one party blocking the other.
I recently shared a link on Facebook to an opinion piece in The New York Times. The author was digging deep into Trump’s very demonstrable history of lying. Specifically, the piece was concerned with Trump’s attempts to deny that he mocked a disabled reporter.
A couple of people commented, and since my posts are public, a friend of a friend saw the post and decided to defend the candidate he voted for.
He didn't mock the disabled. He uses those same gestures when talking about other people. Give him a chance.
It really is beyond my understanding the hold this man has on people. How far down the rabbit hole do you have to go to watch that video and dismiss it? "Oh, that's how he makes fun of everyone, not just the disabled."
Okay, got it. It's simply a pattern of disrespect he extends to ALL the people he's mocking. Explain to me why you voted for him again?
This all happened the night of President Obama’s farewell address, so I still had his words ringing in my ears: “America, we weaken [the sacred ties that make us one] when we allow our political dialogue to become so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen as not just misguided, but malevolent.” I hear you, President Obama - I really do. We can't demonize the other side; we're still all Americans.
Then tell me: how do we make nice with people whose morality is that twisted and defunct and disrespectful? Listen up: I'm not saying I'm better or holier - I'm on a journey like all of us are. Sometimes I fail, hard. But this particular corruption? The voice that excuses Trump’s mistreatment of people? I can see it clearly. I can see where it leads. I can see how it enables and eventually legitimizes - in one's own mind - the disrespect, dehumanization, and ultimately hate of the "other." And I have a hard time understanding how anyone else can overlook this thing that I see so clearly.
So these are the questions running through my head these days:
Are we responsible for saving those people? Is that what it means to be your brother's keeper? Shouldn't we only fight for the ones they're disenfranchising? Shouldn't that thinking be contested and defeated? Is love REALLY going to change their hearts, change the world? Can a dialogue really happen with someone who disrespects others so deeply?
The tension I feel over these questions is overwhelming. I don't want to engage it; I just want to act. I want to respond and fight back and protect the people I love. And wouldn't I be completely justified in doing so? I have no doubts whatsoever about my own moral standing here. I know in my bones that it is wrong to support a leader who is as unwell as Donald. I am confident that his diehard supporters have forfeit their own consciences for the sake of some parody of democracy that sustains supremacy, discrimination, and inequality.
And then my heart tugs. It's subtle in the scheme of things, but I have learned the hard way not to dismiss my heart.
In the new Netflix show The OA (I won't spoil anything, don't worry), there is a character so far beyond redemption that you're just waiting for his demise. He is angry, violent, deeply disrespectful, self-abusing and abusive toward others. He is reprehensible. His teacher wants him expelled, even his family throws up their hands in frustration and sends him away rather than deal with him.
At the outset, his biggest opponent is his teacher. She has fully dismissed him. She wants him expelled and out of her classroom; he is harmful to her other students. And through a beautifully told set of circumstances, she finds herself developing a kinship with him instead. She shifts - ever so slowly - from dismissing him to becoming his advocate. She fights for him and tethers him to the light. She is his way back. It is brutal and hard and messy and ugly, but she persists. And somehow, the brutal hard messy ugliness transforms them both. Somehow, something beautiful happens. Somehow, together, they do change their little world. Somehow, they save their little community.
I know it's fiction, but it has a home in reality. It resonates in my soul, in that place that registers something as TRUE and GOOD and RIGHT. I don't need any other qualification to know this subtle tug of my heart - the tug that pulls me toward patience and compassion and understanding - is the one I must follow.
If I want that fictional redemption to become my reality, then I have to be the one to write it. If I want to follow the tug, then I have to feel the tension.
It means - for me - that I need to think more about how I engage the Internet strangers, real-life neighbors, and even family members who voted for Trump. Internet arguments can’t always end with the block or unfollow button.
I don’t know the best way to go about this new work we have. Connecting with fellow Americans who can excuse and overlook - even defend - the reproachable behavior of this new president: it won’t be easy. But it feels important. It feels necessary. It feels like the kind of tension we need to step into. It feels like the tug that we need to follow.
If you feel differently, well, I guess we can discuss it when this blog gets posted to Facebook.
Hey, let me have one more good Internet argument, okay?