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We can never go back to the “good old days.” That was a thought that occurred to me today, and I realized how that fact—and I believe it is a fact—defines not only how we see the world, but how we see our political reality. It colors how we see those who agree with us, and those who vehemently disagree with us. I also realized that all the Trump/Never Trump arguments are not really about Trump at all. The people who get stuck on either side of that conflict are struggling with something else entirely. And realizing that truth, with honesty and sincerity, might actually bridge the seemingly insurmountable polarization that has plagued this country, particularly the Conservatives, for years.
Think about it. There is no denying that life today is vastly different from the life we experienced, say, 20 years ago. And many people have a predisposition to living lives that are relatively predictable, familiar, and consistent. When they have occurrences that disrupt that predictability, they can feel beleaguered—life has turned upside down and has let them down in a way, so that they become confused, stressed, and even angry at the new and unanticipated outcomes. They feel betrayed and disappointed, and once they wrestle down these reactions, they are ready to go to war. They can decide to fight for what they once anticipated for their lives, demand that life return to some kind of normalcy, and rebel against those who think they should be prepared to go in a new direction. Even if that direction has some merit, they will reject it because it is not the life that they expected or desired.
I propose to you that this mindset evolves from that sense of life’s betrayal, and Donald Trump has become the scapegoat for those who reject Trump and life’s demands.
Before you reject my proposal, let me describe those who are on the other side of this chasm.
Many of us do prefer to have predictable lives, for one reason or another, but we have learned that life doesn’t acquiesce to our expectations. The best planning in the world can be victim to life’s vagaries, and no matter how strenuously we’ve worked to correct course, life seems determined to design its own path. We learn, either as a child, or sometimes not until we are adults, that rejecting life’s whims doesn’t always work—it smiles at us, even laughs sometimes, at our foolish beliefs that we have the power to change its course. Eventually, we learn how to ride the rapids, tolerate the roller coasters, and even swim with the sharks. Over time we begin to learn how to balance the usual patterns of our lives with the unforeseen events that meet us. If we are wise, we learn that the changes we encounter can even be enjoyable and rewarding, stretch us beyond our understanding or our limitations and expand our possibilities. The patterns we follow allow us to grab hold of the familiar so that we can take a breath and find our footing, but also free us to try something new and creative, ripe with potential.
I propose to you that this mindset characterizes the people, whether reluctantly or with vigor, who support Donald Trump.
* * * *
How can these descriptions of these two groups of folks be helpful? For those of us who hope that one day the disruption among Conservatives can be mended, these factors are important and valuable to understand:
The Trump/Never Trump conflict is much deeper and primal than a fight over one man.
For those who reject Trump-
- This conflict has to do with the loss and dread that comes with losing the past, either the past of our imagination or the past that truly existed. (In many respects, it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not—we are wedded to it.)
- It is more comforting to hold onto our memories than to have the uncertainty of creating new ones.
- They confuse “preferences,” such as decorum and good manners, with “values” such as truth and integrity, and struggle with having to compromise either type.
- It’s so much easier to create a scapegoat, than to find a way to work with the reality of “what is,” rather than to insist on “what should be.”
For those who accept (however fully or reluctantly) Trump—
- For our own peace of mind, we benefit from reminding ourselves of the depth of the rejection of Trump by others and what it represents.
- We can find a way to talk about Conservative values and what they mean to us, and see if the people we support can live those values, and to what degree.
- We can remember that both sides of this disagreement can be determined to win over the other side, denigrate those who disagree with us, or simply “make them wrong.”
- Remember that the differences in beliefs are often not “values based”; they are also not fact-based but opinion based. We can accept, therefore, that we are unlikely to change the minds of those who prefer to fight to maintain the past rather than suffer through creating a new future.
For me, I have some empathy for those who desperately hold on to the past. I understood, and at one time even preferred, that outlook on life. It is the outlook with which I was raised.
But I also realized that it limited my own growth and creativity. It was an insular way to live, protecting me from considering other ways to live. It was, in fact, frightening to contemplate new directions and new ideas. Along the way, however, I encountered ideas that challenged me to explore, and people who supported my thinking about other pursuits. I enjoyed the ups and (some of) the downs that greeted me. Not everyone who resists moving forward, however, will be able to do so.
But I hope and pray they will.
Because there is no going back—ever.Published in