New Orleans There was a time when families followed a careful rule. When gathering with the blood, avoid talking about religion or politics.
Only part of that rule still holds, as America becomes more and more secular, despite the hardcore pockets of evangelicals around the country. You can talk about religion all you want. Now in the era of mindfulness, fewer go to churches, and more can simply claim to be spiritual or religious by their own lights. I watched the subject rise and fall without a whine or a whimper recently in a family gathering when one of the young members took a poke at the senior patriarch around the table.
Politics, on the other hand, is probably still best avoided, especially in the time of Trump. It’s a minefield!
Nonetheless, fools go where wise men fear to travel, and I found myself having a conversation with a cherished uncle recently. He tapes Fox and Friends, and finds them compatible company and highly informative. Fair enough. I don’t watch them so though I suspect they would make my hair catch on fire; I really don’t have a clue.
Talking about President Trump with him was more educational. This is a conservative Republican squarely in the president’s demographic. He’s carrying some age. He’s white. He’s a retired business executive. He’s whip smart, but deeply opinionated. Saying all of that though his view analysis of Trump and Obama was both interesting, and I fear predictive of the challenges November holds for progressives and winning then.
He said to me in effect that Trump says stupid, arrogant, and despicable things. Trump is embarrassing to him. His biases and ethics are inexcusable. On the other hand, he believes “his polices” have been great for the country. Comparing Trump to Obama, he then added that Obama’s character was flawless and that every word that came out of his mouth was amazing, but he believed “his policies” were disastrous. He believes the country and his own situation will survive fine, regardless of who wins, but he also things it will be disastrous if Trump were to lose.
Thinking about this conversation later, I think it represents a warning for kneejerk progressives. Good, decent people who disagree with many of us on particular policies can easily hold two ideas in their minds at one time when it comes to President Trump. They can both abhor his brutish, narcissistic, bombastic, exaggerated, and biased self-presentation on the one hand and still easily vote for him, because they see it in their self-interest based on what he and his people have delivered. The same deal with the devil that is characterized by the Republican majority in the Senate and his leader, Mitch McConnell, is not exceptional, but has leeched deeply down to even rank-and-file Republican base.
I’m sure this isn’t a newsflash. The polls have shown for three years how rock-solid Trump’s base has been despite unending scandals and crises. It would be a huge strategic and tactical advice for Democrats to assume, Hillary Clinton-like, that that base is her “deplorables.” It’s not. It’s people on the other side of the divide who aren’t getting a message clearly about better policies, and are willing to live – at this point – with a brute and a bully, if they see – and hear – the benefits.
Assuming that no one in their right mind can vote for Trump is a huge mistake. They don’t like Trump any more than the rest of us, but they can live with him as the devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t know.