It seems that all of us in the United States, whether we like it or not, are living in the Age of Trump. What we do in response to that reality is the question. And that is not always easy to figure out.
I opposed Donald Trump early on. By the summer of 2016, I believed that Mr. Trump would be elected president, but I joined those who were doing whatever they could to pre-empt that outcome. (I registered as a Republican, for example, in order to vote against him in the presidential primary.) I have continued to be vocal in opposition to many of Mr. Trump’s policies, policies I believe to be ill conceived and cruel. Less often, I have continued to voice criticism of his personal “foibles,” which I believe to be grave.
I have talked a lot about the empathy that I feel for some Trump voters. Fellow critics of Mr. Trump have sometimes seen this as fraternizing with the enemy.
At the same time, I have talked a lot about the empathy that I feel for some Trump voters. Fellow critics of Mr. Trump have sometimes seen this as breaking rank, or even as fraternizing with the enemy. Even more frustrating to some of them, I have spoken about a situation of profound and growing polarization both in the church and in U.S. society, for which people sitting at both of the two poles are culpable. This has been seen as asserting moral equivalence, or at least as constituting some pernicious degree of both-siderism. Taken together, these supposed tendencies on my part are seen as opening up small chinks in a wall of opposition to Mr. Trump that, given the stakes, must be absolute.
To clarify my position, and perhaps spark discussion, I offer a few claims for your consideration.
1. Mr. Trump—which I should probably put in quotation marks as “Trump” because I do not mean the individual so much as I mean the movement that gave him power—is both the result of, and also a contributor to, pernicious larger forces. These are not dissimilar to forces in Great Britain, where one Boris Johnson now serves as prime minister.
2. As I have already said, I hope that Mr. Trump does not win in 2020. I believe that his continued administration will do untold damage. But I expect that he will win in 2020—and that it will again come as something of a “surprise” in connection with polling and punditry.
3. My opposition to Mr. Trump is complicated in certain ways because I am not, like many who oppose him, a good liberal. I think procedural liberalism is more or less our only hope, but I have deep-seated tendencies to talk about things like the Good and tradition, etc.
My opposition to Mr. Trump is complicated in certain ways because I am not, like many who oppose him, a good liberal.
4. What’s more, I am pro-life. That alone sets me apart from many who oppose Mr. Trump. It also contributes in a specific way to my perception of Trump supporters.
5. I know what it is like to hold a position that many people believe is not simply wrong, but ridiculous, and ridiculous in a specific way: backward, ignorant and dangerous. This allows me a window into the world of the diehard Trump supporter, even though that is not my world. Specifically, I know exactly how effective it is to yell at me about how backward, ignorant and dangerous my pro-life views are. I know precisely what effect it has when people in power try to make sure that pro-life views are simply silenced (or, as we now say, deplatformed).
6. I believe that the only thing that could change the outcome I describe in No. 2 would be a serious opening of conversation and collaboration that somehow breaks the straitjacket of polarization. This is why I am working in any way I can to foster that opening, in part by encouraging friends across the political spectrum to be more open to the perspectives of those with whom they disagree and by pointing to the stranglehold that polarization creates. For the sake of all of us, but especially for those most hurt by Mr. Trump’s governance, I believe everything depends on it. But I do not expect this opening of conversation and collaboration to come any time soon.
7. I am always ready to be happily surprised.