A recent piece I wrote on living in the “Age of Trump” has sparked a number of conversations for me, some of them difficult. That is as it should be. The topic is a complex one, the stakes are high, and there is a great deal to be said. I cannot say everything, of course, but one omission from my earlier piece is significant enough to warrant a few additional words.
One of my goals in that piece was to call those who (like me) do not support Donald Trump’s re-election to consider how best to engage with those who do. I insisted that a commitment to conversation and even collaboration across that divide is indispensable. But I want more than building a bridge to the other side. In fact, I have important concerns in common with most Trump voters: concern for religious freedom, for example, and, even more important, commitment to legal protection for unborn human lives.
I want more than building a bridge to the other side. In fact, I have important concerns in common with most Trump voters.
What I failed to say explicitly is that this commonality makes me keenly aware of a certain calculus that might lead one to vote for Mr. Trump—and also of what is entailed in the decision not to support him. In our two-party system, withdrawing support for Mr. Trump makes it more likely that a Democrat will come to occupy the White House. What would that outcome mean for legal protection for the unborn?
It is not simply that the Democratic Party platform supports the greatest possible access to elective abortion. (As many have noted, the ideal the party once espoused, of a world in which abortion was, in the words of Bill Clinton, “safe, legal and rare” has been shortened to “safe and legal.”) In the run-up to the 2020 election, every major Democratic candidate has unapologetically moved toward a more extreme position vis-à-vis pro-lifers, including support for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal funding of most abortions). The Trump administration, on the other hand, has been clear in its support of the Hyde Amendment and has expanded conscience protections for health care workers who object to providing elective abortions. Also, among pro-choice advocates, there is a tendency to frame opposition to elective abortion as health care discrimination—and, more colloquially, as misogyny.
Should we expect a Democratic presidential administration to soften these tendencies? Or would they only become more extreme? Trump supporters think they know.
As I have already said, this is not a line of thinking that leads me ultimately to support Mr. Trump. So many elements of his administration—his lack of concern for Americans living in desperate economic straits, including millions of working poor; his draconian immigration policies; his disregard of pressing questions of environmental sustainability; his apparent inability to grasp complex problems and their possible solutions; and ultimately what I perceive to be a fundamentally unprincipled and narcissistic stance underlying everything he does—make it impossible for me to support him.
Do I see other concerns, though, that might motivate some Trump supporters? Do I recognize a concern that the only alternatives to Mr. Trump are political opponents who will not simply disagree with them but will eliminate any space for the exercise of conscience, will seek to silence them and perhaps punish them in other ways in a post-Trump world? I do. To return to the example I have noted, for pro-life voters, taking actions that serve to put a Democrat in the White House may mean they will be party to abortion in a way that their consciences simply will not allow.
This is not to say that those who oppose Mr. Trump cannot make the case that supporters should change their minds. But to make this case glibly or, even worse, derisively, simply fails to see certain realities.
That may just be the way U.S. politics works now: Winner takes all and takes no prisoners. If that is the case, though, it remains important to see clearly what is being asked when some argue that it is time for Mr. Trump’s supporters to “be reasonable,” to recognize the fundamental ways in which the American system of government is being threatened and to withdraw their support of the president.
The U.S. political system only works when we are able to recognize underlying commonalities with political opponents and forge creative compromises.
In the long term, what we need most is a culture more characterized by empathy, by peacemaking and by mercy. This is, after all, an indispensable form of living the Gospel message. To speak more practically, the U.S. political system only works when we are able to recognize underlying commonalities with political opponents and forge creative compromises for the sake of the common good.
But for now, here we are. I will continue to ask Trump supporters to reconsider. But I will do so with a sense of gravity and with the prayer that, whenever the White House is again occupied by a Democrat, the worst fears I have described here are not realized.