AS HE’S CURRENTLY POLLING, Donald Trump doesn’t have much of a chance of winning the Presidency. Nate Silver puts his chances of winning at 13.3% at the time of this writing, with Hillary in the lead in all of the major swing states. And considering his inability to go even a single day without being truly awful, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be rebounding in the final weeks of the campaign.
There’s no reason for complacency here: earlier this year in the UK, many people weren’t concerned about odds of losing the upcoming Brexit vote, so they stayed at home, and Brexit passed. We’re not out of the woods. But we do need to start thinking about what America beyond November 8th looks like. And the question a lot of my progressive friends are asking is this:
How can we go on knowing that so many of our family and friends voted for such an indecent man?
Can you be a good person and vote for Trump?
I, like most (white) Americans, have a lot of Republican family members, and I think of them as good people. Occasionally we have fights over dinner. Occasionally someone says something racist. Occasionally we have to pick a fight over a misogynist or homophobic slur that was casually dropped. But you rarely end these fights thinking, “Fuck that guy, he’s a piece of shit, I want nothing to do with them.”
Because it’s usually a fight with the same person who has worked hard to support his or her family for years. It’s the devoted aunt who helped your uncle through a long, painful illness. It’s the grandfather who spends hundreds of hours a year volunteering his time to local causes. It’s the mother or father who taught you about kindness and compassion.
So never in the past have I questioned the basic human decency of the people around me.
This time feels different.
It’s different with Trump. There is nothing remotely redeeming about him. He’s a racist, he’s a bigot, he’s a demagogue, he’s a conman, he’s an unhinged bully, he’s a misogynist and very possibly (by his own admission!) a sexual predator. When Hillary Clinton was asked to name one thing she likes about him, she said, “his kids,” but even this is a stretch, because his kids are about as awful as he is.
He’s totally inexperienced in government, his economic, foreign, immigration, criminal justice, and defense policies are all dangerous nonsense, and he’s totally unwilling to listen to the advice of people who know more than him.
Oh, and if he loses, he’s likely going to threaten the foundations of our democracy by claiming the election was rigged.
He’s so fundamentally terrible that, when friends or family members support him, I’ve started to think things I’ve never thought before: “Are they okay? Is voting for Trump a good litmus test for basic human decency?”
Because it’s hard to see a Trump supporter and not see a person who appears to be callously, casually lobbing grenades into the homes of the women, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and democracy enthusiasts in their lives.
The other side
The Trump supporters I’ve argued with say that Hillary is just as evil. I tend to think that, while she’s an incredibly flawed politician who would not my first choice, a lot of the criticism of her is driven by misogyny and conspiracy theories, and that she would, at the very least, be an extremely qualified president. But I’m never going to convince them of that, just as they’re never going to convince me that Trump isn’t just a prank on democracy in the same vein as Boaty McBoatface.
And on November 9th, we’ll all still feel the same way. Even if Trump loses by a landslide, millions upon millions will have voted for him, and those millions will still be our family, our friends. We’ll attend the holidays together a few weeks later, and we’ll all hope that our families had a change of heart in the ballot box, that they saw the light. But the suspicion will remain.
The battle of Good vs. Evil
In his book The Gulag Archipelago, Soviet dissident Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil… It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”
It will be important to remember this in the coming months. Most of us who voted for Hillary won’t feel totally good about our choice. We’ll know she isn’t perfect, that her foreign policies are hawkish, that her stance on the climate is insufficient, that she’s too cozy with Wall Street, that she’s not as transparent as she should be. By voting for her, we’ll have condoned all of these flaws, to some extent, as the lesser of two evils. And contrary to what the third party candidates say, there is no totally “good” candidate. There never has been.
When she’s elected, we’ll feel that we’ve dodged a bullet — the alternative would have been monstrous and terrifying — but we should remember that what we’ve done wasn’t 100% good.
And when we go home, we’ll see our Trump-supporting family members open up their homes to us for the holidays. We’ll see them slave over Thanksgiving meals. We’ll see them volunteer at the soup kitchens. We’ll see them as the kind, generous people that they truly are. And we’ll still know what they’ve done.
The battle of good versus evil is not one that is won or lost. Though there may be a better world in our future, there will never be a perfect one. We should not throw away our loved ones while striving for a utopia because they do not match our standards for purity. They will never be purely good. Neither will we.