I’ve been thinking a lot about a couple of friends. Not Facebook friends or casual acquaintances, but men I know well. In their private lives among their peers they are men of trustworthy integrity. One is a hard core teetotaling conservative evangelical who has a hard time moving away from the literal, inerrant truth of the Bible, but he will listen. The other is a theologically conservative Episcopalian comfortably tolerating the progressive theology that dominates his parish. Both are politically right wing conservatives. One is a classic libertarian. The other is a full fledged tea partier. There is a difference, but in degree not kind. Each is convinced that Democrats in general and Obama in particular were guilty of destroying the American economy, intent on consolidating power in Washington at the cost of states’ rights and individual liberties, unable to defend American interests overseas or protect freedoms at home, and deliberately working to transform the U.S. into a European style socialist state. Neither has a clear idea of what socialism is, but it’s bad, that’s for sure. Each imagines a more perfect America in which the federal government would be small, dedicated mainly to military defense and interstate transportation infrastructure. Welfare would be relegated to localities and charities. People would have to carry their own weight. Taxes, in all their forms, would be low or non-existent. Individuals would be free to act in their own interests in any way that did not harm another. Social restraints about what that might mean would be drawn from norms associated with a vaguely understood idea about what middle class generic conservative Christianity holds to be true and acceptable. Other religions would be tolerated as long as they did not violate those boundaries.
With that in mind, they both supported Trump’s candidacy. One on classical libertarian grounds suspicious of Clinton’s Eastern establishment credentials, and memories of her husband’s immorality. The other believing every crackpot allegation asserting her corruption and criminality. Each admired Trump’s shoot from the hip, tell it like it is, tough guy style of making the complex simple, the present look as dismal as it was in their imaginations, and the future as appealing as he promised it would be in his competent hands. So what now?
Going back where I started, they are men of trustworthy integrity. Honesty is important to them. Individual responsibility and accountability is important to them. Truth telling is important to them, although immersed in truth according to Hannity, Limbaugh & Co., they have become inured to what others call truth. Knowing them, maybe I should be surprised at their gullibility about that, but it conforms to their ideas about what a more perfect American could be, so it was believed as given to them. The point is that at the personal level they have admirable standards of integrity and responsibility which must cause unbearable levels of cognitive dissonance as they witness the unfolding of 45’s administration. Resolution seems to come in several forms. Urge giving him a chance, certain that doubters would soon be enlightened. Declare that the evil of a Clinton victory had been averted. Celebrate his pugnacious militarism as the sign of a fearless patriot who will restore respect for America as the undisputed leader of the world. And to declare that, after a week of catastrophic fumbling, he is being misunderstood and misrepresented by untrustworthy media and left wing protesters who do not speak for real Americans. It can’t last.
Sooner or later my friends will have to have to come to terms with the humiliating recognition that none of the things that worried them the most from Obama ever happened, nor would they have. Nevertheless, Trump has routinely violated every standard of personal responsibility and integrity they hold dear. Our standing in the world has deteriorated to a level from which recovery will take years, if not decades, and the power of a coercively intrusive, liberty challenging federal government has grown exponentially in a few short days. What then? It’s hard to say, but I imagine they will simply become very quiet, recognizing that their moment of ascendency has come and gone. Perhaps they will nurse their wounds with sad resentment that they are once again a misunderstood minority of real Americans ignored by the elites of their imagination. What they, and others like them, are unlikely to do is rise up in brown shirts to seize control. It’s unlikely because they have a greater allegiance to the ideals of American democratic republicanism bequeathed to them through history. Perhaps more powerful, at least for them, will be the mitigating influence of their Christian faith. One cannot claim to believe in and follow Jesus as God incarnate, and not be directed by his life and teaching. They stand in contradiction to another acquaintance, not a friend, but someone I know well, an unrepentant racist who would happily welcome a fascist regime masquerading as democracy because he would prosper in it. Fortunately, he and his like are few. In the meantime, I am relieved to witness the resilience of the American public that will not be cowed, and sorry for those so easily duped into following a dangerous megalomaniac in hopes that their lives would be made better.