A recent Washington Post editorial asks, “Why does Trump get away with everything?” The answer is not found by just looking at Trump and his pervasive corruption. It is about his supporters.
Many of us have bent over backwards to insist that they are actually pretty good people, especially the ones who have filled churches. But perhaps it’s worth examining further. This is not to say there is no good in them but it is to say that the goodness they have seems disconnected from and distorted by their support of Trump.
Sure, they can be pleasant and do good deeds, maybe many of them. But is this goodness selective, bestowed on a chosen, worthy few: their friends, family, church, and perhaps even the “right kind” of needy people? It doesn’t appear to be mindful of the common good, to be sure.
Behind said goodness is a willingness to justify vicious lies, applaud cruelty, and celebrate financial benefits for the few to the neglect of the many. Behind it is an impulse to believe the worst about the poor, minorities, immigrants, Muslims, and otherwise marginalized people. Without this they couldn’t support his policies that inflict so much harm.
Of course hyper-partisanism plays a significant role in Trump’s support. Some people have so internalized distain toward Democrats that they will vote for literally anyone, no matter how deep and numerous their faults, rather than support a Democrat. White anxiety also is most certainly a driving force—that fear that they will “lose” the country to people who don’t look like them.
And, yes, there is always abortion to justify applauding any Republican over any Democrat. This, regardless of the fact that policies Democrats are more likely to support -easy access to contraceptive, sex education, and a strong social safety net- have a proven record of being more effective in reducing abortion rates than banning abortion.
But none of these other factors explain how Trump has managed to maintain his approval in the polls within a stable, relatively narrow range regardless of how many lies he tells, how many women accuse him of sexual assault, how many times he crudely insults people worthy of respect, how racist he has shown himself to be, and how much evidence there is of his criminality. His standing in the polls have been amazingly steady through it all.
Contrast this with President George H. W. Bush whose approval dropped to 29%. Or worse, President George W. Bush whose approval went as low as 25%. Surely, they had flaws, too. But in comparison to the current occupant of the White House, they pale. What has Trump tapped into that other presidents didn’t? Whatever it is, it can’t be called goodness.
Apparently, Trump has displayed more insight about the nature of his supporters than those of us who have sought to give them the benefit of the doubt. When he declared in that often cited line, that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose his supporters, he was not only boasting about his ability to win loyalty. He was also acknowledging that his followers have less of a commitment to basic morality and common decency than they have to him.
They justify, deny, minimize, or willfully ignore the sweeping corruption of Trump. They cling to him but not because he has conveyed an inspiring, uplifting vision or because he has somehow appealed to the best that is within them. To the contrary.
They are not repelled by Trump because in fact he endorses the worst that is within them. They quietly – or not so quietly- rejoice hearing Trump boldly say and display the things that are in the darkness of their hearts. Trump gets away with it all because his supporters actually admire what most of us can see as evil. Sure, some of them feel periodic discomfort. Still, they stand by him.
Every time we speak of Trump supporters and insist on making prominent the claim that they are generally “pretty good people” we end up aiding and abetting the very moral compartmentalized that we see them practicing. Those crowds of grinning people seen in old black and white photos at the base of so many hanging trees no doubt had friends and family members who would insist that they, too, were “pretty good people.” Possibly most of them likely would not themselves have put a rope around a Black person’s neck. But they are the kind that make horrors possible.
Some may object and say all of this is judging, to which I must respond with the words of Jesus, “You shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15). Love for family and friends and “America first” is not sufficiently good fruit to offset the rotten fruit of divisiveness, exclusion, cruelty, corruption and the sweeping attack on truth that Trump’s supporters participate in as they stand by him as his enablers.
Those whose lives bear good fruit couldn’t possibly cheer as Trump recites “The Snake” to vilify immigrants, or nod in agreement at his racist comment about “shithole countries,” or readily accept his totally baseless claim that “Antifa” and anarchists were the driving force behind the protests over the police murder of George Floyd and so many other Black people while at the same time denying the reality of systemic racism.
People with “good fruit” in their lives resemble Jesus. They emulate the one who stood with the poor, healed the sick, reached out to the marginalized, practiced nonviolence, faithfully proclaimed truth, and loved even his enemies. They don’t scoff at “losers” but side with the weak. Their kindness, goodness, and gentleness is not kept near at home but leaps barriers put up by fear, suspicion, and hostility. These are not qualities found at a MAGA rally.
We need to be finished with putting the phrase “good people” in the headline when talking about the supporters of Trump. Reserve it for a footnote. The headline should contain a call for them to repent.