Dear Trump supporter:
Isn’t it interesting how everyone writes about you, but nobody writes to you? And now that the brawls have broken out at the rallies, those who’d supposedly lead you use their condemnation to speak to virtually everyone but you.
“Violence has no place in our politics,” Hillary Clinton says. “We should use our words and deeds to bring Americans together.” Ted Cruz says, “America is better than this. We don’t have to tear each other apart.” And then there’s Marco Rubio. “If we reach a point in this country where we can’t have a debate about politics without it getting to levels of violence or anger where people think just because you’re angry you can say and do almost anything you want, we’re going to lose our republic,” he tells us.
But, again, us who? How, exactly, are “we” supposed to do what we’re being told? Why aren’t any of our leaders leading by example? The silence speaks volumes. In response to the violence they deplore, our candidates offer only truisms. Why?
Implicitly, you’re being talked down to. But explicitly, you’re being talked past. The fact is, you’re increasingly thought of as malevolent idiots, too dumb and hostile to be treated like creatures with the power of reasoned speech, much less to be treated like grown adults.
Let’s Be Honest: We’ve Let Ourselves Down
To be fair, you’ve let yourselves down, too. You eat up the hollow slogans coming from your own guy, or silently give them a pass. Yes, if all the dog food is bad, at least Trump’s is different. But you’re better than that, and you know this, yet your frustration is only compounded by the idea that it’s somehow your responsibility to hold respectable society together in a way our booted and strapped elites seem so unable to do.
It all went to shit on their watch. That’s Trump’s real motto—Make America Great Again, Because They Fucked It Up.
You know that the chaos they fear has already eaten deep into your life, year after year. And even if you’ve failed as hard at your own life as they’ve failed at running the country and running the world, you know that the pride of just one person is always on shaky ground, whereas it’s heartbreaking, a crippling blow, when the people in charge fail to keep America a true north and a lodestar.
Then, having turned their back on our one source of shared pride, they turn their backs on you, too. If you’re going to be treated like lepers, you may as well throw what weight you still have behind the guy who loves you, who’s rooting for you.
I get it.
I know these things because I, too, have been kicked around—by circumstance, by naiveté, by corrupt and failing institutions, by devotion to forms of duty our culture no longer prizes. I know the sting of an ever-shrinking world and the temptation of surrender to petty escapes that have long since lost their charm.
And I know how sick with rage you can get when nobody—rich, powerful, saintly, or sweet—seems to care enough about your fate to sit down and shore you up, not with televised sloganeering or tax credits at arm’s length but with real, personal friendship, the kind that makes life worth living even when you’re grinding up against the wall.
Remember With Me for a While
But for now I have to write for a living, not travel the country doing the face-to-face work of friendship. So the best I can do right now is speak to you this way, like a friend as best I can.
I’m not going to ask you to dump Trump. I don’t want to talk about politics. I want to remember what we remember together when politics has been set aside, to be picked up later as friends and fellow Americans.
The reason why everyone is pissed off with you now is not, at root, political. It’s a matter of the soul, of the human spirit. They know what you know—that you’re falling short, not of something as abstract and loaded as “your potential” but of your moral obligations to your fellow man.
But they’ve done the same. Because they are too afraid or too willfully busy to share in that loss with you, as equals, they hate you. You remind them of their own falling short, their own vanity, and their own impotence in such scourging times as ours.
Now, you may not like hearing this, but deep down you know it’s true: You have to forgive them.
That’s right. They have failed America, they have failed you, and the truth that emerges when you and I sit down together and dare to open up our lives to each other is that we, too, have failed. We’ve failed ourselves, we’ve failed our loved ones, we’ve failed one another. No, we’re not complete and utter failures—far from it. We’re just human beings, no more and no less.
Remember Who We Americans Are
If you’re a Christian, let’s remember together that our all falling short of the glory of God is a call to action, a statement of our responsibility to forgive each other even when we sin against each other and against ourselves.
If you’re not a believer, let’s remember the ancient Greeks and Romans, who knew through centuries of wisdom and bitter experience how we are born to shoot desperate, longing arrows and born to miss the mark.
In the face of elites who scourge you with contempt, you cannot try to fight fire with fire or to take an eye for an eye. Our elites would say you “must” opt for peacefulness and civil dialogue. In their pale imitation of real wisdom, they’re almost contemptible, it’s true. But the way you and I are called to respond is by raising the bar. Elevating the game. Not just “empowering” ourselves but ennobling one another’s spirits.
Let’s remember who we are. Americans. Singing hymns, shaking hands, demanding details, refusing to be snookered, seeking the best bargain with the most honor, yes, but strong enough in heart and in soul to remember when the time to deal is done and one hand is to be clasped with another in friendship, even when the other is on guard.
Eventually that guard must come down. Big politics is as American as the flag, but politics is always one step away from theater—sound and fury on a stage. The smaller politics is more real and more true, face to face with neighbors who can go from strangers to friends, however high the stakes and sharp the disagreement.
We Are the Times
But you know that even small politics can’t make friends alone. It is just the arena. You know true friendship grows where we are weakest, in the dark moments, at the midnight kitchen table, in exhaustion, in the hour of need. And you know that you can make a friend or gain a friend no matter how worn down we are in these times. As St. Augustine said, we are the times.
Your cause for vengeance against the elite is simple: whatever your failures and mine, it is they who are hurling us blindly toward an abyss. You and I will finish the job if we respond to that outrage by hurling ourselves into a theatrical whirlpool of political violence. Two thousand years of Western civilization tells us how that will end—and how we exceptional Americans were granted a rare and precious reprieve from the cycles of despair that roil the world.
Stun the snobs. Make them remember how noble in grace we can be even at our lowest and most betrayed. A chance like this won’t soon come again, and a poor choice will break our backs.
Alone, neither you nor I nor they can restore America’s pride. Alone, none of us can restore our own. But together, no matter how alone we’ve been, we can make each other great again. Without that decent pride, political power will always be a swindle, and America only a scam.
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