Over the weekend, I talked to a Trump supporter. This is someone I’ve met before. I didn’t know he was a Trump supporter until now. We’ve both been regulars on a video social I’ve joined often in the past few months.
It came out when he mentioned a date with a political appointee. In Washington insider-speak, that means his date was chosen for their taxpayer-paid job directly by Trump’s circle rather than through a traditional merit-based H.R. process. And so, his date supports Trump in words, deeds, and probably with campaign donations.
Finding out that a date is a Trump supporter had previously come up in our video chats as a definite deal breaker. The debate was not whether to run away, but how fast. Perhaps he was not on the call those days.
I’ve thought about our conversation nonstop for the past two days. All this time, I’ve been writing these posts as though I might not talk to a Trump supporter at all these during the 100 days. I’ve discussed the idea that I’m reasoning with an undecided voter in these posts, though I know I’m doing nothing to draw undecided voters in to this project: I’m writing in a long-form style that plays poorly online, that repels all but the most loyal or adventurous reader; I’m wandering off into books and memories that have little bearing on the life of my hypothetical undecided post-agriculture Wisconsinite. But here I was, in conversation with a Trump supporter.
Everyone on the call had questions. He was slow to admit his support. Initially, he said, “well, I don’t support Biden,” with derisive emphasis on Biden’s name. Perhaps he was trying to change the subject to Biden’s imperfections. None of us went down that road, instead pressing on with incredulity over his desire to see four more years of Trump’s havoc.
We never got around to what he liked about Trump. His reasoning was a quagmire that permitted every one of Trump’s scandals to slide because something in the same category could be checked in Biden’s column. As though a bull and a mouse — or the rumor of a mouse — were equal problems in a china shop:
- Trump celebrates sexual assault in crude language! He used campaign money to silence his mistresses and accusers! To this, he hinted at Biden’s past, as though Biden and Trump in 2020 are not miles apart on respect for women, on issues like equal pay for women, family leave, health coverage for women, and the right of women to make choices about their body and future.
- Trump has many credible corruption allegations pending against him! In response, he described a conspiracy theory that no journalist has found credence in, one that Russia is actively promoting. He said this was just as bad for Biden as anything Trump did. My heart sank to hear that an employee of his government agency — one whose staff ought to especially wary of Russian influence campaigns — would openly accept and proudly voice such a theory.
- Trump is a racist! He dismissed Trump’s racism as Trump just saying what his base wants to hear, as though that was a quality acceptable in politicians. As though Trump following a large misguided crowd was the same as leadership. As though Trump were not actively harming communities of color every day, making it harder for them to vote, removing environmental protections that harm communities of color, cutting programs designed to create a level playing field.
How does someone come to believe such things? Why has no one else in this person’s life confronted him about these ideas? At one point, I asked about reading habits. He offered The Atlantic and two conservative think tanks’ websites. But none of those three would have published the conspiracy theory he described.
Our arguments were not so well-structured as this in real time. They mainly served to express our disappointment and alarm. Or rather, I felt disappointment and alarm, and sensed it in the others on the call. Our appetite for hearing more arguments faded. There was awkward silence and we tiptoed towards other topics.
Are there more people to have this conversation with in my midst? Am I surrounded by Trump supporters I find myself wondering as I look at the increasingly expensive houses and condos around me. Maybe everyone here who I haven’t talked to is a Trump supporter.
As if answering that thought, a Biden-Harris sign appeared in the window across from me today. It is visible only to my apartment and the garbage-hauling crews in the courtyard below, should they happen to look up from their work.