Basic thought: We are too quick to condemn our political opponents and too quick to pardon our political friends.
Case in point 1: I think that Trump’s executive order to stop immigration from seven Muslim-dominant countries was ill advised and poorly executed. Many of my political friends have condemned it more thoroughly—calling it, for example, a ban on Muslims, and saying that it favours Christians unfairly.
I assume that two factors come into this description. The first is the seven-nation ban, which builds on action taken previously by the Obama administration. I think that the ban is nonsense (refugees by definition come from unstable areas), but it is not a Muslim ban per se. The second is the privileging of vulnerable groups from these nations—such as the Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq. These latter groups have found the normal route to refugee status almost impossible, and seeking to help them is not wrong in itself.
It makes sense to me to oppose Trump’s executive order, and I support the efforts of those who have challenged it in the courts. That is the proper route for the challenge, and both sides must honour the courts’ ruling. It does not make sense to me to condemn Trump for taking the action he did. He has long said that he wants to strengthen immigration policies. I disagree with him, inasmuch as the United States’ immigration policies are already robust. I think he is chasing shadows, but I don’t condemn him for doing what he said he would do. My disagreement just tells you that I would vote against him.
Case in point 2: Trump appeared at the national prayer breakfast and suggested prayer for Schwarzenegger in his role on “The Apprentice”, given the latter’s poor ratings. Schwarzenegger in turn suggested that they switch roles and make everyone happy. Some of us reacted against Trump, stating that he has devalued the prayer breakfast with his levity.
I think that Trump acted inappropriately, but thoroughly in character. Contrasting his style with Obama at the same venue only tells us that they are two quite different people, which we already know. I see little point in condemning him for his actions.
Case in point 3: The Democratic minority in the house and senate is using any tactic that it can to slow down the republican agenda and to hold up or defeat Trump appointees. My Republican friends point to this as evidence of liberal perfidy.
But surely this is what minority parties normally do. Certainly the Republicans spent the past eight years holding up and trying to defeat Obama’s legislative initiatives, going so far as to refuse any vote on a Supreme Court nominee for – was it 10 months?
The underlying dynamic seems to be a deep conviction that the other side has no good in them. Comments on news stories online reinforce this perception. The practice of “trolling” has become commonplace—calling other people names and trying to force them off the site, rather than engaging them and seeking a common way forward.
That dynamic of division then becomes the policy of both parties. Neither accepts a path forward that allows the other to live. Condemned to live in such a country we can look forward to more bitterness and division. Now Republicans try to get all they want and freeze out the Democrats. When Democrats regain control (as they will: our system routinely moves back and forth between the extremes in our country), they in turn seek to enact only their own policies and undo Republican initiatives.
The fact is that Trump’s actual policies may be wrong—I think that most of them are (to the extent that we know what they are, and to the extent that I understand them)—but it really is time to follow the Republican lead. My own standing as a member of the Democratic Party is not the issue. Learning to hear each other and work with and for each other is more important.
A first step towards such collaboration is for us to critique our own. I look forward to hearing my Republican friends acknowledge and challenge Trump’s tendency to stir up fear and mistrust, and I look forward to hearing my Democratic friends acknowledge and challenge party leaders when they delay without cause. We have learned to justify our own too well; now we need to learn to criticize our own and actually understand the other.