Listening to arguments for and against the second impeachment of Donald Trump in the US House of Representatives the other night, I was struck by how much anger and contempt there was on both sides of the aisles. Democrats were angry with Republicans and Republicans were angry at Democrats and at those 10 representatives who crossed over to support Democrats in voting to impeach President Trump.
In my six decades of life as an American, I only remember our country being this divided once before. That was during the Vietnam War when there were hundreds of demonstrations against the war but many people who thought opposing it was a crime. “Our country, love it or leave it,” the conservatives said. Instead, law and order was emphasized, especially by Republican President Richard Nixon. That war was a big mistake. An estimated 1,353,000 people died in the conflict, between North and South Vietnamese soldiers, civilians and American soldiers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties. Ultimately, the North Vietnamese won the war and took over the South. Now Vietnam, a one-party socialist country, has one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia.
Electing Donald Trump to the presidency was a huge mistake, too. But I always felt that way. Trump was a liar and cheat as a private citizen and he would be the same way as President. What I don’t yet understand is why so many people still support him. Why, for example, did 74 million Americans vote for him in November? What good did they see in him that I cannot see? Why do so many evangelical Christians support him, for example? The way Trump has behaved is the opposite of how Jesus behaved. Jesus said, “Love they neighbor as thyself.” Trump overflows with rage and hate. Why can’t people see that?
Most Republicans are White while the Democratic party has a greater majority of Black, Brown, and Asian people. Do many Republicans support Trump because he speaks to their fears about people of color, about Mexicans crossing the border and taking their jobs, or to their fears about Black people demonstrating in huge numbers and committing civil disobedience to demand equal rights?
As during Nixon’s time as president, “law and order” is a key theme for Republicans and it seems they resent people challenging the status quo. Indeed, during the house debate on impeachment, a few Republican representatives brought up the Black Lives Matter protests as just as bad as the takeover of the US Capitol by Trump supporters, if not worse. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) said the following during the debate: “Make no mistake, the left in America has incited far more political violence than the right. For months, our cities burned, police stations burned, our businesses shattered. Some cited the metaphor that the president lit the flame. Well, they lit actual flames, actual fires,” Gaetz said, drawing loud boos from Democrats as he pointed to their side of the chamber. According to this NBC News article, as Gaetz began his speech, Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., lifted his right hand and pointed his finger to his head and twirled it as if to signal that Gaetz is crazy. This is a good example of the anger and scorn I mentioned earlier that seems out of control right now between the Democrats and Republicans.
Besides being horrified by the level of vitriol during the impeachment debate, I wonder why so many Republicans are no longer willing to trust the Democratic process and accept that Joe Biden won? Is it only because their side lost? Why would 139 Republican House members challenge the electoral college results? Do they truly believe the lies from Trump that the election was stolen? Of course, Trump will lie to hold onto power. He has been lying his whole four-year term in office and this has been documented by the press repeatedly. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/16/politics/fact-check-dale-top-15-donald-trump-lies/index.html.) But it is the Republicans’ support for the lying that is so surprising to me.
What has Trump done that is worthy of their support, their unquestioning devotion? According to a NY Times article about why people have supported Trump, key reasons relate to his policies. He has put conservatives on the Supreme Court, withdrew from the Paris climate accord, took on China, put America first, protected the border from illegal immigrants and presided over the lowest unemployment in 50 years before the pandemic. Many Trump supporters interviewed said the president’s grievances were their grievances, too. For example, “they believed kneeling during the national anthem was un-American, and they were appalled at what they viewed as liberals’ minimizing of violence that at times grew out of the protests over the killing of George Floyd.” For these Trump supporters, the lying President Trump did wasn’t as important as his policies as “all politicians lie,” according to many of those interviewed for the NY Times article. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/25/us/politics/trump-reelection-supporters.html.
In essence, it appears that policies matter more than character for Republicans. What someone does matters more than what they say or don’t say. Unfortunately, what Trump has said, that the election was a sham and illegally decided, that he won and Biden lost, has caused much chaos and violence. Even after the shocking events at the Capitol are many months in the past, some Trump supporters will still say that their man was the actual winner of the election. And that is why my country is so divided and so broken, because many citizens will no longer have faith in our democracy long after Trump has disappeared from the scene.