I’m an oldie who remembers the Watergate scandal unfolding drip-by-drip over a period of almost two years until the president resigned in August, 1974. Looking back, it felt like there were almost daily revelations of someone associated with the president having committed one or another illegal act. Finally, “the smoking gun” was discovered and Nixon resigned shortly thereafter.
For some reason, one of my most vivid memories of the time is of sitting at my kitchen table reading the Houston Post a few weeks after his resignation. The Post had an article stating that polls showed that a number of people still supported Nixon. I remember thinking something like, “Who are these people? How can they do that?” It made no sense to me. I thought he was virtually a criminal.
This week, I checked polls from those months and found out that, sure enough, a Gallup poll taken shortly after Nixon’s resignation revealed a bit over 20% of the electorate still supported him.
Despite my shock at that those polls, supporting Nixon made a great deal of sense to my father, who was one of the diehards. He maintained, and probably still does forty years after his death (Daddy was never much on changing his opinions), that the whole thing was a witch hunt and Nixon was a great president.
When he and I discussed it at the time, I could not understand his point of view about something so clear to me.
In turn, he couldn’t understand my point of view about something so clear to him.
Most people are like Daddy and me. We humans have a tendency to be unable to understand how others can hold differing opinions about important matters that are clear to us.
There are times when we need to look past those opinions and seek to understand “the other.”
Understand that my point is not that we need to seek understanding in the face of any disagreement, because it is sometimes incumbent upon us to confront and battle injustice.
Our country’s history shows clear examples of such times: the dispute with Britain about independence in the 1770’s; the vast gulf between the North and South over slavery and secession in the pre-Civil War years; the continuing fight against racism, with all of its injustice, violence and dehumanization; and, the decades-long battle in the early part of the last century for workers’ rights.
However, there are also times when we should seek to understand the differing opinions of others, and perhaps reach out in friendship to them despite those differences.
I think this is one of those times. Unfortunately, the chasm between Democrats/liberals/progressives and Republicans/conservatives is widening and hardening.
This is illustrated by a recent NBC News poll showing the same wide partisan split over Comey’s firing as other polls have shown about other executive actions taken by Trump, such as the travel ban(s), Gorsuch appointment and global warming actions.
In addition, conservative columnist Charlie Sykes writes this weekend in the New York Times that what was once a conservative movement has become in the age of Trump an anti-liberal movement or, more accurately, an anti-anti-Trump movement.
Sykes says, “As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.”
Similarly, Republican consultant and pollster Frank Lutz said recently that people sympathetic to Trump automatically side with him because they believe he is constantly held to an unfair standard.
For their part, Democrats/liberals/progressives are the mirror image of their Republican/conservative brothers and sisters. I am one of the former, but think we also cling tightly to our beliefs and habitually fail to seek to understand opposing points of view.
For example, when I checked my email while writing this piece there was a fund-raising request from a liberal group urging me to donate to it in order “to punish the GOP right now.” And, there was a separate request from another liberal group beseeching me to sign a petition against Trump because it would take “only six seconds to hammer the GOP.” Uh, no thanks.
[Most of the below applies to Democrats/liberals/progressives, but others might find it useful as well.]
For a variety of reasons, we need to overcome this hostility and division to and build some bridges across the divide.
First, we do not want to end up with a liberal version of Trump.
Second, we do not want to end up with a liberal version of Infowars and Alex Jones.
Do not think these first two cannot happen. Remember that Trump is a creature not only of contemporary culture but also the Tea Party movement. If we continue down the Tea Party path of virulent opposition and even hatred of “the other”, we are in danger of engineeting the emergence of a Trump-like figure.
Third, we lost the election and need to gain voters, not alienate them. I know that Hillary won the popular vote, but it is the electoral college that matters. We will not convert people by attacking them.
Fourth, most people on both sides want to address national problems like jobs, infrastructure, economic development, climate change, true religious freedom, equal justice under the law, etc. We need broad, bipartisan and nonpartisan support instead of yawning division to do this.
Fifth, personal attacks dehumanize our brothers and sisters who disagree with us. We need to realize that they are just folks like us and are due respect and fairness.
Sixth, our fight is not so much with them but with the policies and incompetence of Trump and his administration.
In that regard, it is useful to point out that Nixon had approval ratings of about 70% right before the Watergate revelations started becoming public.
That support fell 50 points over the next two years not because of partisan vitriol but because of the president’s words and actions. In other words, he hung himself.
Trump will do the same and, as that unfolds, we want to be in position to welcome into our fold any who become alienated from him.