Is Donald Trump a victim of liberal hatred? He and his supporters, allegedly folks who have felt ignored and isolated by liberal elitism for decades, say the mainstream media ignores his accomplishments and pounds their drums for sustained attention to every conceivable criticism of him, his policies, and his administration. As an avid reader of mainstream media, I think they’re right.
Setting aside the fact that he deliberately brings this attention on himself, and that hate-filled anti-Trump vehemence is probably increasing conservative support for him, the constant barrage of increasingly angry resistance to all-things-Trump is pushing the boundaries of liberal civility to include public shaming—refusing to serve or shouting at administration officials in restaurants, for example. What happened to Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high?”
As one who works hard at staying open minded, I ask how these extreme emotions, this vicious and nearly irrational hatred of President Trump and everything he says and does, could drive otherwise sensible adults into such self-destructive behavior. Of course, anyone watching conservative media saw similar invective hurled at Democrats and their president, Barack Obama. My sense was most of that was fueled by conservative media owners. But today the hatred seems sui generis, originating deep within the minds and hearts of Trump’s critics.
Is there really something different about these reactions to Trump? I think so, and it’s not just his policies. Aggravating as they might be, most are executing long held conservative values and beliefs about government, economics, and social policies. The things he’s now saying and doing are remarkably consistent with his campaign promises and what presumably he was elected to do. To that extent, he is consistent, authentic, and a man of his word.
So what’s the problem?
I think the difference between Donald Trump and every past president I’ve witnessed, Democratic and Republican, is that Donald is consistently and persistently negative. Where others when sworn into office promised to heal political wounds, and donned the mantle of national unifier-in-chief—tried to appeal to the better angels of our nature, Donald Trump persistently and overtly divides and appeals to our darker nature—our fears, resentments, distrust, and tribalism.
If the niceties of our social intercourse, call them tenets of civility, are in fact overlays of political correctness concealing darker shadows in our hearts, they have served a purpose, and other presidents have sought to demonstrate and encourage them for the benefit of all. Mr. Trump’s claim to fame is his blunt rejection of such niceties. His supporters value his iconoclasm as refreshing candor and courageous personal integrity; and his critics’ extreme condemnation of him makes those rejections all the more noble and him a kind of martyr.
Whether a veneer or an authentic side of our nature, these niceties are being stripped away from social and political discourse and we’re living in a more emotionally violent and hateful society. Whether we can recover or rouse ourselves from these dark times is not at all clear. I believe, however, that everyone alive in our society today is being wounded; and if we do heal, whether our scars will make us stronger or weaker in the long run remains to be seen.