A letter to my neighbor, a churchgoing Trump supporter
by Debi Smith
How are you and your family? I hope this letter finds you each doing well despite the challenges the pandemic has presented. What a year, right? Like some cosmic test to see how much we humans can handle.
Our family is good, thankfully, though I've been out of work since May. Less money, but more time for doing the things I love—like getting out the vote! And this election season, due to Covid-19, I am writing letters instead of knocking on doors. Good ol' snail mail!
(Hopefully you get this letter soon, considering the cuts to the USPS that happened after Trump installed one of his donors who then set about a restructuring, which a federal judge in September described as: "an intentional effort on the part of the current administration to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of upcoming local, state and federal elections.")
I did notice your Trump/Pence sign. Maybe you noticed when I replaced my Bernie sign with a Biden/Harris sign a few months ago? I'm wondering if you'd be up for chatting politics again soon? Along with catching up with each other on all the other things in life of course!
I enjoyed those chats we had shortly after the 2016 election when we bumped into each other on the train we were taking across the country. Such a small world! You explained your reasons for voting for Trump then, and I explained some of my reasoning against that choice. I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely and open our conversations were, at the mutual listening, and at how many things we actually agreed on.
It was refreshing, too, without social media and 24/7 partisan news blaring at us for those few days, how devoid our conversations were of vitriolic animosity. We were just neighbors talking to each other!
But then I came home to my bubble, and drank too much from the constant stream of divisiveness. I did take a break from it while volunteering at the fire relief shelter for a couple of weeks recently, where it was just humans helping humans. That's an interesting facet of disasters, don't you think? Our personal politics swiftly fade into the background and we just pitch in and help each other.
The fire was such a tragedy. Hundreds lost everything. Their homes and everything inside reduced to ash and twisted metal. We were fortunate the winds weren't blowing our direction that fateful day, but what about the day when they are, and there's another fire? I received another red flag warning just this morning. Are you signed up for community safety alerts?
What are your thoughts on climate change, and the cause of these horrific fires? Trump always wants to point to lack of forest management as being the cause, even though not all catastrophic fires, such as the recent fire here, are forest-centric. I can agree that forests could be better managed, but what Trump doesn't like to acknowledge is that the federal government is in charge of nearly half of the forests on the West Coast.
Regardless of who needs to manage the forests, I believe the scientific evidence is clear: we are in the midst of a climate emergency, and fires are much more catastrophic now because of it. Does this concern you as well? How our lives, right now, are being dramatically impacted by the effects of climate change? And how this will likely be a far worse situation for our grandchildren to deal with if we don't take drastic measures now? Personally, I believe it's one of the number one issues we should be tackling.
Anyway, especially this year with Covid, I've pretty much been glued to the various rectangular-shaped digital devices in my home. And from my aghast perspective, Trump's presidency has consisted of mostly four years of unhinged chaos, with so many continually mounting and multiplying absurdities I've felt frozen in disbelief—like a deer-in-headlights-frozen—unsure the best way to respond. It doesn't usually bode well for a frozen deer, I know, so maybe a poor analogy, but again, I'm pretty sure that rule by chaos has been Trump's primary modus operandi.
I admit my views may be polarized, though I do tune into Fox News occasionally, and try to read a wide variety of information to better understand all sides. But I haven't done a very good job reaching out to people who have different viewpoints. It's one reason I'm finally reaching out to you.
Hard to believe election day 2020 is already upon us. I remember election day 2016 so clearly, partly because my three-month-old grandson was with me that day. I felt bad that he had to listen to MSNBC's Steve Kornacki and CNN's John King as I frantically switched back and forth between channels for hours, versus my usual reading of Dr. Seuss stories and singing lullabies. Though, considering I can't sing, maybe my grandson preferred Kornacki's and King's voices, lol!
How are your kids and grandkids doing? Have you been able to see them during this pandemic? What about your involvement together at the church? I know that was important to you; have you found ways to do that safely?
I mentioned on the train that I grew up in a religion where studying the bible and learning about Jesus was a big deal. My views on religion and spirituality have changed over the years, but I still feel Jesus's example was a good one to emulate, especially with those love your neighbor and love your enemies concepts.
That's one of the things I've found most perplexing about people who support Trump, the issue I can least wrap my mind around: what would Jesus think about Trump? No doubt he'd show him love, but would he support him? I mean, my goodness, even before he was elected, Trump said he could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and he still wouldn't lose any voters. And if that wasn't shocking enough, he next said that his fame allowed him to grab women by their pussy.
When we talked on the train, you agreed you didn't necessarily like Trump's vulgarity but you hoped he would make good on draining the swamp, standing up for the working class, and be like a bull in a china shop—disrupting the status quo of a government that seems ever farther from us ordinary citizens, and filled with people, many on both sides of the aisle, only bent on enriching themselves.
I agree with you on all three of those points and admit that after it was clear Trump would be president for at least the next four years, unless impeached and removed from office, I hoped maybe you were correct and he would accomplish those tasks. But it just doesn't appear to have played out that way.
The following are just a few of the things that deeply concern me about Trump as president, and I'm curious about your thoughts on them:
- He has repeatedly insulted veterans and war heroes, even calling them suckers and losers
- Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Trump likely knew then and did nothing. He knows now and still has done nothing
- He continually acts deferentially to authoritarians and dictators while at the same time thumbing his nose at our allies
- Kowtowing to corporate interests, Trump and his administration have reversed nearly 100 environmental regulations designed to protect all of us, and future generations
- He regularly disparages women
- He is loved by racists, goes on racist tirades, and refuses to call out white supremacy
- His administration shot rubber bullets and canisters of toxic pepper spray at peaceful protesters outside the White House so that he could have a bible photo-op outside St. John's Episcopal Church. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, leader of The Episcopal Diocese of Washington, strongly repudiated Trump's photo-op, as did other religious leaders
- In Trump's world, citizens exercising their right to protest peacefully are "anarchists," "thugs," and "animals." In contrast, an armed militia storming Michigan's capital to protest the stay-at-home order are "very good people."
- He is a pathological liar, with over 20,000 lies documented since he took office
- He continually makes false claims about mail-in voting fraud, says he might not accept the election outcome, nor will he commit to a peaceful transfer of power
- There are thousands of documented instances of Trump seeking to enrich himself, his family members, and his companies
- His nepotism and cronyism have only deepened and muddied the swamp rather than draining it
- Many of the family, friends, and business acquaintances Trump has hired had zero experience for the positions they were hired for
- Hundreds hired have resigned or have been dismissed, many under a cloud of ethics violations
- Seven former Trump White House advisers have been criminally charged
- Not only have many administration officials enjoyed using our dollars to enrich themselves, their lack of qualifications have been part of the reason for the catastrophic failure of the Trump Administration's response to Covid-19
Trump's response (or lack of ) to Covid-19 requires a lengthier description. For months following his swearing-in, he failed to fill hundreds of positions at the CDC, and other health organizations and efforts were also disbanded. The following year, he shuttered the White House Global Health Security office, which had been set up under Obama to prepare and prevent the next disease outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the virus, in the beginning saying they had it "totally under control" and later saying: "We're going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we've had very good luck."
After multiple studies proved the effectiveness of masks, Trump could have instituted a mask mandate that likely would have saved thousands of lives. But he refused to wear a mask or institute a mandate, and instead belittled mask wearers. In so doing, he turned a health issue into a partisan and political issue that has had deadly consequences.
A Columbia University study published on October 22 says that anywhere from 130,000-210,000 Covid-19 deaths so far could have been prevented, and are directly attributable to Trump's mishandling of the crisis. A different study out of the University of Washington published the following day suggests that universal mask-wearing could save approximately 130,000 lives between now and the end of February 2021.
When states urgently needed federal assistance to obtain critical PPE or ventilators, etc., Trump and his administration threatened to withhold aid to states because, according to Trump, "It's a two way street they have to treat us well."
And, according to Vanity Fair's reporting, when the virus was hitting Democratic states the hardest, some on Jared Kushner's team said it had been deemed unnecessary to go forward with a national testing plan because: "The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy."
In addition, unbelievably, in the middle of a pandemic, with almost nine million cases, and millions having lost their employer-provided healthcare (Medicare for All, please), the Trump Administration's efforts to kill the ACA are intensifying, and there is no plan for replacing it if he succeeds.
Now Trump says we are "turning the corner."
We never did get down to five people. And yeah, eight months later, we are turning the corner all right . . . and hurtling towards 9 million cases and 300,000 deaths, with scientific models suggesting we are in for far worse.
And now the administration has apparently given up on trying to control the virus.
In 2001, we went to war (not that I agreed with it) to avenge the deaths of the nearly 3000 lives lost on 9/11. And in 2020, we are invited to vote for a man who is so far directly responsible for, at the very minimum, 130,000 lives? I just don't get it. Maybe you can help explain it to me.
And then there's the inhumane separation of children from their families at the border. Children were put in cages! Some of them so young they hadn't even learned to speak yet. Yes, thankfully, Trump ended his cruel zero-tolerance policy that separated families, but now, two years later, authorities have been unable to locate the families of 545 of the children? These families were trying to come here to escape horrific living situations, hoping for a safer/better life. How did we go from being a beacon of hope and welcoming the huddled masses, to a country known for separating families and caging children?
I mean, really, what would Jesus say to all these things?
I am heartened to see that many religious leaders are calling for voters to support Biden/Harris, but how do you and your fellow church members feel? And if still supporting Trump, how do you reconcile your religious beliefs against the fact he does not come anywhere close to emulating Jesus?
Maybe you support Trump because of the economy? I keep hearing that about his supporters. I don't know a helluva lot about the workings of economics, but I've read a few things that suggest we ordinary citizens aren't much better off under Trump. Especially when things such as higher tariffs are eating away at any small temporary gains we might have gotten from the tax cuts, which mostly benefit the wealthy and corporations.
Or maybe it is because you align as pro-life? For the record, if that's true I don't hate you for that. I know that it's continuously pounded into everyone's head that Democrats, specifically liberals, want the right to kill babies right up until the time of birth, but this just isn't true. The data shows that most Americans' views on abortion lie somewhere in the middle, and the truth is, abortion is a complicated issue that comes in quite handy for the powers that benefit from us hating each other.
Yes, I align predominantly as left/progressive, though I've long resisted labels designed to pigeonhole us or keep us divided. It might surprise you to learn, for instance, that I'm not a huge fan of abortion. It doesn't mean I'm hoping for an overturn of Roe v. Wade; it just means I see the issue as far more complex than merely for or against abortion.
Some would probably call this next idea "too simplistic," but what if we were to get together in our communities across the country and discuss the abortion issue with skilled facilitators? With all views being shared and debated calmly, thoughtfully, and compassionately? Not only would this help us to learn from each other, and humanize our views versus demonize them, I believe we could shape and agree on policies that would go much farther towards making abortion a more rare choice, while—at the same time—honoring a woman's right to make decisions about her own body.
Let's get real, more and better access to healthcare and birth control, and changing the tone of education and the conversation, would go a long way towards preventing unwanted pregnancies.
In this vein, and looking up more information just now, I ran across an interesting pro-life viewpoint on the election at Pro Life Evangelicals For Biden:
Knowing that the most common reason women give for abortion is the financial difficulty of another child, we appreciate a number of Democratic proposals that would significantly alleviate that financial burden: accessible health services for all citizens, affordable childcare, a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty.
Notably, they end their argument: "We believe, that on balance, Joe Biden's policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president."
And what if we get together in our communities and discuss the 2nd Amendment? Again, given the proper atmosphere—and absent NRA lobbyists and NRA-backed members of Congress—I believe that we could design policies that adhere to our 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms, while also including some common-sense protections that safeguard the innocent. After all, isn't that one of the primary things we are all trying to achieve? The ability to protect ourselves and our family?
Doing another online search here (yeah, I love going online and looking things up!), I typed in "Americans' views on guns" and found a fascinating TIME magazine piece about an experiment conducted in 2018 with 21 people from all sides of the gun issue. It wasn't a study setting out to change laws, it was about humanizing people on both sides and helping them to hear each other. One woman, for example, went from calling liberals "Dumb idiot morons" to considering all of the participants, including the liberals, "friends for life." What if we start there?
Are you still with me? Sorry. Guess I kind of went off. Isolation will do that to you! Not trying to offend, I'm just passionate about these issues and trying to help facilitate people coming together to create solutions that work for the benefit of all.
I'll wrap up here with a quote I ran across the other day. It was posted on a church website, written by a poet named Eric Overby. "The only way we will love our neighbor as ourselves is by getting to know our neighbors, even in the midst of our differences." I love that.
Let me know if you're up for a socially-distanced-masked-meet-up at the park in the next day or two. Be great to see you, and hear your thoughts on all of this. In the event we can't get together until after the election, can I ask a favor? If you haven't already voted, will you please at least consider voting Biden/Harris? Because I am deeply concerned that another four years of Trump would be catastrophic for our country.
Debi Smith -- wife, mother, grandmother, and concerned American and human being traveling aboard this small mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam--writes from her home in Ashland, Oregon. She welcomes your thoughtful comments, and ideas about how we can come together in search of common ground, at email@example.com