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When Good People Support Bad Politics

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This piece has run in several newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06).

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To the best of my knowledge, I am the only commentator of a liberal bent who regularly tries to reach an audience on the other side of our political divide. The reason I care so much about these conservative, Republican, Trump-supporting readers is that for many years I had a relationship with a number of such people that was very meaningful and rewarding.

Over the course of a decade (1992-2002), I had (often very rich) talk-radio conversations with a conservative audience. Sometimes we discussed the issues that divided us, sometimes matters that emphasized our common humanity. I appreciated these people for their goodness, and for the decent conservative values and principles they expressed and, much of the time, demonstrated.

Having seen the beauty in them, I feel especially heartsick to see what’s happened to them over the past 20 years.

In introducing my radio show – on WSVA-AM in Harrisonburg, VA – I used to say, “Neither side has a monopoly on the truth. Let’s talk with each other in a spirit of mutual respect, as if we might actually learn from each other.” That’s what we often did.

But that kind of conversation is not possible now, at least not on anything that touches upon their political consciousness.

Over the past generation, the conservative part of American politics has been taken over by something quite dark. And when that side moved into darkness, it pulled all these people — who had tied themselves to this “conservative side” — into darkness as well.

One part of that darkness involves buying into a false picture of the political world—a picture that inspires neither love nor a desire to raise up the world, that gives rise to fear and anger and an impulse to fight.

The falseness of that picture – which makes every point a sticking point — makes fruitful dialogue impossible.

I’m often told by liberals who live in overwhelmingly liberal areas – and thus know these conservatives only through their destructive political role – that I should just write these people off. Seeing only what’s broken, these liberals cannot conceive of how anything good could come of them.

But like most of my fellow liberals out here in Shenandoah County, I get to see how their goodness is still there, on display in their own private lives where they are guided by many of the fine conservative values I’d encountered back in those radio days.

So I do not write them off. Instead I reach out to them, using the good values I once knew them to have – from America’s founders, from the Gospels – to try to bring their goodness back into their political role in America.

The “conversation” that was dialogue in the 1990s has had to be transformed into the monologue of my weekly op/eds.

I try to summon up the spirit that animates them in their non-political roles – in their church communities, neighborhoods, and businesses – to move them to repudiate the very opposite spirit that governs the political force they’ve been supporting.

Opposite spirits– that map quite readily onto traditional ideas of “good versus evil.”

We are in one of those rare situations in history where the moral truth is so clear-cut, there’s no room for reasonable dispute. There is simply no way that a person being guided by traditional American ideals and a concern for the nation’s good could support Trump and these disgraceful Republicans who – betraying their oath of office – have made themselves accomplices in the assault on the rule of law.

It is heart-breaking to see people with so much good in them supporting

  • corruption (over integrity)
  • lying (over honesty)
  • cruelty (over kindness)
  • ignorance and arrogance (over sound and sober judgment)
  • recklessness (over careful stewardship of the nation’s interests)
  • fanning the flames of inter-group strife (over bringing Americans together)
  • sacrificing national interests for personal advantage (over a spirit of service to the nation)
  • attacking our long-time friends among the democracies while cozying up to thuggish regimes (over protecting America’s role as the “leader of the free world”)

All grotesquely wrong.

This judgment is hardly some “liberal” thing. Indeed, many of the evils of this force that’s seized hold of the Republican Party should be especially offensive to those with a conservative perspective and set of values.

America can never be safe until this darkening is reversed, until the better angels of their nature can be summoned back to guide their course in the political realm, until the politics of conservative America are transformed to give the nation the constructive and decent Republican Party it needs.

So I reach out to those people with arguments bringing in our founders, and the teachings of Jesus, to reveal the how the dark political force they’re supporting is something both our founders and Jesus would condemn.

I’ve been asked whether my efforts to reach these conservatives have any effect. The truth is, I don’t know. Judging from how closed the right-wing world seems to be, I expect that a great many of the newspapers’ conservative readers just avoid my columns.

But here’s the thing: any conservatives being persuaded would not show it publicly. Such is the political culture on the right that deviation from orthodoxy is regarded as heresy, and heresy as treason. Anyone known to be opposing the Party line would pay a serious social cost.

So those who ignore me and those who are moved by my messages would look to everyone precisely the same.

I write to those who might be listening, therefore, as an act of faith, knowing that they’ll keep to themselves whatever thoughts might get them in trouble with their community.

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Andy Schmookler – a prize-winning author who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in VA-06 – has written most recently a series titled “Press the Battle: Fighting for the Soul of America(ns),” at http://abetterhumanstory.org/press-the-battle/ .