In the age of Trump, it’s OK to be (deeply) conflicted
By GARY ABERNATHY | Special to The Washington Post | Published: December 24, 2019
HILLSBORO, Ohio — Considering recent reports chronicling the decline of Christianity in the United States, the level of outrage expressed over President Donald Trump’s offhand comment that the late Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., might be “looking up,” presumably from hell, is somewhat surprising. Suddenly, at least for a day or two, everybody got religion.
To be fair, Trump first suggested that Dingell was “looking down” from heaven. But the president couldn’t resist his little joke, and the resulting anguish it caused Rep. Debbie Dingell, the congressman’s widow, was entirely understandable. Trump should apologize.
He won’t, of course. Not that Trump’s lack of contrition will cost him any support. The president’s devotees long ago accepted his callousness as a character flaw that is offset by his frontal assault on a corrupt and complacent Washington swamp. The local Republican Party county chairwoman told me last week she had just returned from Dayton, where the printer claims to be working around the clock to keep up with the demand for Trump flyers, pamphlets and memorabilia. There is no abatement in enthusiasm, he told her.
The blowback from the pundit class over Trump’s musings on the fate of someone’s eternal soul would be more meaningful if the same empathy was accorded the president when it is predicted that he will burn in hell. Such insinuations are regularly made, and similar hopes expressed in emails I receive. There are even fine art prints of “Trump’s Arrival in Hell” available online ($30 unframed), but widespread disgust over such an affront to our president has yet to be observed.
Despite the Bible’s observation that the path to heaven is narrow and few will travel it, while the road to hell is wide and much more populated, it is still improper in polite society to suggest that anyone will end up in the wrong place, except when discussing Trump.
Trump’s joke about Dingell was shameful, but there is an undeniable double standard in the reactions to what Trump says and what others say in return, even when they are comparably snide.
Trump’s insults are quickly condemned by most commentators as rude, crude and disgusting, while the barbs directed against him are usually portrayed as examples of keen wit and deserved retribution.
The president does not shoulder all the blame for our divided nation. We all share responsibility for a low discourse too often based on our intractable political stances. This season of peace and goodwill is another opportunity for everyone on all sides to take stock of our own actions. In that spirit, let us agree on some simple truths.
First, it’s OK for Trump’s base to admit that he is too often tactless, and doesn’t set the example we would like to see in our president. He should lay off criticizing dead people. You can still support Trump for president and simultaneously acknowledge that sometimes he’s a jerk.
Second, it’s all right for Trump’s critics to admit that impeachment was a purely partisan scavenger hunt, and that what was described as a “clear and present danger” in need of immediate action was hardly that at all, proven now by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to let the articles of impeachment leave her grasp.
Third, it’s acceptable for Trump supporters to admit that, while impeachment was an overreach, Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was not “perfect,” and he should have avoided even the appearance of holding up foreign aid for political purposes. It will be a legitimate campaign issue for the Democrats.
Fourth, it’s time for the mainstream media to admit that the left is sometimes wrong, and concede that not all “right-wing conspiracy theories” are unfounded, which we know from the debunked Russian collusion narrative and the mounting evidence that some in the FBI indeed, made mistakes as they conducted their investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016.
For people on all sides, it’s all right to complain that Trump is ill-mannered and simultaneously give him credit for his positive accomplishments. It’s OK to like some of what he does but dislike how he conducts himself.
We can enter the election year of 2020 and admit that neither the left nor the right is always on the side of the angels. Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s OK to be conflicted, to see both sides, to climb out of our partisan foxholes and acknowledge the obvious, even when it contradicts our preferred narratives and political prejudices. It’s OK to respect each other, to consider other opinions and even to change our minds once in a while.
With that, merry Christmas. Or, if you prefer, happy holidays. I’m good either way.
Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor based in Hillsboro, Ohio.