By Mary Pettice
One of the best but undersold goals of persuasion is to reach those who still won’t agree but will understand that those on the other side are decent and well-meaning people. That’s a huge prize for the writer/argument because it opens the door to rational debate and discussion. That’s what I hoped my essay would achieve.
When I posted this piece on Facebook, my cousin shared with me a friend’s friend’s comment on the post. He wrote, “Obviously I don’t agree with all of this. But this piece is so heartfelt, so articulate and so patriotic, I can’t help but respect the writer, and others who feel this way.” His sentiments are exactly the response I hoped for while writing.
If you’ve been questioning the protests against Trump and assuming that his opponents are just sore losers, I’d like to talk to you.
First, it’s Americans’ right to protest, no matter the motivation. Can you see into the hearts of the protesters? No, you can’t. But it’s easy to dismiss them all as people you dislike and whose views you can’t stand.
It’s too easy, and probably not how you like to see your friends and neighbors who disagree with you politically. The protesters aren’t removed from you; they are a whole lot like these good people with whom you agree to disagree.
Guess what? I know some protesters. They are marching for me and for you. Protests are happening because some Americans are afraid.
Patriotic, informed, and educated Americans are among them. Give them some credit; they’re not sore losers, they are trying to alert us all to potential dangers we face from within. Don’t easily dismiss them with derogatory terms—don’t take tweets as a model for rational civic discussion. Talk to them. Find out why they’re afraid. Find out what they care about. You may be surprised.
I started voting in 1980. I disagreed with President Ronald Reagan’s policies. I disagreed with President George Herbert Walker Bush’s policies. I disagreed with President George Walker Bush’s policies. But I tried to remember, even when I was angry, that they were likely decent people trying to draw from deeply held belief systems, both spiritual and political, that persuaded them that their policy decisions were the right moves to take in the interest of the American people—our safety, our economic health, our moral direction, and our sovereignty. Both Reagan and Bush 43 had been governors; Bush 41 had directed the CIA.
They knew about the structure and process of government. Their interpretation of the role of the federal government differed from mine.
We were on opposing sides that are as old as the Republic itself, and both sides included politicians, newspaper columnists, scholars, activists, and voters who, despite their differences, had many values and goals in common as Americans.
But this president is different.
Yes, I’m personally offended by who he is. I was aghast when he belittled Senator John McCain’s military service. I was furious when he mocked a disabled reporter. And I seethed with hatred when I heard how he talked about women. As one of those “liberal elites,” I was horrified when he said he didn’t read books and when he didn’t seem to know the standard way to refer to Second Corinthians. I found his reference to his “sacrifice” laughable given his inheritance and the real day-to-day sacrifices our soldiers and struggling families make. And I admit I was continually baffled by his lack of coherent sentence structure and his extremely simplistic view of the world and its problems.
But that’s not why I’m writing this. Personal politics, character, and academics aside, I am afraid, and I know a lot of protesters who made the trips to D.C. and other protests nationwide yesterday and today are afraid, too. We are afraid of his ignorance of and disdain for the rule of law. He says he believes in it but he’s shown that he thinks he and his family are above the law. We are afraid of his reliance on the real forces of division in the United States. We are a diverse nation and by promising to deny the equal rights of whole populations of people—women, members of the LGBT community, Muslims, Mexicans, etc.—and by seeming to embrace the support and counsel of white supremacists—he threatens the true promise of democracy itself. And as some of his more violent supporters have shown, he has emboldened the worst of the worst into committing terrible and violent acts of hatred. Yes, bad people are on “both sides,” you say, but collect some data—the uptick in attacks throughout the country on ethnic non-European and LGBT Americans can’t be explained away.
And we’re afraid of his ignorance of foreign policy and his disdain for federal employees who have devoted their lives to strengthening our ties with our allies and finessed well-informed working relationships with the rest of the world. Can you imagine if Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, were suspected of having ties to Russia? I can—and the Right would make the loudest condemnations. During the 1992 presidential campaign, President Bill Clinton was roundly criticized by his opponents and the sitting president for visiting Moscow while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. This criticism occurred after the breakup of the Soviet Union and during the age of glasnost because the specter of the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. continued to haunt us. Did you follow Russia’s incursion into Crimea, formerly part of Ukraine, in 2014? Putin’s forces seized a sovereign country’s territory and upset the balance of post-Cold War Europe. He’s testing the waters. Ukraine is not a part of NATO. But just wait.
Trump’s ties to Russia, even if they are ultimately found to be innocuous, are troubling enough to be investigated. As it was, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s suspected ties to China were grounds for suspicion held by her opponents during the campaign, and, were she the president today, the country would be in the right to investigate if the evidence were as compelling. China is an actual superpower; Russia wants to be a superpower. Therefore, we negotiate very carefully with China because of its sphere of influence, economic power, and military strength. We exercise more authority when dealing with Russia, this aspirational superpower. But we should also see Russia as a threat, and prepare to stand in the way of further aggression against European countries.
Who’s in Russia’s way? Europe and the United States. Do you have friends who are Finnish, Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, or Estonian? Ask them what they think of Russia and specifically Vladimir Putin. President Trump admires the actions and behaviors of a leader who is not constrained by the U.S. Constitution. He criticized President Barack Obama for not being “decisive” like, apparently, Putin. The United States of America was founded by people who knew too well what an unpredictable strongman—King George III of England—could do to treat his subjects unfairly and deny them their “inalienable Rights.” Our Founders decided to craft a government that did not give a president unlimited and unchecked powers. Additionally, no U.S. president should support leaders who themselves violate the values we hold dear and have codified into our Constitution. We can negotiate with them, encourage good behavior, create opportunities for our citizens to learn from each other on a cultural level, but no, we should never help them achieve their aims if they wish to violate the national sovereignty of our allies.
This is why people are protesting—not because they lost but because they fear we are losing our country, its promise, its pursuit of justice, its humanity, and its place in the world. They’re afraid for themselves and for you, too. They don’t think Trump will fulfill his promises to make his voters’ lives better. They have seen him lie before, and they’re troubled by his “do as I say, not as I do” attitude to business and manufacturing abroad and pretty much every other area of his self-absorbed life. They’re afraid that Americans will be harassed and denied basic human rights because of their gender, religion, disability, looks, accent, economic status, and ethnicity under his administration.
If we’re scared for no reason at all, good. Of course we wish all Americans prosperity, equal rights, and happiness. We hope for clean water and air, for safe and affordable housing, for accessible medical care, for world-quality education, for decent jobs, and for increased, not decreased, reliance on scientific findings that will allow us to guard our health and our planet’s health for decades to come. We hope for laws that encourage rather than discourage people to vote. We hope for a healthy and functioning democracy.
I have to admit, however, that I’m not hopeful, particularly in light of Trump’s Cabinet appointees. I could come up with a list of terrific Republican politicians, thinkers, and writers for every single post. The difference between my list and his list is that my appointees would have a record of involvement with the sector of government they’re being asked to lead—and not from a business perspective of knowing how to get around the rules. They wouldn’t be billionaires. They wouldn’t be intellectually incurious people who were born into wealth and who would echo the president’s distorted view of life in America. They would be people who truly wanted the job and had studied the parameters and goals of each Cabinet department. They would understand current federal law.
That’s not too much to ask. These people are applying to some of the most powerful positions in the country and they should be prepared to lead with understanding and knowledge from day one.
The protesters don’t like the new president or his policies. But they’re afraid of what he might do to destabilize our country. In my lifetime, we’ve been afraid before of unchecked presidential power—and President Richard Nixon resigned over the discovery of his unlawful deeds. We’re afraid again, and given the continuing commitment of many of today’s protesters throughout the years to civil rights and justice for all, we don’t scare easily.
Give the protesters some credit. No matter how pleased you are with the new president, understand that the protesters are exercising a right granted to them by the Constitution. And understand that their protest is deeper than politics; it’s against a perceived threat to the Constitution and our country itself. Be grateful for those who might today be standing up for your rights tomorrow.