“I’D NEVER invite her to a dinner party at my house,” a friend of mine said, referring to a neighbor who voted Republican. We may lament our hyper-partisan time, but most of us — Democrat, Republican, Independent — are caught within it.
“Hostility to the opposition party and its candidates has now reached a level where loathing motivates voters more than loyalty… Anger has become the primary tool for motivating voters,” commentator Thomas Edsall recently observed.
We may be sick of the anger and divisiveness, but we don’t know how to get past it. But not talking to people with different views comes at a cost; it leads to isolation and distrust as a “new normal” of life. Living in our own bubbles we may feel threatened by those we don’t understand or seem to share our values. These bubbles erode democratic dialogue.
Two recent experiences have led me to question my bubble. First, as coordinator of a grassroots group in New Hampshire, I had to write a prominent Republican about a policy. Filled with mistrust and assumptions, I called to get the address to send it and to my surprise (and consternation) he answered the phone and asked me to read it to him. He listened carefully and a thoughtful discussion followed. The bottom line was we agreed on the central points. If we hadn’t talked directly, I never would have known we shared common ground. And I would have stayed in my own bubble of mistaken assumptions.
That’s why I was so shocked to come across the Republican Voters Against Trump website, with videos of ordinary Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 explaining why they will not do so again.
I listened to Lena, a Christian evangelical who has voted Republican all her life, decry Trump’s “crony capitalism” that has led to a botched response to the pandemic and his leadership style that “is tearing our country further apart” at a time when we need to unite.
Matt, who also identified as Christian, said he couldn’t vote for Trump in November because “I don’t want to die knowing that I supported somebody that could wreak havoc on the future... I’ve got two daughters...”
A Republican “all my life,” Carter explained that Trump is a person who has “hijacked the party” and said that we have to get “back to the values that built the Republican party”
I heard a self-described Reagan Republican who said that he cannot vote for Trump because of his “lack of competence and his character. After four years of Trump, I’m voting for Biden in 2020.”
From Texas, a lifelong Republican named Wayne revealed that he’d voted for Trump but won’t be again. “He’s running the country like he ran his businesses, just borrow, borrow, borrow” leading to bankruptcy… Except this time it’s us the taxpayers who will pay the bill he’s run up.”
There are dozens of similar testimonials on the website from Republicans who voted for Trump before and won’t do so again. Many speak with strong feeling and conviction. They helped me realize how much courage and strength it takes for a Republican to reject Trump.
I was grateful to these people for speaking up. I realized that we share core values about protecting democracy, the rule of law, climate change (there’s a conservative focus on dealing with the climate crisis on the website) and — most importantly — coming together to talk about what matters.
I would invite any of these people to my dinner table. Hearing them, the world no longer feels populated just by “good” vs. “bad” or “R” vs. “D” or Red State vs. Blue State, but rather by fellow citizens who take democracy seriously and want to preserve it. Yes, we will differ on many particulars, but the bottom line is we can agree on this: working together we can save our democracy.
There’s only one problem. I can’t invite any of these Republicans to dinner because none of them live near me. Most states are represented on the website, but there’s not a single voice from New Hampshire yet. Can it be that there is not a single Granite State Republican who questions Donald Trump? Who else has had enough of his leadership style? Who else wonders at the cost to our country in his crony capitalism?
I hope not. I hope there are Republicans here who will step up and say, “no more” and “enough.” I’d like to have dinner with them.