An open letter to those who voted for Trump:
You have reason to feel relief and vindication. You picked the surprise winner. Issues of importance to you stand a better chance now of being safeguarded. Issues of concern to you stand a better chance now of being repealed and replaced.
You are hopeful, but I doubt you are elated. This letter is to remind you of your own deep misgivings about Donald Trump. Many of you held your nose when you voted (“the lesser of two evils”). As high as were Hillary’s unfavorable ratings, I remind you Trump’s were even higher. As loose with the truth as Hillary was accused of being, fact-checkers throughout the campaign rated him significantly higher on the outright lying scale. On quickness not only to react but to insult, there was no comparison. On crudeness and lewdness, of behavior as well as rhetoric, there was no comparison. Along with your reasons to hope, you share with the rest of us reasons to worry.
Give the man a chance, I imagine you saying. Give him the benefit of the doubt, as even Hillary and Obama are trying to do. Can you imagine Trump himself doing likewise (“Lock her up!”) if the situation were reversed? Perhaps, I hear some of you saying, a lot of it was pure bombast, shrewdly devised in order to get elected. Not one of us can fault Donald Trump’s shrewdness. Perhaps now, you go on, he’ll not only get things done as he promised but shift to a more conciliatory tone, be more “presidential.”
But here’s the thing. What we saw may not change one iota from what we get. In the weeks following the election Donald Trump has remained Donald Trump. If it is only those on the left who challenge his behavior when it continues to be offensive, then of course he will dismiss and demean — “what do you expect from whining losers?” But if he hears from his base that self-aggrandizement and defensiveness and mean-spiritedness are not fitting from the President of the United States and leader of the free world, that they are not only embarrassing but morally repugnant to them, well, perhaps then he will scapegoat less and listen more.
We can only hope.
Will you who voted for him, a great many with firm Christian beliefs in the dignity and compassion belonging to every human being, stand in protest with those who did not if such behavior continues? Or will your politics trump your religion?
Here, honestly, is our foreboding. What we have learned from studying authoritarian figures, present as well as past, is that when their tactics of intimidation and retaliation are challenged, civil liberties are the first things to go. Read again the freedoms of the First Amendment to that rock of a Constitution all Americans stand on. We count on you to fight as hard to defend the First as many of you have defended the Second.
We need all the courage we can muster to live out our respective faiths. Christians especially, called to be particularly mindful of “the least of these,” know that following the man of the Gospels entails carrying a cross.
As we on the more liberal side pray for the courage to speak truth to power, cost what it may, may we be joined by our conservative brothers and sisters, holding no less to this need to speak truth. Our Constitution, our civil liberties, our humanity — all are at stake. May we keep inching forward toward our possible future greatness, not fearfully lurching back to a fancied greatness that excluded many.
Charles Finn is a resident of the Roanoke, Virginia area. This essay was published in the Roanoke Times on Inauguration Day.