The most gratifying responses I receive via email, telephone and old-fashioned letters are not from readers who agree with me, although those are appreciated. The ones I like most are from readers who do not support President Donald Trump but say I’ve helped them better understand those who do.
▪ “I read your column on the Washington Post’s op-ed page today, and I have been yearning to understand some things about support for Trump.”
▪ “This liberal continues to want to better understand the perspective of the other side, in hope that the gulf in the American political landscape can be bridged, because it seems that the extreme polarization will not be tenable for long.”
▪ “As a person who did not vote for Donald Trump and finds it frightening that so many of my fellow citizens chose to do so, I have been trying to get an understanding of his appeal.”
▪ “Thank you for your article in the Washington Post. It addressed many questions that I, an ‘East Coast elite snowflake’ have had about the Trump supporters. We wonder if and why people still support this president.”
Those are just a few among many. These writers are sincere and passionate as they go on to explain to me why I am wrong. But people across the political spectrum have a hunger to understand those whose views seem the polar opposite of their own.
This sincere yearning for understanding is in contrast to the steady diet of divisive programming from too many cable news outlets. Depending on which channel they watch, viewers know that certain programs will dependably spend an hour bashing Trump with the most catastrophic hyperbole, or else blindly defending him while suggesting that anyone who disagrees is un-American.
I am not naive. There are people who simply hate Trump and have no interest in letting go of their hate, and I hear from them. I know that hate flows in the other direction, too. But based on the scores of responses I have received, most Americans, whether pro- or anti-Trump, engage in deeper analysis and perspective than the bombastic presentations of too many cable news programs suggest.
I respect everyone who participates in the political process. In these pieces, you won’t see me differentiate “real Americans” from others who somehow are not real Americans, or use terms such as “liberal snowflake.” Some have taken offense to my reference to East or West Coast “elitists.” If that’s the most derogatory term I use, please forgive me. I realize that not every liberal who lives on the coasts has an elitist attitude, and of course even elitists are real Americans, too.
The Times-Gazette endorsed Trump, and I continue to support him. As someone who took a break from journalism and worked in politics for 15 years, I understand the game as it has come to be played. I like that Trump is a game-changer, a disrupter, a practitioner of what I see as “crafted chaos.” Our stale system and its corrupted processes are in need of disruption.
To me, much of the blowback that Trump gets is a reaction to all this disruption, to the establishments he challenges in both parties and to a news media that was, for at least a year, planning extensive and glowing coverage celebrating the first female commander in chief. Trump spoiled that, too, and they are not pleased.
I’ll keep trying to represent, as cogently as I can, the people and regions whose continued support for the president seems such a mystery to so many, and from time to time touch on other subjects that might help explain the people, influences and issues from Trump country.
A thoughtful email came from someone associated with a human rights organization in Washington, challenging a few things I had written. But after a pleasant exchange — including my assurance that the Times-Gazette carries national and international news from the Associated Press in our print edition — he replied, “I think we are more on the same page than first glance might indicate. A good sign in sometimes trying times.”
Many of us will never agree on politics. But if we try harder to understand each other, we might realize that we are on the same page more often than we think, and that our commonalities are greater than our differences — even among those who enthusiastically support, and those who aggressively resist, the presidency of Donald J. Trump.
Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette.