A Letter to Mr. Medford of South Carolina

From the Judgmental Left…

February 19th, 2017

Dear Mr. Medford,

I read about your opinions in an article in the February 18th New York Times Sunday Review. It seemed like you wanted progressives to understand and respect your point of view, which is understandable, but I think the reverse is true, too. We would like you to better understand and respect our value system.

Let’s start with something we have in common. You say that you felt that you had to choose the Republican in the presidential election. There are many who felt that they had to pick the Democrat. Some things are about more than individual personalities, and whatever misgivings some of us may have had about Hillary Clinton, we didn’t feel like voting for a Republican was an option for us. This may have been particularly true when the alternative was Donald Trump, but it would have been convincing for most of us against any Republican nominee.

Moreover, it’s not unlikely that had Clinton won, some of her early moves as president would have made us uncomfortable.

Jeffrey Medford, a small-business owner in South Carolina, voted reluctantly for Donald Trump. As a conservative, he felt the need to choose the Republican. But some things are making him feel uncomfortable — parts of Mr. Trump’s travel ban, for example, and the recurring theme of his apparent affinity for Russia.

We share your discomfort with the travel ban and Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin, but that’s not why so many of us have trouble believing you’re not a bad person for voting for Donald Trump.

“We’re backed into a corner,” said Mr. Medford, 46, whose business teaches people to be filmmakers. “There are at least some things about Trump I find to be defensible. But they are saying: ‘Agree with us 100 percent or you are morally bankrupt. You’re an idiot if you support any part of Trump.’ ”

He added: “I didn’t choose a side. They put me on one.”

In choosing to support Trump, you must admit that you made a decision about your priorities. And the question really is how you want to make a moral defense of your priorities.

In a political sense, prior to becoming a candidate, Donald Trump was most famous for questioning whether President Obama was truly born in Hawaii, and whether he’d actually be eligible to be our president even if he weren’t. If Trump really believed what he was saying, he was too mentally unfit to be the president of the United States. And if he was only saying it to gather political support from some of the dumbest and most hateful people in the country, then what Trump was doing was fanning and exploiting racism for his own personal benefit.

That’s not an attractive alternative. Which one do you believe is true?

And since neither answer was enough to overcome your other priorities, what’s your moral defense in this case? What greater good “backed you into a corner” and allowed you to consider a Birther for president?

We’re not even to first base here, and yet we kind of need your response to go any further. Are there things about Hillary Clinton’s character that are even worse or more risky for our nation? It’s hard for us to even imagine what those things might be, but we’re fairly certain that using an insufficiently secure email server doesn’t suffice.

Now, we think you engaged in a little bit of hyperbole when you said that we think you can’t agree with anything Trump says, ever, even a little bit. Just yesterday, I pointed out that I sympathized with his desire to make our European allies meet their NATO obligations. In any case, none of us are saying that you have to agree with us 100% or you’re morally bankrupt.

But we do want to know why you thought it was not disqualifying that Donald Trump was plausibly accused of making unwelcome sexual advances on women, and even boasted about how he could grab their genitals or do anything he wants to them due to his fame and wealth. I know it’s hard to accept a defeat for your political beliefs, especially with things like the balance of the Supreme Court on the line. Believe me, I sympathize with the agony of that kind of decision. But when you say that you’re willing to overlook Trump’s treatment of women because you have higher priorities, then you shouldn’t be shocked when things like this happen:

Late last year, [you] hit it off with a woman in New York [you] met online. [You] spent hours on the phone. [You] made plans…to visit. But when [you] mentioned [you] had voted for Mr. Trump, she said she was embarrassed and didn’t know if she wanted [you] to come. ([You] eventually did, but she lied to her friends about [you] visiting.)

“It invalidated anything that’s good about me, just because of how I voted. Poof, it’s gone.”

Again, you’ve engaged in a touch of hyperbole. It’s not that your vote invalidated anything that’s good about you. This woman would not have been interested in you if you didn’t have positive qualities. But your vote told her something about your priorities that she really didn’t like. It shouldn’t be a stretch to figure out why a woman might feel that way.

And this isn’t the same kind of thing people experienced when, say, they voted for Bob Dole instead of Bill Clinton. It’s true that some women wouldn’t date someone who’s opposed to them having full reproductive rights. Some people might not want to be friends with a person who disagrees with them about environmental issues or the best way to provide health care. But we wouldn’t be having this conversation if Trump were not different in kind from other Republican presidential candidates.

I think we all, as parents, try to teach our children some of the same basic things about how to treat other people. It’s hard to find a single one of those lessons that Donald Trump doesn’t violate on a regular basis. Whether it’s being honest and respectful, or it’s admitting your mistakes, or it’s having some humility, or it’s being good on your word, or it’s how to treat women, or it’s judging people by the content of their character, Trump sets a bad example in every case.

These things are hard to overlook precisely because there are no known and accepted moral defenses for them.

Since you’re a self-described conservative, we don’t doubt that there are things about progressives and the Democratic Party that you find not just unwise but morally incorrect. In our minds, these must be some very powerful things to overcome the deficits in character that are so easily observable in Donald Trump.

Now, these aren’t your words, but the author of this article said that people like yourself are feeling “assaulted by…a kind of moral Bolshevism — the belief that the liberal vision for the country was the only right one,” and that you’re upset with “being publicly shamed” simply for preferring Trump over Clinton.

We don’t doubt that you feel this way, or something close to it. But this isn’t about you agreeing with a liberal vision of the country. No one made you feel shame like this when you voted for (as I assume you did) Bob Dole or John McCain. It’s about you making the decision that it would be okay to have someone like Donald Trump as our president.

What distinguishes the current cultural environment from previous ones is mainly about character and only secondarily about policy. And the policy part (the Muslim ban, for example, or the affinity for Putin) are things that are opposed by many, many Republicans.

So, again, we know it’s hard to make the choice to vote against the party that best represents your value system. We would struggle mightily to make that kind of decision. But there was no shortage of Republicans who told you to do precisely that because they saw, in Trump, someone who was uniquely unsuited to be president due to flaws in his character and questions about his grip on reality. You didn’t listen to us, or to them, and you chose to prioritize other factors more highly than any concerns about Trump.

You are being morally judged for this decision. We believe that you will come to learn that you made a mistake, but what we’re really interested in is making sure you understand where we’re coming from.

We don’t think it is okay that Donald Trump is the president of the United States. We think this should have been obvious when it came time to vote. And we think that it tells us something about the morals of people that they would overlook his Birtherism and his race-baiting and his characteristics that we discourage in our own children and his treatment of women, and still support him because they have other priorities that are more important to them.

Now, if you want to make a moral defense of your decision, we’re all ears. Thank you for listening to our moral defense of our position.

Best regards,

The Judgmental Left

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.