Reach Out to Trump’s Victims. Not His Supporters.

As Donald Trump’s historic defeat begins to settle on the national consciousness, calls are already coming in for victorious Democrats to reach out to Trump supporters with patience and understanding. Op-eds have already been published calling for Biden to pardon Trump for any crimes. Conservatives are asking the nation to give Trump time for self-care and a safe space to begin to accept his defeat.

These calls would be understandable in a normal political divide over policy issues. And certainly, President-Elect Biden is saying all the right words in his role as the leader of all Americans to attempt to keep the peace.

But the problem is that this is not a normal political divide. On one side is a movement for better healthcare, economic equity and climate justice that spans culture, race, faith, gender, age and orientation. It’s a movement that wants better material outcomes not only for themselves but also their political opponents.

On the other side is a movement dedicated less to any specific policy than to harming the first coalition. It is comprised almost entirely of older, whiter, more male, rural fundamentalist Christians. It is driven heavily by conspiracy theories centered on racist and anti-semitic slurs against that coalition.  Even its relatively minor recent gains among non-whites appear to based mostly on QAnon, toxic masculinity and both intra- and interracial grievance. This year’s GOP had no policy platform. It accomplished almost nothing on policy beyond a tax cut for the wealthy. Its single unifying characteristic is a desire to own the libs. Its rallying cry is “cry more, snowflake” and its avatar is a smug, smirking frog laughing at those wailing over the death and darkness of the disastrous presidency they knew was coming.

The majority coalition in this nation is still suffering from a collective trauma inflicted by a president who governed explicitly to harm them. Those who grew up in households of trauma and abuse recognize the similarity of the last four years to their own childhood experiences. Donald Trump has spent the last four years less as president than taunting cult leader, an inescapable lashing presence in the psyche of every American just trying to live their lives, the paragon of a fearful shrinking apartheid minority attempting to plant its boot firmly on the necks of a growing hopeful majority. The Democratic coalition spent years tearing itself apart over whether to win over their opponents by offering them left-populist universal healthcare or reaching out with cross-partisan moderation; conservatives responded by rolling coal, intentionally letting them die of COVID and accusing their opponents of killing children for adrenochrome.

Now is the time not to reach out to Trump supporters, but to celebrate emancipation from them. Now is not the time to encourage a victorious Biden to work with Republican Senators who represent 20 million fewer Americans than Democratic Senators do, but for Democrats to do all in their power to ensure that the man who grinned while forcing through the most extremist conservative Supreme Court in American history right before an election, cannot continue to dictate terms in defeat. Now is the time to break free from the house of the abuser, not to patch things up and hope they’ll change this time.

And not just from revenge against the bullies, but compassion for the victims. Over 230,000 Americans have already died from COVID, with tens of thousands more likely to die before Trump leaves office. Many more who survived are suffering long-term symptoms. Most of them would be alive today if a Democrat had been president. We should be reaching out to them and their families, not to the reckless COVID deniers and mask refusers. Hundreds of families were intentionally separated, many never to be reunited, in an aggressive, systemic racist assault to Make America White Again. We should be reaching out to them and their families, not the blubbering white supremacists with tiki torches shouting “you will not replace us.” We should be reaching out to the Black people suffering the brunt of billy clubs, tear gas canisters and bullets in no-knock raids, not the men in paramilitary gear wielding and using them. We should be reaching out to the millions of women fearful that their abortion rights may soon be eliminated, not the Bible-thumping patriarchs afraid that their daughters might have sex without fear of the Lord’s consequences. And so on.

No one in the majority coalition wants to harm Trump supporters; indeed, they want to help them materially. But nor do they have to coddle their emotional well-being. The trauma of the last four years will take years to repair. There is more than enough work to do to resolve conflicts within the left coalition, many of which exist largely as a difference of strategic responses to the depredations of the right.

And indeed, the damage is not done. Donald Trump still has two more months to wreak havoc. Mitch McConnell threatens to wage a campaign of economic and social sabotage if permitted to do. And the Supreme Court looms as a monstrous revanchist blockade against the majority coalition’s attempt to save ourselves from a future of climate catastrophe and medieval levels of economic inequality.

Yes, we all share the same geographic space. But we don’t share the same level of good will toward one another. We owe our compassion for the traumatized, not the traumatizers. Reserve care for the victims. Work toward policies that help everyone. Certainly many Trump supporters are hurting economically, and we should help with those problems just as we work to raise the economic circumstances of every American.

But leave the perpetrators to stew in their own resentment. If they want to become part of the solution that is their prerogative as Americans, but the majority coalition of the decent owe them no more than that.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.