Could you spot the Trump supporter at the Thanksgiving dinner table? Maybe you were expecting a grump in a MAGA cap, obsessed with white meat. Or someone who started in with whataboutism and the Clintons once the Russian connection came up.
More likely, it was the silent pessimist stewing across from the sweet potatoes, part of the large majority of Donald Trump followers who believe life is worse today than it was 50 years ago. They are also more likely to think that the country can’t solve its problems — that we’re all doomed to a tribal apocalypse.
We knew this profile going into the election, thanks to a number of surveys showing that Trump Republicans had thrown in the towel on the big issues of the day. They don’t trust diplomacy to ensure peace, nor do they believe more ethnic diversity is a good thing. In those two areas, thankfully, they are also out of step with majority sentiment.
Still, it’s a wonder we’re even talking. Contempt is mutual. A Pew survey from last year found that 45 percent of Republicans think Democrats are a threat to the nation’s well-being. And a majority of Democrats say Republicans make them feel “afraid.”
In the Trump era, we’ve reached peak domestic hatred. Though it has been building for years, Americans of differing political views despise each other to a degree not seen in the modern era. Never, even at the height of impeachment fever around Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, did so much bile run through our waterways.
In 1960, just 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said they would be upset if their child married someone from the other party. By 2012, nearly half of all Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats said they would not welcome an in-law of the other party into the family.
But here’s one bright spot in the Divided States of Trump: In a strange way, he has also brought many of us together. Trump brings out the worst in his supporters, dragging them down to his adult day care center. By contrast, his opponents have become more inclusive. Because he is so singularly coarse and vulgar, so ill informed and small-minded, he has made people see the better side of those they had long written off.
Until this year, you were hard-pressed to find a Democrat to say nice things about George W. Bush — see Worst President Ever — or Mitt Romney, often cast as a heartless plutocrat.
Now barely a day goes by when some partisan on the left doesn’t say he or she is starting to rethink their view of W., who spoke out against the “nativism” and “casual cruelty” of the Trump era. Or to praise Romney as an old-fashioned gentlemen. I count myself in that camp. Both of these men have stood up against the anti-constitutional, zero-sum, resentment presidency of Trump, while others in their party stand by meekly.
The Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, and Susan Collins of Maine are rightly hailed by Democrats for trying to put country above party. Or at the least, to call out Trump for having no sense of decency.
At the same time, talented polemicists from the red side of the spectrum — the quick-witted Republican strategist Rick Wilson, the tireless Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, the prose stylist Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal — have found something to like in Democrats. This is Trump’s doing, albeit not by design.
E Pluribus Unum has always been a fragile construct, undermined by the Original Sin of slavery. In 1856, Preston Brooks, a congressman from slaveholding South Carolina, physically attacked Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, an opponent of human bondage. Brooks fractured the other man’s skull and split his nose with a walking stick. The assailant became a hero in the South. About the same time, Sen. David Atchison of Missouri urged his constituents to “kill every goddamn abolitionist in the district.”
The Big Sort — documented in a groundbreaking 2008 book of the same name — gets much of the blame for a landscape of ideological silos. Liberals are more urban, conservatives less so, and the twain seldom meet.
It’s one thing to be drawn to the like-minded, birds of a feather. It’s another to see the other birds as vile. For this, you can blame the right-wing press, which has built a profitable industry on hatred of a caricatured “other.” Thus, Rush Limbaugh says “feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.”
In this biosphere, the birtherism lie was nurtured until it produced a candidate, and a president. But as bad as things are, a majority of Americans, an increasingly bipartisan pool, are appalled at the monstrosity of Trump’s presidency. Pass the gravy, friend!
Timothy Egan worked for 18 years as a writer for The New York Times, first as the Pacific Northwest correspondent, then as a national enterprise reporter.