Pride & Prejudice

by jkatejohnston

1 June 2016

Dear Max,

A few days ago I found out that my dad might might vote for Donald Trump in the general election. This astounds me. I never thought that reasonable life-long Republicans would do that. I also haven’t given up hope of changing his mind between now and November. I consider it my duty as a citizen to try. And also my duty to try to understand why he might vote for Trump in the end.

My dad works for a Republican county supervisor who’s up for re-election. And he says that most of the voters he comes across don’t know anything about politics or policy or who their elected representatives are or what they do, so it’s easy to lie to them and be believed, which my dad’s boss’s opponent is doing.

So, starting from the premise that the voters know nothing and don’t want to know anything, my dad’s argument for Trump goes something like this: he’s winning. The anti-immigrant racism, the woman-hating, the freakish self-regard—it’s all strategy. It’s a pose for getting votes, and it’s working. Trump wouldn’t govern like that. He’s a con man, but he hasn’t conned himself. And in our system of checks and balances, he couldn’t do all the outrageous things he’s promised, even if he wanted to.

I’m restating the argument in terms that make it look as bad as possible. I wish I could come up with the words and tone for a thoughtful argument in favor of voting for Trump. But I don’t have that kind of imagination. Maybe my dad will supply it in the comments.

But as for the substance of the argument, I think that’s a fair summary. And, overlooking the double-dyed cynicism—is he right? Politically? Is thoughtful, truthful speech a political death sentence?

I wish I could think of a Republican example of political speech that’s complicated and fair and doesn’t render the speaker unelectable. I’m sure one exists. I don’t think my dad’s boss will be lying like crazy just to get re-elected, and as for thought—that’s what my dad’s for. He is very smart, in a pure thinky way.

But the example of thoughtful speech that comes most readily to mind is Barak Obama in 2008, during the primary after the news broke about his former pastor’s “God damn America” sermon. Does anyone remember that? Obama spoke about race and history. He said the hardest things on the hardest subject. He was complicated, truthful—and politically brilliant. He gave the voters credit, and they gave it back.

We’re not so dumb.

Obama Speech


My mind keeps going back to some guys that Enzo and I met when we went camping last weekend. We needed electricity to inflate our princess-in-the-pea style camping mattresses. They’re about three feet high, so you can’t just blow them up with your lungs. We could have walked to the bathroom to plug in, but these guys were right across from us, and they had a solar generator that I felt sure they’d like to show off. So I asked them for some juice.

Of course they said yes, and we talked about camping and weather and where we were from. They gave a detailed explanation of the solar generator. One of them had soldered the solar cells together himself. The inflation and talk went on for a long time because the generator wasn’t that powerful, so it took about ten minutes for the first mattress to even start to inflate. The slowness became awkward. Surely they didn’t want to spend two hours talking to us while our mattresses inflated. But unplugging and inflating elsewhere seemed to disrespect their techy generosity. Eventually I did get out of it, and we inflated the mattresses at the bathroom. And it all ended friendly. The next day the two guys were wearing matching black T-shirts that said:



And the box next to GUN OWNER was checked. I wondered if it was reassuring or the opposite that most of the people who disagree with me about important subjects are perfectly nice guys. We’re all just people together! This must be good, right? But it also means that it doesn’t take a bunch of bad guys to come up with some seriously bad policy.

Another scene of political life: a few weeks ago one of my pals at work and I were walking the stairs for exercise, and in the time it took us to walk from the 6th floor to the 17th, I persuaded her to switch her vote from Hillary to Bernie, and she persuaded me to do the opposite. So the candidates ended up where they started, vote-wise. Her argument was: think what it means to my daughter not to have had a woman president—and Hillary’s ridiculously qualified. My argument was: Sanders is the only candidate in either party who’s not in thrall to AIPAC. And he may have a better chance of beating Trump in the fall. And wouldn’t it be interesting to have our first Jewish president?

Yesterday Teresa and I filled in our ballots, and I voted for Hillary. I wonder if my friend went for Sanders.


I’m wanting to say something more about Trump. It’s the anti-immigrant stuff that really gets me. First of all, it’s not about immigration, it’s about race. It’s only the brown immigrants that he doesn’t like. Most of Trumps wives have been immigrants, judging by their various accents. Obviously he didn’t have a problem with them taking the job away from all those hard-working American women. Or maybe the job of being Trump’s wife is so demeaning that American women don’t want to do it.

And don’t tell me that it’s about the law, that he just wants everyone to immigrate legally. He’s never even made that claim. He’s never said that we need legal immigration that’s rationally related to our economy. And of course the ban on Muslim immigration would be a ban on all immigration, including legal immigration of refugees. And the ban itself would be totally illegal and unAmerican.

He’s a racist. Those white supremacists know one when they see one. They’re not deluded about their love for him. Trump is the original Birther. Remember that absurd business about Obama releasing his long-form birth certificate? Trump led that back in 2008. And now Trump won’t even release his tax returns. The nerve.

But I can feel the subject that I’m trying to get to slipping away. I dislike that man so much that it’s distracting.

We—the USA—have a special place in the world, and it’s related to immigration. People want to come here. They see something about us that we can’t even see about ourselves. It’s partly about money. It has something to do with the conversations I had with my camping neighbors and my friend at work and my Republican relatives. We can talk to each other. We’re a mixed and mixed-up society. And as Obama said in his 2008 speech, in no other country on earth would his story be possible. The people who want to come to this country admire the hell out of that. They long for it. We should be honored by their hopes.