Leonard Hitchcock pix

Leonard Hitchcock

It’s worth noticing that President Donald Trump, who is prone to lying about everything and anything that has to do with his own achievements and virtues, is also given to blurting out truths that are disconcerting to his political party and reveal his own distorted view of the world. Here are two examples:

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been urging a switch to mail-in-ballots for the November election. Five states, including our neighbors Oregon and Utah, made that switch years ago.

Trump, when asked if he favored the Democrats’ proposal to fund state efforts to enable vote-by-mail this coming fall, said “No, because I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,”

As Dave Finkelnburg reported in his recent column (6/11/20), there is absolutely no evidence that that is true. Certainly there are ways in which voting fraud is possible, but reports from those five states are that, over decades of using mail-in voting, they have found that the number of cases of fraud are negligible. The director of elections in the Colorado Department of State, which uses mail-in voting, has said, “There’s just very little evidence that there is more than a handful of fraudulent cases across the country in a given election cycle.”

Interestingly, Trump, though he has persistently lied about the vote-by-mail issue, has also told the truth about why he and his party oppose it. In an appearance on Fox and Friends (as reported by the Guardian newspaper) he said that if Democrats succeed in enabling states to use that voting method and provide added incentives to vote such as same-day registration, there would be “levels of voting” such that “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

So, contrary to the party-line that he supports, which focuses entirely on the “fraud” allegation, Trump admits that mail-in-voting is likely to increase voter participation, and when that happens, Democrats will win. In other words, he has acknowledged that the real reason Republicans have tried, in a variety of ways, to suppress voter participation is that they are afraid of losing elections.

Another case in which Trump has been honest with the public has to do with the spate of right-wing protests against the coronavirus-necessitated stay-at-home and business-closing rules that occurred a few months ago in many states, including Idaho.

He was interviewed, at that time, about demonstrations in Michigan, which had a distinctly ultra-right, pro-Trump tone, as did Idaho’s, which even boasted the participation of our lieutenant governor.

Specifically, Trump was asked about whether he would urge protesters in Michigan to listen to local authorities. In his usual, semi-coherent way, he refused to do so, saying, “I think they’re listening. I think they listen to me. They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this (i.e. my) opinion…”

Can you imagine any other politician — at least any that behaves like an adult — saying publicly that he or she agrees with the viewpoint of a protestor because the protester “like(s) me”? What a normal politician who was sympathetic to a protestor’s cause would say is that the protester had a genuine grievance, that whatever incident had led to the protest was, indeed, regrettable and something needed to be done to address the problem that it revealed. It would be presumptuous for a normal politician to assume that he or she was liked by a citizen, simply because that citizen had similar political opinions.

Of course politicians enjoy being liked, and voters’ choices can be influenced by their personal feelings for candidates, but what we are taught, from elementary school on up, is that democracy is a very serious undertaking, and a citizen must focus on his or her objective assessment of a politician’s capacity to deal with the country’s problems in a manner that the citizen believes to be correct. It is actions, positions on issues, and past voting records that matter, not personal affection for the politician, or lack of it.

The truth that Trump has revealed in all this is that, for reasons associated with his narcissism, he conflates political relationships and personal relationships. That is essentially why Trump is a “divider” not a “uniter.”

We’ve been told that, once upon a time, the members of the U.S. Senate displayed a considerable degree of collegiality. They respected one another and even formed friendships across the aisle. More recently, we’ve witnessed a genuine friendship between Justice Ginsburg and the late Justice Scalia, though they almost always disagreed on how to settle Supreme Court cases. What makes such relationships possible? A recognition that political (or, for that matter, religious) differences are not incompatible with friendship, or at least with mutual respect.

The polarization that Trump has generated stems from his belief that political disagreement entails personal enmity, and political agreement implies personal friendship. Polarization has provided Trump with an abundance of “friends,” who he assumes admire and love him. And as for his equally abundant “enemies,” i.e. his political opponents, they don’t trouble him. He discounts their criticisms because he assumes that they are the result of personal hatred, and he and his “friends” enjoy subjecting those “enemies” to personal attacks.

Leonard Hitchcock of Pocatello is an alumnus of the University of Iowa and did graduate work at Claremont Graduate University and the University of California, San Diego. He taught philosophy in California and Arizona for 15 years. In 1985, after earning a library degree, he was hired by Idaho State University. He retired from ISU’s Oboler Library in 2006.