Letter to a Progressive Minister

First, thank you for the beautiful job you did christening my grandson. You have a wonderful manner and that part of the service was as warm and inspiring as was his parents’ splendid wedding ceremony last year.

Unfortunately, I came away from your sermon thinking that the call to action that you clearly hoped would provide inspiration to your flock was instead a manifestation of the very narrow-mindedness and unwillingness to put yourself into the shoes of others that ails our society.

The implication was clear that you believe that Trump’s supporters showed bigotry or ignorance or both. With righteous anger, you preached to your own choir. For the reasons detailed below, I differ.

***

To begin, the litany of alleged Trump sins that you cited was beneath you.

For example, you stated as fact that he has paid no taxes for ten years; surely you do not claim to have seen his tax returns? And even if you had seen them (and he has, indeed, paid no taxes), what’s your point? That he should not have been able to have deducted the billion dollar loss that he allegedly suffered years ago? If so, your beef is with our tax code and not him personally. I know none who do not take tax deductions to which they are legally entitled.

You also claimed that Trump says that Mexicans are rapists (implicitly, per se) – a gross mischaracterization of his allegation that there have been rapists among those who have come here in contravention of our laws.

You implied that gay people should be fearful; but I believe that it’s a matter of public record that Trump favored gay marriage rights before either President Obama or Secretary Clinton.

I could go on about your other points, which I found equally misleading and tendentious, but that seems unnecessary.

Then you laid at Trump’s feet a list of incidences of hateful behavior/possible crimes that have allegedly been committed by his supporters since Election Day, omitting to mention the riots by Hillary’s supporters or the beatings of presumed Trump voters by angry crowds of putatively tolerant progressives. I excuse no such behavior, but it shouldn’t surprise us to see it when each side has been busy demonizing the other.

You showed no interest – none – in either Hillary’s manifest character flaws or the many legitimate policy issues that might have motivated the roughly 60 million Americans who voted for Trump. His victory was portrayed as the coming of Darkness. Like many, it seemed, you ascribed Trump’s victory to bigotry on the part of a plurality of the electorate.

Allow me to suggest a different possibility: that most Americans felt that it was a choice between two deeply flawed candidates, so more votes were cast based on policy preferences than character. Trump appealed to enough voters who felt disenfranchised by the macroeconomic trends that he won.

***

One of the many odd things that I saw in this election was an eerie similarity in the appeals of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both gave voice to the disenfranchised; both told their downtrodden supporters that their plights are not their faults. Each had a villain to blame: the rich, in the case of Bernie/foreigners in the case of Trump.

In neither case do I believe that the diagnosis is right, but we would be foolish to ignore the symptoms of a deeper problem.

***

I worry that our country is devolving into two separate and antagonistic societies, and I think that sermons like yours exacerbate the problem. Falsely ascribing Trump’s victory to bigotry will only serve to further deepen our nation’s frightening divide.

How many of those with whom you show solidarity do not either actively support or directly benefit from progressive programs?  How many work and pay taxes as members of the lower middle class? How many have lost their jobs to immigrants, trade, or regulatory costs?

You told your flock what they undoubtedly wanted to hear – just as The New York Times, The New Yorker and, for that matter, our prestigious universities, do to their very precious – and narrow – constituencies every day. The few right-leaning media outlets like Fox News do the same. It’s a closed-loop worldview made worse – for those on both the left and right – by the echo chamber that is the Internet.

***

As it happens, I gave money to, and voted for, Gary Johnson. My support for Johnson was based on both his broadly libertarian outlook, which I share, and my hope that whichever major party candidate prevailed would do so – as in fact transpired – with a plurality rather than a majority, thereby maybe strengthening the will of Congress to restrain the winner’s most foolish impulses.

Notwithstanding my cavils about your unfair litany, I too worry about Trump’s character; there is plenty of evidence from the business world and his personal life that his word is not to be trusted. I’m guessing that the difference between you and me in that regard is that I view Hillary’s behavior as having been even worse.

I also have deep-seated fears about certain of Trump’s policies (specifically: his mercantilism/protectionism, a devil-may-care attitude about the national debt and a shocking admiration for one of Earth’s scarier dictators – Putin), so I couldn’t support him outright.

That said, I do not believe that Trump is a bigot: I think that he ran as a populist and a nationalist and that those planks, augmented by his flagrant personal boorishness, were conflated with bigotry by the progressive echo chamber (to which the “other half” no longer listens, in part because it cries wolf about every Republican candidate).  Interestingly, Trump’s boorishness was welcomed by many voters, who took it as evidence that he rejects the politically correct nostrums of the elite.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but I rooted for him, hard, on election night. I rooted for him because I loathe the Clintons’ corruption and entitlement and feared for the Bill of Rights if yet more compliant progressives were appointed to the Supreme Court. The left, in my view, favors group rights over the individual rights enshrined in our Constitution and in my heart.

As between the two leading candidates Trump was, in my view, the less risky course. I’m glad he won.

Now I will hope that he grows in office.

***

You are clearly an intelligent, articulate and passionate man. I am confident that your congregants feel lucky to have your leadership. As a non-member of your church I have no particular standing to ask that you think or behave differently than I have seen you do. Even so, I will make a suggestion:

Try harder to understand the opinions and concerns of those with whom you disagree.

Respectfully,

M. H. Johnston

8 comments to Letter to a Progressive Minister

  • Doug  says:

    Good one. I was fortunate Saturday night to be out to dinner with Cindy. Who was there at the bar but my activist progressive preacher Pete. I gave him a big hug and told him that the sun would likely come up tomorrow and if it did, that I would go to church. “Do us all a favor please. Preach on unity and not division. The church is not yours or mine…it belongs to people of all stripes and colors and has been built through generations by them…not you or me. So, I am coming back to church tomorrow (after a hiatus and not so that I feel compelled to write you a Johnstonian letter) to hear you talk about the Democracy in the US which was formed on the organization of the Congregational Church was upheld on Tuesday. Pray for our leaders and Constitution.” Of course he didn’t do that but he definitely did not cry like a two year old the way he was planning to. I was sitting in the 3rd row. I had bought him a beer. Kind of like a mini beer summit.

  • Jeff  says:

    Let us know if you get a reply.

    • M Johnston  says:

      I did, and it was perfectly gracious.

  • Doug  says:

    Congrats on the baptism.

  • Bob Parisi  says:

    Congrats Grandpa.

  • Anonymous  says:

    Excellent article and analysis. Very impressive.

    jim Wightman

  • Ken  says:

    I forwarded this one too, thanks Mark b

  • HDJG  says:

    Interesting interpretation of that “non partisan” approach we discussed, Dad.

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