We have an interesting dynamic in my family that in many ways reflects the country as a whole: One sibling is a dedicated Donald Trump fan, who is very vocal in supporting our new president on Facebook and elsewhere, while other family members are very concerned about the rhetoric and actions our new president exhibited during in his campaign and has continued to embody in his first days in office.
Our country seems to be at a delicate inflection point. Donald Trump is the president of the United States — that is a fact that can’t be argued. Yet it is equally true that many, many people find his boorish behavior, apparent narcissism, lack of empathy and sometimes loose connection to facts to be obstacles that are too great to overcome and keeps them from unifying behind him. Somehow we need to remind ourselves that we are allowed to have the “intramural scrimmage” of elections every four years, hard-fought and aggressive in every way, while at the same time remembering that, in every instance in our long history, we have always come together when we are threatened by outside forces. Our common bonds are deeper than our politics of the moment.
As a country made up of individuals, I think it is imperative that we recognize the importance of a loyal opposition who will hold those in power to the letter of the law, while recognizing that the goals of the party in power are different from their own but are no less dear to those who hold them. We need to argue about those goals as policy differences, not personality flaws.
I learned long ago, from one of my first bosses, that people generally are doing their best as they go through life. If I don’t agree with someone, my first responsibility is to try to truly, empathetically understand their point of view. Until I do, I won’t be able to create a counter argument they will be able to hear. If my goal is to change their mind, then I need them to hear my message. I can’t make anyone accept my point of view, but I can make sure they can’t dispute the fact that I understand theirs.
Many of the people who voted for Donald Trump did so in spite of his campaign missteps and what they saw as misguided rhetoric. They voted for him because they were fed up with a political and economic system that they believe had deserted the bottom 80 percent of Americans, a system that they perceived as self-perpetuating and impenetrable. They voted for him because he was not a politician by design and precisely because he was direct and he said what was on his mind. It seems they have faith that our three branches of government will smooth out the rough edges of our new president’s agenda while allowing for the change they seek.
I hope our American family can do what my family does: argue our different points of view with passion and then say “I love you” with even more passion. In the end, we are far more alike than different.
John A. LeMieux is a businessman who lives in Portland. He serves on the boards of several nonprofits.