By John Hart
Even though “climate change” came up in last night’s presidential debate, it was overshadowed by America’s political climate change problem.
The 90-minute hurricane of interruptions, invective and flying lawn chairs wasn’t a fluke. This extreme rhetorical event was the result of decades of built up animosity.
Arthur Brooks offers a brilliant diagnosis about what ails us in his wonderfully rebellious and counterculture book “Love Your Neighbor.” Brooks argues the problem is not mere anger but contempt, which he describes as the “conviction that those who disagree with us are not just wrong, but worthless.”
The contempt in Trump’s caustic performance was obvious. C3 advisory board member and former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum said on CNN, “I think the president overplayed his hand tonight … I think he came out way too hot. If I was someone running for office right now, I’d be pretty mad at him.”
Meanwhile, partisan Democrats who want to believe Trump is a singular Destroyer of Norms should look no farther than Biden’s performance. Biden argued that Trump doesn’t care about people, including the more than 200,000 Americans who have died of COVID. Biden accented his retort by calling the president a “clown,” which prompted an outcry from the nation’s circus workers. In one memorable exchange, Biden attempted to sound presidential by asking, “Will you shut up, man?”
I’m among Republicans who not only supported other candidates in 2016 but has publicly urged the president to stop undermining the often good and impressive work of the Trump Administration. I “self-identify” as an “After Trumper” who wants the president to succeed but does not believe he has articulated a governing philosophy that can be replicated, nor has he offered an additive to constitutional conservatism beyond incremental correctives. In short, there is no Trumpism, just Trump.
The president seriously undermined his own achievements last night when he missed an opportunity to repeat his previous condemnations of white supremacy. The president said of a white supremacist group, “Proud Boys – stand back and stand by.”
The president should have focused on criminal justice reform and repeated what he said in 2017, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But he didn’t.
When it comes to Trump, conservatives get it. We really do. The question is: Do liberals understand what Democrats have done to destroy norms? After last night, perhaps they might.
For decades, Democrats have created their own delusional alternative reality that only they care about real people and issues like poverty, health care and the environment. When the results of their policies are wanting, they get tribal and suggest Paul Ryan wants to push granny off a cliff, or imply Tom Coburn, my old boss, wants people with ALS to die. Ryan and Coburn wanted to help people without bankrupting the country. But none of these details matter because Democrats are the “good people,” you see.
Conservatives who watched these irrational fights and witnessed the visceral and virulent hatred of the moderate-in-manners President George W. Bush were heartened that Donald Trump decided to fight back against the false piety and sanctimony of progressive fundamentalism. The Trump doctrine is best described by my friend Matt Schlapp who says, “the man fights.” I shorten this to TrumpFights. Trump’s fighting is sometimes amoral, incoherent, and counterproductive but his base at least credits him for fighting.
Yet, this pattern of fighting to prove the worthlessness of “the other” is depraved, unsustainable and, as last night showed, utterly ridiculous.
In 2020, contempt is the CO2 of our political atmosphere. If we don’t reduce it, and make room for principled pluralism, we put our democracy at risk and, with it, any hope of solving major public policy challenges.
Regardless of who wins in November, we have serious work to do to combat political climate change. It is each of our responsibilities to choose the most radical response of all – warmheartedness and truth.