Historian Brooks Simpson has been chronicling America’s past for a third of a century. Although he teaches at Arizona State University, he hails originally from Long Island. Simpson has written extensively about the four Civil War and Reconstruction Era presidents and he is a thoughtful commentator on the politics of the time. He recently wrote about those who voted for Trump, but who claim not to agree with his extremist positions.
Simpson reminds us that just “because you voted for someone does not mean that you endorse all their positions or statements (or the views of others who also support that candidate). I know that to be true. In fact, I know it to be true that in some cases people are deeply troubled by or strongly dissent from some of the views held by the candidate they chose to support, for whatever reason.”
This does not let the Trump voter off the hook, Professor Simpson says:
[I]n voting for someone who holds certain views, even if you don’t share those views, you’ve helped to enable their advancement. You may not find that desirable, and you may want to separate yourself from those beliefs or those proposals, but you can’t escape the fact that your vote, whatever your intent, has this result…[U]nderstanding why other people may be bothered about, feel threatened by, or express anger at how the result of an election affects them requires empathy from those people who do not share those responses, perspectives, or identity. Just because an election result is unlikely to affect me personally (and I here define personally as me, myself, and I, not even family members or close friends) does not make it any less desirable to understand how other people who are different from me might respond to an electoral outcome. Even if I don’t agree with you, I should try to understand you and how you feel, and if I define my self-interest as extending beyond my own person, I just might discover that I should be concerned precisely because others who mean something to me are concerned, and their feelings and interests matter to me.
Thus, just because you supported a candidate while dissenting from some of that candidate’s positions does not mean that the work is done when the election takes place. If anything, you should be as eager to work to challenge the positions with which you disagree as you are to work on behalf of the positions that you endorse.
No candidate is perfect, and rarely does one reflect all that a voter endorses or supports. Some are more flawed than others, but that’s a different discussion. I understand that a voter may deeply resent being classified as a supporter of all of a candidate’s positions and beliefs, but that resentment means little to me unless that voter is willing to work for the positions they believe in regardless of what their candidate advocates. If you oppose something, then oppose it. Everyone should be judged by their actions in such matters … and they should also be judged by their inaction.
If you don’t want other people to define your beliefs for you, then you should define them for yourself, and then act on them. Then, and only then, will we see you as you wish to be seen.