Though Rousseau maintained that our natural inclinations are right and just, reality continues to offer devastating rejoinders. By now, no thinking person can study history and not confront the hideous face of human nature. This reflection comforts me whenever I side with reason in war against my gut. Recently, I came to realize that I couldn’t befriend a Trump supporter, at least with any seriousness. For this I felt, and part of me still does feel, shame. But I shouldn’t.
Rousseau’s sanguine offspring still dominate popular culture. Unlike Rousseau, however, they strive to cloak humanity’s public rather than innate nastiness. Petrified of division, or perhaps of facing unwelcome news on human nature, they seek to separate politics from the individual. From them we are made to hear that no matter the belief, we must respect the person. This is true and noble concerning petty differences in, say, cereal preference. But it shouldn’t necessarily extend to political differences. Politics and character, like squalor and stench, are not things through which one can drive a wedge. One is one’s politics. Political philosophies translate personal values and sense of justice. If someone commends ideas offensive to justice or equality, it isn’t noble to banish disgust and befriend them; it’s craven. It normalizes rancid ideas and tolerates the intolerable.
I hear the whimpers already: “At the end of the day, what matters most is that we swallow political differences and come together as friends.” Not one bit. To support Trump is to support or be complicit in the Trump-Putin junta against democracy. It is to accept his sexual predation and fuel distrust of women’s testimony. It is to embolden white-supremacy and mock minority protestations. It is to prize corporate profits above the environment and the poor, encourage his crusade against the First Amendment, and put party-loyalty or tax-cuts before national integrity.
Trump supporters have become indistinguishable from alt-right radicals and more and more resemble crypto-Nazi confederates. Trump’s limitless capacity for scandal and insanity has reduced his base to shrill whores in blind worship. Well, not just his base. The GOP’s warm reconciliation with Roy Moore—the demented child-predator and theocrat—evinces not just sick politics, but sick people. Moore should not be allowed near a middle-school, let alone the Senate. Yet establishment Republicans have embraced this rapist to maintain power and slake their bigots and businessmen. Try separating that political maneuver from personal character.
These are positions I do not respect. They reveal values I do not want in a friend. I won’t be conscripted into saying how, deep down, I respect the people beneath these beliefs. That isn’t what I feel. If someone desires a dystopia of conservative theocracy, then I don’t have to, and shouldn’t have to, respect them as a person—and I won’t. Trump and his freaks are the enemies of civilization. They are my enemies too, and if they find a friend in me then they don’t know an enemy when they see one.
In a liberal democracy people have the right to hold appalling views, as they should. Social condemnation is the only price they can pay, but it is a price that everyone else must impose. We have an intellectual obligation to engage and suffocate crackpot ideas, but we have no social obligation to accept crackpots themselves. Some ideas are so foul that its holder must equally reek. The radicals still complicit in the GOP racket are just as repulsive as their politics, and it’s the duty of decent people to let them know—a real friend would.