30 May My Enemy’s Enemy
“I base my vote on how much the Democrats hate each candidate. According to my meter, Mr. Trump is light years ahead of all Republican challengers.” — from a November 2022 letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal
Seriously, this is how you choose a candidate, Mr. Letter Writer? Do you really exercise the most valuable right of American citizenship based on animus and vengeance?
Besides being thoughtless, you also should know that your strategy of cutting off your nose to spite your face will not actually achieve anything.
They Are Not My Friends
Something that people do not often say out loud—or write in letters to newspapers—may reflect another too-common negative motive in determining which candidate to support. The unspoken calculus of such people is this: “I can tell that Candidate X strongly dislikes who I dislike (and vice versa), so I like him.” For example, if a voter despises a political party or economic class, that person may prefer the candidate who shows that he or she hates them just as much as the voter does. One who harbors prejudice against members of certain races, genders, citizenship statuses, religions, or sexualities, may support the candidate who seems to feel the same way.
They is the universal bad group that must be scorned, then countered politically, it seems. “They are destroying our country.” “They attack our way of life.” “They threaten the future of our children.” The premise is to stoke them against us paranoia.
So, in an attempt to win votes, candidates go to great length to signal who and what they abhor. Perhaps subconsciously, they suspect that Anton Chekhov, a long-ago Russian writer, was spot on when he noted that “love, friendship, and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.” These adverse politicians want voters to unite around them as the leading hater.
As with many things, Donald Trump may be the most direct and effective in channeling the negative passions Americans hold. “This is it. Either they win or we win,” Mr. Trump said recently. “And if they win, we no longer have a country.” In his March 4, 2023, speech, the previous White House resident summed it up this way: “I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
“I am your retribution” was then placed atop the Trump campaign website and as the subject line of a fundraising email. Mr. Trump also likes to say that “They’re not after me, they’re after you. I’m just in the way” and “They are coming after me because I am fighting for you!”
Many Democrats use a similar approach. Hillary Clinton’s they were unnamed “deplorables”—which must refer to people she wanted us to deplore like she did. Nancy Pelosi did not hide her distain for at least some Republicans: “I can’t believe anybody would vote for these people,” she said with loathing both toward opposing politicians and those who had elected them.
All of this exploitation of hatred, division, and tribalism is counterproductive for the United States of America.
Then Who Is My Friend?
In politics, the enemy of your enemy may not be and should not necessarily be your friend. As Ben Sasse, the recent U.S. Senator from Nebraska bluntly advised in January as he was leaving Washington, D.C. to become a university president, “It takes a genuine leader to remind us that most of the time, the enemy of our enemy is still a jackass.”
Most of the time, indeed, your political friend should have principles beyond hating, deploring, despising, or dividing. You are much better off voting for someone who will honor this blog’s principles of integrity, respect, dignity, and peace. Leaders also should follow our favored government principles like equality, freedom, and law and justice.
Those kinds of principled leaders are your true political friends.
Haters gonna hate, as the hip saying, song, and meme go. For the non-pop-cultured among us, that translates into “you should not let anyone’s hatred affect your own decisions.”
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.