Trump voters may be good people. We still have to call them out.

On the TV, Trump supporters cheered in the Iowa cold.

I muttered in disgust. A friend admonished: “It’s more complicated than that. You can’t just call them ignorant racists.” She’s right, of course. A lot of very good people will vote for Trump. In 1938, Germany also was full of good people, too, willing to hug their children and talk of other things as Jews were rounded up and synagogues burned.

The root of the current threat to America’s democracy is not Donald Trump. There have always been charlatans and bullies. The danger is that so many good people are so easily fooled, manipulated, and/or feel too comfortable at the table with an old man who spouts antidemocratic and racist rhetoric but is funny and explains the world in simple terms.

I want to appreciate good people everywhere I meet them, but the amount of ignorance and racism on display among good people is frightening. Ironically, it is not the mean-spirited angry racist with the huge Trump sign in his yard that scares me. It is the multitude of quieter good ones. My grandmother was a well-meaning person, kind to her friends and family, and others, too … if they were right-thinking white people.

I never saw her be mean to a Black person, and she denied any malice toward “the Negros,” saying she was sure there were fine people among them but, “I just think they should stay with their own kind.”  Behind every attention-getting, spittle-flinging segregationist in a white hood, there were a hundred nice grandmothers. My grandmother’s widely shared views allowed a lot of pain and injustice in this country.

So why point out that someone is a good person while they go about doing harm? What comfort does it give a Black person facing a lynch mob to say: “You know, most people in these parts are good people.”  Hearing that the manufacturers of assault rifles also love their children, what comfort is there for the parent of a six-year-old shot at school?

Jesus said from the cross: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” While forgiving may relieve a victim of their anger, it doesn’t change the outcome. In the Bible, Jesus still dies a painful death; in the American South, the Black man was still hung; in Nazi Germany, the Jew was still shot.

Our collective fear of offending good people by calling out their ignorance, greed, or whatever enables them to get past the dangers of voting for a racist, misogynistic, aspiring dictator may be what gets us exactly that.

America as a whole still believes in and wants democracy, but majority support alone has not always been enough to preserve democracies. Once those who want to usurp power gain sufficient control in strategic parts and branches of the government, it can be too late.

On February 4, 1938, following false accusations of homosexuality, General Werner Von Fritsch was forced to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the German army. That same day, Adolf Hitler abolished the War Ministry and gave himself direct control of the military.

The history taught at my high school was not valued as a guide for action. It was a memory exercise for Civil War buffs or elitist academics. Without history as a guide, a speech from a candidate for president that could have been given by Adolf Hitler in 1938 raises too few alarms in otherwise good people.

Yes, Trump voters are often good people and do not deserve to be defined by their worst attributes. But failing to call them out for their faults now may doom American democracy. What will follow if 2024 is America’s 1938? History shows we best do all we can to never find out.


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