I have just spent two days in a cramped Vauxhall Astra chauffeuring my brother, his wife, her sister and her brother-in-law. It was an interesting experience. They are from the Bible Belt states of North Carolina and Georgia respectively and dyed-in-the-wool Republican Trump supporters. They regard me as a beyond redemption loony liberal.
The first day they were recovering from jet lag and weren’t up to political battle. But as we drove out to Oxford on the second day swords were crossed. The group’s champion was brother-in-law, Paul, a Christian missionary with a political science degree. We disagreed, but the disagreements were illuminating.
As expected, the discussion focused on Trump. Here are a couple of highlights:
Trump and the rule of law—I maintained that Trump is riding roughshod over the American constitution and the rule of law as evidenced by his refusal to allow White House staff to testify in the Senate Impeachment trial.
Paul’s response—The Democrats in the House of Representatives had their chance to call staff. They could have gone through the courts and forced the White House to respect the subpoenas. They chose not to, so they have lost the right to complain
Myself—If they had pursued the issue through the courts it would have taken months, perhaps even years.
Paul —That is the way the legal system works. You can’t complain that Trump is riding roughshod over the law and then deny him access to due process.
Trump’s unilateral decision-making—Trump does not consult either with his allies or his own officials before issuing life and death tweets.
Paul —How do you know that?
Myself—Because his officials and allies say they have not been consulted.
Paul—How do you know they are telling the truth? They could be lying. They are politicians as well and they have their own axes to grind.
It soon became abundantly clear that the gulf between us was a cross between the Grand Canyon and the Mariana Trench, and our discussion was only widening it. There was a root cause causing the divide and it needed to be discovered.
I found a hint of it while walking through the grounds of Blenheim Palace with my brother. It is a perceived difference of opinion over what should be the underlying values governing society. The conservative right, and especially the Christian right, see their values of church, family and libertarian principles under attack from liberals (aka Democrats, Social Democrats, Socialists and even Liberal Democrats) who have allied themselves with the LGBTQ community and the forces of political correctness.
To fend off the attack the conservatives (Republicans) have moved further to the right and dug in to defend what they see as a threat to their way of life. If that means playing a bit fast and loose with the law and supporting the most unpresidential of presidents; well, some things, they argue, are more important.
Tom Arms is an American journalist who has been based in Britain for 50 years.