On Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game, the TV cameras panned up to the owner’s box, where it caught a glimpse of comedian Ellen DeGeneres sitting next to former President George W. Bush.
Which, on its face, seemed like an, uh, unlikely pair. DeGeneres is a prominent liberal, and gay. Bush is a former two-term Republican president and an unapologetic conservative. And the image of DeGeneres and Bush set social media aflame as liberals blasted her for cozying up to Bush, someone who opposed gay marriage as president and who entered the US into a war with Iraq and Afghanistan under the later-disproven belief that they possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“I have nothing in common with George W. Bush, who launched a war based on lies that caused untold carnage,” tweeted liberal activist Peter Daou.
DeGeneres answered her critics in a video published late Monday night. She acknowledged that “people were upset” by she and Bush laughing together. “A lot of people were mad and they did what people do when they’re mad: They tweet,” said DeGeneres.
Then she said something really, really important. Here it is:
“I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different. … Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I am not going to be friends with them. When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
Yes, yes, yes.
What DeGeneres is advocating there is sort of anti-Trumpism in its purest form. Because what this President represents, more than any issue stance or policy position, is the idea that people who disagree with you are to be mocked, to be villainized, to be bullied. If you disagree with Trump on, well, anything, you are his enemy. The only way to be in his good graces – and therefore, in the good graces of those who support him – is to agree with him on absolutely everything.
At the core of President Donald Trump’s political appeal, then, is division. In his world, people are divided between those who agree and those who are his enemies. “A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream,” Trump is fond of saying at his campaign rallies.
There is no such thing as common ground in Trump’s world. No such thing as dialogue. No such thing as the idea of reasonable people disagreeing. There is just name-calling and clashes. The entire world is just Thunderdome: Two men enter, one man leaves.
And while Trump is driving that train of division, many others – including Democrats – have hopped right on board, unwittingly giving his worldview that much more power.
When Joe Biden made an off-hand comment calling Vice President Mike Pence a “decent guy” earlier this year, he was Twitter-shamed by the liberal left into apologizing. “I was making a point in a foreign policy context, that under normal circumstances a Vice President wouldn’t be given a silent reaction on the world stage,” Biden tweeted in response to a critique of his comment from actress and failed New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon. “But there is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights, and that includes the Vice President.”
What each of these episodes misses is that the expectation that everyone must agree with you to be your friend (or to not be your enemy) leads us down a very dark road as a society. What Trump has weaponized for his political purposes is fear (and anger) directed at the “other.” People who don’t see things exactly your way are not just dumb or misguided. They are evil. They are barely human. And so, you treat them as sub-human.
But that is a deeply misguided view.
There’s no question that exploiting divisions can be good for promoting your own politics. But it is a terrible way to go about trying to fix what’s broken in our politics and our culture. We would all do well in our lives to listen a little less to Trump (and those in the Twitter left who think canceling people is a way to improve anything) and a little more to the likes of Ellen and George W. Bush.