Two different Facebook friends attended Donald Trump’s rally in Southport, Indiana, an Indianapolis bedroom community, in the week prior to the midterm election. Both were there simply to observe–one was with a group of protesters, but the other was on a sort of “reconnaissance mission.” Who, she wondered, were these Hoosiers who continued to support a man she considered morally repulsive?
Both of these observers were shaken by the experience. Trump’s “adoring crowds” evidently really do adore him. (Those “over the top” comparisons to Hitler may not be so over the top.) His crudeness and vulgarity, his contempt for expertise and elemental humanity, evidently validate them in some fashion that I can’t comprehend.
It may be because he gives them someone to blame for life’s disappointments and failures–someone black or brown or Jewish or Muslim.
We keep hearing that 90% of Republicans still strongly support Trump, and that’s terrifying. But what we don’t hear nearly as often is the corollary: that the number of people who continue to call themselves Republican has dramatically diminished. As the party has metamorphosed into a cult, a large number of good, sane Americans who were previously Republican have run for the exits.
One of those was “Sully” Sullenberger–a lifelong Republican best known for safely landing a plane in an episode usually referred to as the “miracle on the Hudson.” Right before the election, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, and it’s worth quoting.
He began by referencing that storied landing:
Nearly 10 years ago, I led 154 people to safety as the captain of US Airways Flight 1549, which suffered bird strikes, lost thrust in the engines and was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Some called it “the Miracle on the Hudson.” But it was not a miracle. It was, in microcosm, an example of what is needed in emergencies — including the current national crisis — and what is possible when we serve a cause greater than ourselves.
Sullenberger recounted the important contributions of passengers and airline personnel to the effort to avert disaster, and emphasized the importance of good judgment, experience, skill — and combined efforts of people working together. He then made a crucial point.
To navigate complex challenges, all leaders must take responsibility and have a moral compass grounded in competence, integrity and concern for the greater good.
Concern for the greater good is a concept entirely foreign to Donald Trump (who, incidentally, displays neither competence nor integrity). Sullenberger didn’t identify Trump by name, but it was impossible not to know who he was talking about when he wrote the following:
In every situation, but especially challenging ones, a leader sets the tone and must create an environment in which all can do their best. You get what you project. Whether it is calm and confidence — or fear, anger and hatred — people will respond in kind. Courage can be contagious.
Today, tragically, too many people in power are projecting the worst. Many are cowardly, complicit enablers, acting against the interests of the United States, our allies and democracy; encouraging extremists at home and emboldening our adversaries abroad; and threatening the livability of our planet. Many do not respect the offices they hold; they lack — or disregard — a basic knowledge of history, science and leadership; and they act impulsively, worsening a toxic political environment.
As a result, we are in a struggle for who and what we are as a people. We have lost what in the military we call unit cohesion. The fabric of our nation is under attack, while shame — a timeless beacon of right and wrong — seems dead.
Toward the end of his essay, Sullenberger (unlike the people at Trump rallies or the spineless enablers in Congress) firmly elevates the national interest over partisan loyalties.
For the first 85 percent of my adult life, I was a registered Republican. But I have always voted as an American. And this critical Election Day, I will do so by voting for leaders committed to rebuilding our common values and not pandering to our basest impulses.
We sometimes forget that there are thousands of former Republicans who–like Sullenberger–chose to leave the GOP when it became the party of Trump and the unhappy White Nationalists who drink his Kool-Aid.