Courtney: Not all Trump supporters are bad

It shouldn’t be revolutionary to think that 74 million Americans aren’t awful.

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Zach Courtney

I grew up in Willmar, Minnesota, a small town in Kandiyohi County, 90 miles west of the Twin Cities. Kandiyohi County, like much of rural Minnesota, is a Republican stronghold, going for Trump by a 25-point margin in both 2016 and 2020. Plenty of my friends, friends’ parents and former teammates voted for Donald Trump.

Now, I attend the University of Minnesota and live in Minneapolis, a city that went for Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020 by massive margins. Nearly all of my college friends voted for Biden.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the last few years of our political climate and how it impacted my life. It turned into an endless cycle of pushing and pulling. First, President Trump would tweet something that was admittedly ridiculous. Then, half of my friends would say that it wasn’t a big deal (sometimes they were right), and half of my friends would say that what Trump said was — well — ridiculous (usually they were right).

That, however, isn’t what or who I’m writing about in this column. In my view, public policy and our individual differences in policy preference need to be discussed far more than they currently are. Over the last four years, attacks have turned more personal — ad hominem — rather than staying focused on differences on social and economic issues.

Instead, I’m writing about those who have somehow written off the more than 74 million Trump voters as no more than unintelligent, racist homophobes, or as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton previously called half of Trump supporters, a “basket of deplorables.”

Am I smarter, nicer or morally superior than half of my friends — 46.8% of America — simply because I voted for Biden instead of Trump?

I wholeheartedly argue no. As former presidential candidate Andrew Yang put it, if a slim minority of voting Americans do something, we better do our best to understand it.

Being a Trump supporter and being a good person aren’t mutually exclusive. Our country would be in a better place if my fellow Biden supporters could agree to this simple statement: Trump supporters are also generally good people who want to see America improve. I’ve long been critical of Trump, and I will continue to be. I don’t think he was a good president — it’s that simple. But he did inspire a massive movement with a passionate base, one that we all need to aim to truly understand. Just because I write off Trump as a bad president doesn’t mean I need to write off millions of Americans as bad, too. He didn’t just pack rallies with homophobic antisemites (though those people were, of course, there). He filled those rallies with moms, dads and my neighbors.

And I get it, the argument that we just need to be nicer to other people is a tough sell. I often times will take a political lens on these issues, and I’ll do it again here. I want to get my friends to vote for the same people who I vote for. In the most recent presidential election, that person was Biden. The worst way to do that is to describe the other side’s people as racist, homophobic, or unintelligent. The best way to do that is to keep the conversation civil and tied to policy. For the most part, Trump voters’ concerns were in good faith.

We are in the heat of an impeachment trial at the conclusion of a tense election season, and I’m certain there is plenty of bitterness on both sides. That’s the main reason I wanted to write this column. Valentine’s Day is coming up this weekend. Don’t just love your significant other. Love liberals. Love conservatives. Love Biden voters. Love Trump voters. Love each other. In many ways, we are far more alike than we are different.

Or, as an Iowa fan said to me and my friends last year at Kinnick Stadium, “I don’t care if you cheer for the Democrats, Republicans, Gophers or Hawkeyes. At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team.”

Don’t worry, Gopher fans. “We Hate Iowa” still applies — but only on the gridiron and in the stands.