The Parable of the Good Trump Supporter and the Ungrateful Neighbor

An editorial recently appeared in the L.A. Times entitled “What can you do about the Trumpites next door?” The author, Virginia Heffernan, begins by lamenting the fact that her Trump-supporting neighbors at her “pandemic getaway” home “just plowed our driveway without being asked and did a great job.”

“Oh, heck no.” She begins. “How am I going to resist demands for unity in the face of this act of aggressive niceness?”

The rest of the essay is her attempt to justify to herself why she shouldn’t be that grateful for an unsolicited act of kindness that likely took hours of hard work. The author has just experienced a severe bout of cognitive dissonance (Trump supporters in the abstract are evil, but here these actual Trump supporters don’t seem to be). What follows could serve as an instruction manual on how to remain comfortable in your prejudice.

Heffernan starts by defaulting to racial group identities. Her Trumpite neighbors are white… strike one, and they live in a predominantly white neighborhood… strike two.

However, this begs the obvious question… Heffernan is also white, and she also chose a white neighborhood for her “pandemic getaway”… which just sounds a tad bit elitist, no? Presumably she supports the strict COVID rules and restrictions that make such getaways necessary, ignoring the fact that California’s poorer residents likely don’t have this luxury.

But she’s different, see. These white Trumpites support Blue Lives Matter, and she doesn’t. Phew. She’s also a liberal, so… she gets a pass.

Heffernan notes the weirdness of the situation for her, as “back in the city, people don’t sweep other people’s walkways for nothing.” What could explain this strange behavior?

Heffernan skips right over Christian charity or just the sense that “we take care of each other” out in the small towns and byways of rural America. Nope. It has to be…

White supremacy! Like Eddie Murphy, who went undercover in white makeup on SNL only to discover that “when white people are alone, they give things to each other. For free.”

As soon as there are no people of color around, the secret white supremacists share of each other’s goods in exactly the way Karl Marx envisioned in his Communist Manifesto. Only when nonwhites reappear do they revert back to capitalism.

Yep, she’s figured them out. Her neighbors didn’t just plow her driveway because they’re white, they did it because she’s white!

Heffernan’s second line of justification for retaining her anti-Trump bias is that truly evil people and groups still do nice for each other… but only as a sort of quid pro quo. In Lebanon, Hezbollah cares for the sick and elderly. But in exchange for these “favors,” they demand devotion and loyalty. The same goes for the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, or the mafia.

Perhaps Heffernan fears that her Trumpite neighbors will show up in the middle of the night, demanding she recite some secret pledge to Make America Great Again?

She’s still really struggling with the impulse to like her neighbors, observing:

When someone helps you when you’re down, or snowed in, it’s almost impossible to regard them as a blight on the world. In fact, you’re more likely to be overwhelmed with gratitude and convinced of the person’s inherent goodness.

Her internal bias-preserving system is literally malfunctioning from all the cognitive dissonance.

But then she remembers her stay as a teenager with an upper-middle-class family in France, and how they spurned de Gaulle in favor of Nazi collaborator Petain. Their reasoning? The Nazis were just so… polite. Ha! Now that’s the first time I’ve heard the Nazi occupation of France described that way. Hefferman wonders,

So when I accept generosity from my pandemic neighbors, acknowledging the legitimate kindness with a wave or a plate of cookies, am I also sealing us in as fellow travelers who are very polis (polite) to each other but not so much to “them”?

Again, Heffernan observes that “Loving your neighbor is evidently much easier when your neighborhood is full of people just like you.” Apparently, it is also easier to accept kindness from people who think just like you.

“What do we do about the Trumpites around us?” Heffernan wonders. Seventy-four million people would be difficult to squeeze into gulags, or leftist re-education camps. She recalls Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s eloquent speech on the trauma she experienced on the day of the Capitol Riot, from her office a few blocks away. How can they just “forgive and forget” in the face of such violence?

Heffernan might consider the example of Steve Scalise, who was actually shot by a deranged Bernie Sanders supporter in 2017, or Rand Paul, who is now missing part of his lung after being attacked by his own neighbor that same year. Presumably Rene Boucher, the man who attacked Paul, did not get the neighborliness memo.

Heffernan is confident in her neighbor’s guilt for supporting “a man who showed near-murderous contempt for the majority of Americans,” reasoning that “They kept him in business with their support.”

But the plowing…

She recalls hearing Republican Senator Ben Sasse plea for unity and neighborliness after the January 6th riot, in which he said “You can’t hate someone who shovels your driveway.”

Aha! So that’s why her neighbors did it. They were trying to buy her respect and even gratitude through the selfish act of plowing her driveway!

After a long, confused journey down Self-Justification Lane, the author finds herself back on the Moral Superiority Express. She will wave at her Trump-supporting neighbors. If forced to encounter them up close, she may even be forced to say “thank you.” But she won’t gush. She won’t smile. And she certainly won’t be knocking on their door with a covered dish.

Heffernan decides that she can’t give her neighbors absolution for the sin of supporting Donald Trump. It’s not hers to give, and they probably don’t want it anyway.

“Free driveway work,” she writes, “as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth.” I guess if her neighbors really cared about humanity, they would be posting leftwing memes on Facebook, attacking conservatives on Twitter, or writing scathing editorials in the L.A. Times criticizing the good behavior of “bad” people engaged in the crimes of wrongthink and wrongvote.

In a true moment of magnanimity, Heffernan considers offering a “standing invitation to make amends… not with a snowplow but by recognizing the truth about the Trump administration and… working for justice for all those… harmed.”

Somehow I doubt the author’s neighbors will be interested in a public recantation of their support for our now-former president. I also doubt they’ll be sending flowers to Ocasio-Cortez to assist in her recovery from the January 6th trauma.

They’ll probably just keep living their lives, doing good deeds for their ungrateful neighbors for all the reasons Heffernan never considered: a sincere belief in Christian charity, the idea that actions speak louder than words, and the reality that most of us are fundamentally decent people, regardless of our political affiliations.

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