Julie McDonald Commentary: Demonization Leads to Polarization and Fosters Hate


I’m the product of a mixed marriage — politically, that is.

My father who grew up on a Minnesota farm was a staunch Democrat. My mother, whose father taught at Purdue University before he became an executive for Hyster Co., was a Republican. When my eldest sister joined the Young Democrats, I declared myself a Republican.

After joining the Association of Personal Historians in 1999, I flew to a conference in Chicago, where I met many friendly, helpful people and quickly discovered that, as a conservative, I was a political minority in a sea of liberals. But for two decades, I’ve maintained friendships with many colleagues who hold political views far different than my own. Once, when politics surfaced on the listserv, I objected, saying, “We need to build on what we have in common rather than what divides us.”

On Election Day 2000, my last day at The Daily News in Longview, we wrote local stories and watched the national returns on the newsroom television as networks initially called Florida for Vice President Al Gore. A liberal coworker said, “Julie, Al Gore’s ahead.” A young reporter turned to me in shock. “You voted for George Bush?” I nodded and said, “Proud of it, too.” Two others in the newsroom of nearly three dozen quietly told me they had also voted for Bush.

That 2000 election hinged on “hanging, dimpled and pregnant chads” counted or cast out in Florida. In the end, only 537 votes separated Bush and Gore. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling ended the recounts while Bush was ahead, so he won. 

In 2004, I campaigned for Bush’s re-election, and that same year, Washington state saw its closest gubernatorial election ever. Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, defeated Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi, even though he initially won by 261 votes and, after a machine recount, by 42 votes. When King County officials later found missing ballots, Gregoire won by a mere 133 votes. I joined many Lewis County Republicans at the state Capitol in Olympia, rallying for a revote that never happened. Although angry at a perceived injustice, we never considered violence.

In 2008, I campaigned for Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran and war hero, and loved the fact that he selected a conservative woman as his running mate. I staffed the Lewis County Republican Party’s office during the election season. Although disappointed when he lost to Sen. Barack Obama, I never considered fighting the result. We live in a democracy, where voters decide who serves in office — and once in a while the courts.

Four years later, I supported Sen. Mitt Romney in his run for president, but again, my candidate lost. President Obama won re-election.

In 2016, the Republican Party had 17 candidates running for president. After my least favorite won the party’s nomination, I waited for Donald Trump to convince me to support him. But I didn’t like his ongoing ridicule and demonization of others and past lewd comments about forcing himself on women. I had company, such as prolific Christian author Max Lucado, who said Trump brandishes a Bible, calls himself a Christian and in the next breath refers to women as bimbos. I couldn’t vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton either, so I wrote in God. I figured whichever candidate won, this nation needed help from the Almighty — and it still does.

Character matters. What we’ve seen play out the past two months proves that point. What we witnessed at the Capitol last week drove it home.

Even before anyone voted, with polls indicating he might lose, the president started spouting claims about a stolen election — allegations repeated often enough that his ardent supporters believed them … before anyone even cast a ballot.

Biden garnered 7 million more votes than Trump, 51 percent to 47 percent, but popular vote doesn’t decide elections in the United States: the Electoral College does. Biden won that as well—306 to 232 for Trump.

In the contested battleground states, Biden beat Trump by numbers in the thousands — not 537 as in Gore’s 2000 defeat or 133 as in Rossi’s 2004 defeat. In the closest races, Biden beat Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes and in Georgia by 11,769 votes.

For two months, the president and his team undermined the very fabric of our democracy with baseless allegations of voter fraud and a stolen election. They filed (and lost) more than 60 lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of the elections in battleground states. Since the election, at least 86 judges (38 appointed by Republicans) ruled against the Trump team in court. The conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court, including three Trump appointees, tossed out a lawsuit by the state of Texas to invalidate the electoral votes in four battleground states.

One of the most scathing judicial rejections came from District Judge Brett H. Ludwig, a Trump appointee, who dismissed a lawsuit attempting to toss out election results in Wisconsin. Calling the request “extraordinary,” he said, “A sitting president who did not prevail in his bid for reelection has asked for federal court help in setting aside the popular vote based on disputed issues of election administration, issues he plainly could have raised before the vote occurred. This court has allowed the plaintiff the chance to make his case and he has lost on the merits.”

I was appalled by the silence of Republicans and cringed when 147 GOP House and Senate members proclaimed plans to undermine our nation’s democracy Jan. 6 by voting against a legitimate election and peaceful transfer of power.

That very day, after a Trump rally, a mob of his fans — not Antifa but Trump supporters — stormed the Capitol as the Electoral College ratification vote was taking place. They bashed in windows, beat and bludgeoned police officers, threatened both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and our vice president as they chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”

It was obscene. It was insurrection. It was un-American. It was sedition. It was so preventable and unnecessary. 

It took courage for our 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to vote for certification of the Electoral College results and later in favor of impeaching the president whose incendiary lies and demonization of opponents emboldened a fringe element of far-right anarchists. I’ve read the hateful nasty Facebook comments by people trashing our elected representative for voting her conscience. They say she doesn’t represent them, but she represents me and many others who agreed with her vote.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, summed up well why she voted for impeachment: “The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president. The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and oath to the Constitution.”

Polls indicate most Republicans believe Trump bears no responsibility at all for the attack and contend the election was stolen. But when those in their camp include white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and the Proud Boys, perhaps they might be on the wrong side of history.

For years I’ve listened to Republicans dismiss Trump’s nasty words, his disrespect for others, and his demonization of opponents. To them, his policies are more important than his character.

But I’m in agreement with retired four-star Marine General John Kelly, former White House Chief of Staff for Trump, who said his former boss was “the most flawed person” he’s ever known and described the “depths of his dishonesty” as “astounding.”

“I think we need to look harder at who we elect,” Kelly said. “What is their character like? What are their ethics? Are they willing, if they’re elected, to represent all of their constituents, not just the base, but all of their constituents? And then look at the politics.”

Although still conservative, I no longer consider myself a Republican. I’m not a Democrat either. I’m politically homeless.

Remember when President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Republican and a Democrat, worked together to solve the nation’s problems? Remember when conservative Christians proclaimed love for everyone, Democrats and Republicans? Remember when we could hold different political views but still love and respect one another?  

What a difference four years can make.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.