It is indicative of the mood in the country that, even in Lake Oswego, those who showed up to support President Trump on March 4 had to be separated from those who oppose his policies. Is there no middle ground? Do we, in a civilized Western city, refuse to speak to neighbors because we perceive they only want to spout dogma and assign blame?
I empathize with the anger and frustration. Thousands of miles from D.C., I write letters, postcards and make phone calls to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. They seem to fall into a huge hole. The only effect is that every day, it gets more bizarre in the nation's capital.
But I still feel it's possible to change things locally. Rather than mirroring the dysfunction in D.C., I could begin the healing process with my own acquaintances. And so to do that, I recently reached out to two close friends from high school — both Republicans, both rational and very successful. One was a satellite engineer and the other an investment banker.
"What line," I asked each in turn, "would President Trump have to cross to lose your support?"
John, the engineer, said he'd have to think about it. Two days after the first travel ban, he emailed me: The rollout was so chaotic and poorly planned that he could no longer unequivocally support President Trump.
Morgan, the investment banker, said that if Trump started a war with Iran, he'd actively oppose him. "What about civil liberties?" I asked. "What if he started shutting down the free press?" Morgan didn't answer, but turned the tables and asked, "What would Trump have to do to win your support?"
I replied, "He'd have to honor a statement he made during the campaign. He said Obamacare should be replaced by a better health insurance program, one that covers all Americans and that costs a lot less."
There are 32 advanced countries that have done exactly that, beginning in 1912 with Norway. Japan has had a single-payer system since 1938. There, medical costs are half of those in the U.S., outcomes are better, infant mortality rates are lower and citizens make three times as many doctor's visits per year. Why don't we have that kind of preventative care here?
If Trump actually instituted universal health care, would that pull me into his camp? Somewhat. I still have many issues, but at least I'd have something in common with his supporters.
I next took my question to neighbors: "What line would Trump have to cross to lose your support?" I worried I might find one who'd say, "He could do anything and I'd still support him," in which case, I'd have a true believer for a neighbor, one whose faith in Trump superseded his faith in the principles of democracy.
True believers form the foundation of an autocracy. Without true believers, a dictator is a madman shouting into the wind.
But Trump-supporting neighbors answered my question sanely: If he continued to tweet mindlessly, or to ignore intelligence briefings, or to disparage the intelligence community while praising Putin, they'd bolt.
These are trying times. It feels as if I can't change anything nationally. But I can model the kind of democratic society I want when this period of rancor and chaos ends. Perhaps it's time we all asked ourselves, "What line must he cross to lose my support?" and "What realistic action could he take that would lessen my resistance?"
Then, we must stick with our answer.
Peter Wright is a resident of Lake Oswego.