The Universal Notebook: Cordial conversations with conservatives

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As anyone who reads this column knows, I regard Donald Trump as the Anti-Christ and suspect that anyone who supports him is in danger of losing his or her mortal soul.

I had confirmation of this last week when, in the midst of badmouthing Gold Star Families and war heroes, Herr Trump stopped long enough to call Hillary Clinton the devil. Satan’s greatest trick is not convincing people he does not exist, it’s convincing people that someone else is the devil.

I despise everything Donald Trump is, says and does, so I’m sure I come off as an angry sorehead when I write about him, but I assure you I am able to consider opposing points of view with more equanimity than some readers might imagine.

Two weeks ago, for example, my Southern cousins were in Maine for a family reunion at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk. As they are all some shade of Republican and all conservative Christians, I anticipated some lively verbal give and take. They love to bait their Yankee liberal cuz. And we did air our differences over steaks and beers, but I was pleased to find that no one in the Dixie branch of the family is an ardent Trump supporter. Trump had little or no appeal for them, because they realize he is not a conservative, not a Christian and not a Republican. They were mostly Ted Cruz supporters.

I suspect, however, that come November some of my relatives in Virginia, Georgia and Texas will end up voting for Trump primarily because he is not Hillary. A dark cloud of contempt crossed my cousins’ faces whenever Obama or Clinton were mentioned. I just made the point that Obama has been a decent, thoughtful, moderate president despite all the nastiness thrown at him and left it at that.

Last night, I had another cordial conservation with a conservative when Col. Gary West was an overnight guest in my home. Col. West, a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and now an Assembly of God pastor, spent the night with us along with the couple who is driving his chase car and their 14-year-old grandson. West, who is a neighbor of my cousin Chris in Virginia, is riding his bicycle 2,500 miles on a Patriot Honor Ride from Lubec to Key West to raise money for Folds of Honor, an organization that gives scholarships to the families of military men and women who have lost their lives serving our country.

West and his entourage arrived around 6:30. We had steaks on the grill, potato salad, tossed salad and watermelon. They then spent several hours on logistics and communications, unfolding flags folded that day in flag ceremonies, doing laundry, researching bike routes, emailing the folks at the next stops and all the other details of his 60-day bike mission. It was close to 11 before I got a chance to talk to him about things on my mind.

West and I had a long and respectful conversation about our political and religious differences of opinion. We talked about the upcoming election, Obamacare, marriage equality, civil liberties, the Constitution and the Bible. Our fundamental difference is that he believes the Constitution and the Bible have fixed meanings that cannot be changed and I believe they are living documents that have always been subject to interpretation.

I could not pin West down on Trump, who I would have hoped every veteran in the nation would condemn for insulting prisoners of war and Gold Star families, but I did get him to agree that, as long as denominations that still believe marriage is between one man and one woman are not forced to perform gay marriages, conservative Christians should not expect their beliefs to be the law of the land. I’ll respect your freedom of religion as long as you don’t expect everyone else to follow it.

When Gary rolled out of my driveway this morning, he headed to Freeport to meet, at my suggestion, with the Freeport Flag Ladies, a trio of women who have been waving flags on Main Street every Tuesday since 9/11. They started out doing it to express solidarity with the victims of 9/11 and their families, but over the years mission creep has gone from supporting survivors and supporting our troops to a general show of patriotism and, most recently, a partisan display. When the flag ladies led the Pledge of Allegiance at a Trump rally in Bangor in June, they politicized what was once a pure act of patriotism.

Note to my cousins, Col. West, and the Freeport Flag Ladies: Donald Trump may not actually be the devil, but he is not a patriot either.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.