“However, now—after seeing how he has been treated by Democrats since he was elected—he will have my vote in 2020.”
here is a long history of resentment directed towards outliers, from scientists to entrepreneurs to politicians, and perhaps there is a parallel to be found between the story of a 19th century scientific pioneer and the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Ignaz Semmelweis, the 19th century Hungarian physician, was the onetime embodiment of science being used to save lives. Born in Buda (now Budapest) in 1818, Semmelweis later became a physician and worked in obstetrics in Vienna. At the time, “childbed fever,” as it was known, had one of the highest fatality rates in the ward in which he worked. Semmelweis resolved to tackle the issue and began to take data, bringing an empirical approach to the study of the disease. In time, he would come up with an explanation for the fever and its method of transmission that would later be called, “germ theory.” Since—in those days—doctors were unaware of how infections spread, they did not take sterilization measures in between working with different patients or cadavers. However, Semmelweis—in reaction to analyzing data he had collected—developed the idea of applying sanitation steps to midwifery, recommending the medical professionals wash with hot water and chlorine before and after seeing a patient.
However, there was a problem: no one else in the medical community at the time took Semmelweis’ ideas seriously. His colleagues, including fellow doctors and surgeons, even ridiculed him for his conclusions. His colleagues instead believed that infections such as childbed fever were the result of the temperature, the time of year, and various aspects of the environment at a given time. However, Semmelweis, nevertheless, decided to try his method to reduce the high mortality rates found in his wards.
After a few short months, the mortality rate in his ward began to plummet. But this was of no satisfaction to the head of the hospital, who rejected Semmelweis’ approach. Semmelweis never understood why surgeons and doctors who were supposed to be focused on saving lives were so resentful of his method, when it worked so clearly, and— by 1848—childbed fever fatality rates where Semmelweis worked reached zero.
According to Theodore G. Obenchain, a retired neurosurgeon and biographer of Semmelweis, the pushback Semmelweis received all but crushed his mental health, particularly when resistance to his methods extended to include even his closest friends and colleagues. Eventually, Semmelweis’ mental health deteriorated to the point where he had to be relegated to an asylum, which resulted in his untimely death at the age of 47.
When it comes to the treatment of outliers and innovators, a treatment too often marred by hostility and resentment, perhaps jealousy is, in part, to blame. Furthermore, when an individual suddenly appears at the top of his profession, many tend to assume—often automatically—that he is taking a place in society where he does not belong. A quick rise sometimes draws out criticisms from those in the profession who wish it were they who had reached the pinnacle of success in their field. And this is true in science, in business, and, also, in politics.
President Donald Trump is the prime example of this phenomenon today, following his rise from a businessman without previous political office to President of the United States. Almost everyone doubted, first, his ability to win the Republican nomination; they, next, doubted his chances of victory in the general election. Then, they doubted that he could serve effectively as President of the United States. And, with each turn, resentment against Mr. Trump continued to grow.
Now, it is worth noting that resentment has its use in politics. It is resentment that keeps the political sphere lively, dynamic, and constantly in flux, giving energy to new initiatives and proposals along the way. Resentment is what often encourages would-be politicians to first file to run for office, as well as catalyzing politicians to seek higher office with greater influence. However, this is emotion (though helpful in small quantities) sometimes goes too far, running well off the rails.*
This country—the United States of America—is the world’s most vibrant democracy. For someone like me, who was born in Iran and dreamed my entire life of living in the United States, it is clear that this country is the best that we, as humans, have ever created.
What is happening now with the degree of resentment coming from the Democratic Party (and certain wings of the Republican Party) towards President Trump is truly unprecedented in American history and has taken the form of a fight against him that knows no restraints and has little regard for the law. The culmination of all of this is the ongoing impeachment proceedings and the continuous effort to portray President Trump as emblematic of a broken American society, which is a terrible message to send to those of us who consider ourselves, first and foremost, Americans.
This country—the United States of America—is the world’s most vibrant democracy. For someone like me, who was born in Iran and dreamed my entire life of living in the United States, it is clear that this country is the best that we, as humans, have ever created. And, this country’s ethos is based on a number of virtues from hard work to personal responsibility; however, two of the most important virtues concern the rule of law and a respect for election results. Unlike in other countries, such as the one I hail from, the United States, historically, has been a nation that respects the outcomes of its elections, something that post-2016 Democrats have been unable to do. This impeachment effort is just another iteration of Democrats being unable to accept that this outlier in politics, Donald Trump, was elected president, has a clear message for the country, and is implementing the very policies he promised to carry out when he was campaigning.
I did not vote for Donald Trump, but that does not change the fact that he was democratically elected President of the United States. Even though he did not receive my vote in 2016, it is appalling to see him being subjected to endless mob rule-style (an overwhelmingly un-American concept) attacks against the legitimacy of his presidency. What Democrats have done to him in the time since he was elected president is not legal, fair, or just. He is the President of the United States and deserves at least a degree of support and respect for his office from all Americans, including those like myself who voted against him. However, now—after seeing how he has been treated by Democrats since he was elected—he will have my vote in 2020.
Congressional Democrats campaigned in 2018 on issues such as healthcare, but, once in office, backstabbed their voters by focusing this entire Congress on these impeachment proceedings. Within hours of being sworn into Congress in January of 2019, Rep. Rashida Tlaib vowed: “…we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherf—!” This was joined by further calls for impeachment from numerous Democratic members of Congress, all long before most Americans had ever even heard the names President Zelensky or Burisma.
All the while, President Trump has been doing his best, delivering increasedmanufacturing jobs across the country, pursuing policies that have boosted employment, and standing up to aggression from countries such as Iran. It is immaterial if a given American happens to dislike President Trump’s etiquette or his methods of communications; many of his policies are working. He is an outlier in American politics and is bringing along outcomes in that mold. Semmelweis never wanted anyone to love him personally, or even like him. But everyone should have embraced his methods because they were working to reduce disease, particularly his fellow doctors whose stated role was to work to fight disease and save lives. Just the same, today, many Americans who profess to want what is best for America should embrace the aspects of President Trump’s agenda that are overwhelmingly successful. There is no need for anyone to be in love with President Trump or to become a blind supporter of his, but we all ought to let him do the job he was elected to do.
*See Jeremy Engels book The Politics of Resentment for an in-depth treatment of how patterns have resentment have played out in the past in politics, including when it has even resulted in violent consequences, such as took place during attacks on Rep. Gabby Giffords or Rep. Steve Scalise.
Kambiz Tavana is an Iranian-American journalist and writer.