Image via Braver Angels

John Wood Jr. (Center bias) is a national leader for Braver Angels (Mixed bias), a former nominee for congress, former Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, musical artist and a noted writer and speaker on subjects including racial and political reconciliation.

This past Thursday a jury of 12 rendered its verdict in the New York District Attorney’s case against the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald J. Trump. The court found Trump guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to a payment his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. That payment was made in an effort, the prosecution alleged, to mislead voters in the interests of winning the 2016 presidential election.

This is a troubling but historic moment: our leading candidate for president stands as a convicted felon. On this we can all agree.

What we disagree on is why this moment is so troubling.

For some of us, it is the “fact” of Trump’s obvious guilt and that a criminal may retake the White House; one whose multiple and flagrant abuses of the law may be rewarded by the votes of their fellow Americans to the detriment of the nation.

For others, it is the “truth” that Donald Trump was subjected to a political prosecution on flimsy grounds in order to derail his candidacy. The greater indictment, so many of us believe, is not of Donald Trump, but of a corrupt and politicized judicial system in the state of New York.

We can be angry with one another for failing to acknowledge facts and truth as we see them. But our warring convictions arise from compelling stories about this man who, for better or worse, has transformed politics in America.

On the one hand, the rage and frustration that spills out towards the former president from the vast majority of Democrats, many independents, and some disaffected Republicans, arises from a view of Trump as a consummate and corrupt liar going back years before his time in politics, but metastasizing in his performance as a politician and president.

From this point of view, this is a man who lied about Barack Obama’s place of birth to undermine his presidency, who obstructed an FBI investigation into his ties with Russia, who tried intimidating Ukrainian president Vladimir Zolensky to investigate the now current president Joe Biden just as he tried intimidating Georgia Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger to find more votes in the state, who lied about and attempted to steal the 2020 election, who provoked an insurrection, who was impeached twice, and who even today is unwilling to accept the outcome of a 2024 election if he should lose. This is a deep and bitter way to feel, full of pain and indignation, about the man who led and may again lead all of us at the helm of the US government and the free world.

Yet it is no less deep and bitter than the grievance felt by the vast majority of Republicans, many independents, and some disaffected Democrats towards the Biden administration, the justice department, and the media they see as accomplices to their corruption.

This is one in which a Washington outsider who dared expose the wrongs of the political establishment found his campaign spied upon at the behest of the Obama administration, found the legitimacy of his election denied over allegations of collusion with Russia that a special counsel investigation admitted it had little evidence to prove, subjected to the indignity of unjust impeachment, and who Joe Biden continues to link to white supremacy even as he declares his support for historically Black colleges and universities and has moved the American embassy back to Jerusalem. And now his political enemies have weaponized the justice system to make him look like a criminal for challenging their own corruption.

As Americans, we tend to live in one of these stories or the other. When you live in a story, that story is compelling. The stories that surround us become the eyes through which we see the world.

Yet the way we see Biden and Trump must not be the way we see each other.

Truth is often different than the stories we tell. But the most false story of all is the one that says the politics of our neighbors render them morally useless as human beings. We can search for truth together in defiance of the powers that profit from our divisions. We can dig for common ground and reform our politics and institutions along those lines. But we can only do this if we perceive enough humanity in one another to extend the hand of goodwill.

This moment marks one more step on the dangerous road that lies before the United States of America. We will cast our ballots as we will. But there is hope for a nation whose people are willing to challenge one another without abandoning the bonds of friendship.

In such a nation truth may gain the final say, the story we ultimately emerge with may be a shared one, and the union of the people may endure.