"Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionaries and rebels--men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. Without exhaustive debate--even heated debate--of ideas and programs, free government would weaken and wither. But if we allow ourselves to be persuaded that every individual, or party, that takes issue with our own convictions is necessarily wicked or treasonous--then indeed we are approaching the end of freedom's road. We must unitedly and intelligently support the principles of Americanism."
The sentiment here has certainly been echoed by many other political leaders and activists, including but going well beyond discussions tied to the protection of the First Amendment. Indeed, in his 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, John Kerry said, "How pathetic to suggest that those who question a failed policy doubt America itself." It is the notion of, "I generally support you, but..." It has also become all the more salient this election season as one of the nominees for president makes a habit of characterizing critics as fat, ugly, stupid, losers, and the like, with some followers (not all, but a large number) distressingly keen on defending the candidate's agenda in its entirety and rewriting the candidate's history of failed business ventures, numerous speeches that contained racist undertones, and a rough first presidential debate.
Many Democrats cringed during some of the presidential debates of 2012, with Romney performing above expectations and Obama seemingly lacking energy. Those in spin rooms are paid or otherwise expected to turn the message around in the candidate's favor, and that they did. Those partisan Democrats watching at home likely said that Obama didn't have a great night but that they nevertheless supported his reelection. Polls suggest that Hillary Clinton vastly outperformed Donald Trump at the first presidential debate, and by all accounts she showed up much more prepared and professional and did not get flustered by his interruptions or attacks. That is not a commentary on policy, but rather on performance and on preparation. Trump has remained insistent that he won, and many around him have agreed. Indeed, many supporters interviewed have conveyed that they thought that he did much better than she.
When we are unable or unwilling to admit weakness, we inhibit our ability to evolve into better people and better leaders. An openness to critique might have pushed Trump to prepare more for his debate against the seasoned politician Secretary Clinton, and might have led him to better address his shortcomings (e.g., temperament or treatment of women). Yet Mr. Trump has often been characterized as thin-skinned, unwilling to accept criticism, and surrounding himself with clear loyalists (e.g., Bannon and the now quite obsequious Christie). Whether it is an inability to see any of Mr. Trump's flaws or an unwillingness to acknowledge them, it creates a dangerously unconstrained candidate leading a major political party. To be so doggedly in favor of a candidate in the totality would leave a leader with dangerously unfettered license to carry out extremist policies that defy the fundamental principles of religious liberty, freedom of speech, and equal protection. The vitriol with which the Republican nominee and his supporters greet opponents looks more like 1930s/1940s Germany than the America that we call home. Indeed, his notion that "I alone can fix it" has been compared to the "Fuhrer principle" adopted most notably by Hitler.
Left, right, or in between, giving leaders a blank check of support for any policy adoptions is simply dangerous.
It is all well and good to take sides in a presidential election, to have a clear dog in the fight. And it is all well and good to defend them vociferously against their opponent. But support should never be unconditional, lest we compromise the basic separation of powers principles at the core of our great nation.