Oceans of ink have been spilled during this interminable election urging us to “try to understand” Donald Trump supporters. Journey to the Heart of Trumpland stories became their own genre during the campaign – one in which Trump rallies were mostly covered in reverent tones.
Even as election day neared, we were being told by pundits that the important work, that of learning to take Trump supporters’ concerns seriously, would come afterward. We must not forget them, we were cautioned, in a way we were not told we must always keep Mitt Romney or Al Gore supporters in our hearts.
I suspect we will not see a glut of similarly themed think pieces about Hillary Clinton voters this week, stories about how we really need to listen to pro-Hillary folks, feel their pain, make sure their needs are met before the next election.
A journalist’s pitch of “I Spent a Weekend With a Bunch of Hillary Supporters and It Turns Out They Love Their Children and Make a Good Blueberry Pie” was never going to be met with “Great! Give me 1,500 words.”
We were to understand that “real America” is found at a Trump rally. Those rallies were somehow more authentically American than, say, a Black Lives Matter protest, a college classroom, a gay pride parade, or even a state fair. A man shouting “Jew-S-A!” was to be taken as some kind of white working-class sphinx, asking us to solve the riddle of his true feelings.
That man’s life just had to be given enough context, apparently, and then his anti-Semitism and the raging sexism of the man shouting “Trump that bitch!” next to him, would become benign. Assign their anger a source – and never question the legitimacy of that emotion. Tell us one of these guys is behind on his car payments and the other loves curly fries and everything becomes alright.
Sadly, these things would not “humanize” a man to me any more than his chanting of “Jew-S-A!” would.
I do know that humans do awful things. I’ve read my history. Right now, it feels as if I’m rereading one of the more unfortunate bits. Well done, America. I can report that we in Canada are feeling a little Austria, 1933, right now.
Serving up oodles of think pieces and man-on-the-street interviews and rally safaris that illuminate the lives of the prejudiced without visiting the lives that these “racial attitudes” may affect goes beyond hack journalism and into irresponsible.
There has been a lot of that. Calling someone “working class” over and over while you click your camera clicks like rosary beads is not an Angelic Salutation that absolves your subjects of their sins.
That these people are adults who are accountable for their choices was largely taken as an unduly harsh sentiment in this election. But there is no parent’s note for bigotry. No teacher would accept “Little Timmy can’t help but hate Mexicans today because he had a dentist appointment.”
The media did very little to challenge the narrative that Donald Trump – a trust-fund baby turned real-estate mogul turned reality-TV star turned fraudulent-university huckster turned politician – is the working class’s hero. And that he is a hero that the people had a right to turn to and to not be criticized for doing so.
It was taken as given, but I kept reading it, that Trump supporters were a demographic compelled, by forces entirely beyond their control, to hate and fear Hispanics and Muslims.
To report that story convincingly you have to ignore the fact that Mr. Trump’s voters are relatively affluent. They have a median household income of $72,000 (U.S.), a full $10,000 above the average.
You also have to sweep a lot of lower-income, lower-skilled minorities (it’s striking how people of colour seldom get the romanticized label “working class” bestowed upon them) under the rug. The plights of these people are much less likely to be poignantly illuminated in the press than those of my fellow white folks.
You may have noticed that, the story goes, white people are on drugs because they have no jobs, but black people have no jobs because they are on drugs.
To maintain the inevitability of the Trump-voters-in-these-sad-times existence, you have to forget that the working class built unions in times of need, and they ran soup kitchens in times of desperation. When called upon, the workers of America have been known to fight Nazis without up and joining them. They have proved time and time again that they are entirely capable of facing uncertainty without being overtaken by a burning desire to elect a clueless buffoon.
The closing of a tire plant doesn’t automatically make you vote for a volatile, vindictive dollar-store demagogue who has had his eye on his own bottom line from the instant he launched his campaign and whose only truly consistent position throughout that campaign has been that he will in any number of shifting ways make minorities suffer.
No matter how tempting it might be to normalize these people and their “controversial racial attitudes” in the years ahead and, in doing so, go some way toward making the world we’re now all forced to live in feel just that tiny bit more normal, more sane, let’s not do that.
First of all, stop calling the crap we’re seeing “economic anxiety.”
Next thing you know, we’ll be reading about “white rumbly tummies” and “The White Stomach Butterflies That Brought Hitler to Power.”
You may not be able to change the minds of these “anxious” people with facts. Truths like “Your plastic orange president-elect reflexively spits out lies like some kind of remarkably duplicitous Pez dispenser” will get you nowhere. Pleas to their sense of compassion, and duty to the larger community, will likely be met with an overcompressed JPEG plastered with a conspiracy theory and some invented statistics; you will make no headway with logic or science with Trump supporters.
These people are political anti-vaxxers, sure, but I’d like some sizable portion of the world to keep asking: “How did a country that acknowledged racism as a problem, one that they would strive to overcome, decide that this tax-evading, lady-grabbing hate monger was the answer?”
Please don’t tell me that lots of Trump supporters voted on issues other than race. Studies show that – while the belief that women are nasty was a strong indicator of support – attitudes toward race, the belief that black people are more violent than whites, or that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya etc. were the key predictors of whether someone planned to vote for Donald Trump.
Besides, “I don’t support the rampaging of that Tyrannosaurus rex, but it’s not enough to sway my vote against that Tyrannosaurus rex continuing its rampage with all the authority of the United States President behind it” still gets you struck off the Christmas-card list, buddy.
What you have done, America, is elect a man to the highest office in the land who has failed to demonstrate even a Schoolhouse Rock! level of understanding of how government works. You have given staggering power, much of it nuclear power that he has mused about using, to a clearly psychologically unstable braggart who pledged to appoint a special prosecutor to jail his former opponent – all other exhaustive attempts at prosecuting her having failed.
When pressed on the legality of this junta-style gem of a promise, Mr. Trump’s surrogates whined, “You’re taking it literally.” It’s okay, calm down people, it’s just a locker-room dictatorship.
Mr. Trump claimed that America did not have the world’s respect. Oh, you had it, America, but then you set your democracy to work facilitating the continuation of a ridiculous man’s late-life vanity project.
“You better make sure we win, or there will be no more Trump rallies. To hell with that!” Mr. Trump called out at one of his white-(supremacist)-tie affairs.
He spoke frequently as if the adulation of the crowd was the end game. No one seems to have told him that, either way, the stadium events would stop. No one said, “You don’t just stay on tour if you win, Mr. Trump. You’re running to become President of the United States, not Billy Joel.”
In the last six months, I think I’ve read exactly as many news stories mocking college-educated millennials living in their parents’ basements who want to make more than minimum wage as I’ve read stories oozing sympathy for middle-aged white guys who dropped out of high school and who are making close to $100,000 of my Canadian dollars a year.
I have heard a lot about how deeply saddened straight, white, cisgender men are about everyone now being so “politically correct.” That joke they make about Chinese drivers used to kill at parties, I guess.
Grownups are having conniptions over young people using the word “triggered.” I’m being told that this word is why Mr. Trump won the election. Hey, guys, “triggered” is just another generation’s “bummed-out.” You may be the ones being oversensitive here, and I’m not sure why the one lexical delicacy we’re all expected to adhere to these days is that no one is allowed to call racists “racists.”
You know what? If I had to pick a “snowflake” generation here, it might be the older white folks who seem to have had a screaming meltdown about the loss of their cultural right to say the N-word in public and have everyone chortle along with them.
What we just witnessed was a tantrum, one that will cost everyone dearly. And if you are black or Hispanic or Muslim or trans or gay or a woman, the answer is: Yes, they do hate you that much. America just bit off its nose to spite your face.