A couple of weeks ago, on Jan. 25, popular CNN reporter Don Lemon had Republican strategist Rick Wilson and CNN contributor Wajahat Ali on the show to discuss, you guessed it: President Trump.
As per usual on CNN, the three soon began to mock Trump, poking fun at his lack of geography, joking he wouldn’t be able to find Ukraine on a map. But, not stopping at Trump, the men began to wade into dirtier waters. Wilson began to ridicule Trump supporters, calling them “credulous boomer rubes” and adopting a crude Southern accent in imitation, saying “Donald Trump’s the smart one, and y’all elitists are dumb! You elitists with your geography and your maps and your spelling!” Ali added, ‘Yeah, your reading, your geography, knowing other countries, sipping your latte’.
Throughout the conversation, Lemon broke further and further into hysterics, until he was practically crying tears of laughter.
You might be thinking, why not ridicule? After all, Trump’s actions have led to the endangerment of almost every vulnerable population, from immigrants, to people of color, to the LGBTQ+ community. However, the story of his supporters is much more complicated.
I am not arguing that Trump is not a racist bigot. My own family has been impacted by his Muslim Bans, and many of my friends and community members have been targets of his hateful agendas. But as someone with the privilege of being only indirectly impacted by Trump’s policies, I feel I have a responsibility to fully understand the perspective of Trump supporters.
For a long time, I committed myself to the popular idea that while there did exist a large segment of Trump supporters that possessed a hate for minorities, I told myself that the overwhelming majority of them were simply economically anxious, rural or suburban voters. I told myself these voters were willing to look past Trump’s sexism or xenophobia, or racism, because he was a breath of fresh air, finally a change from both establishment politicians who had seemed to forget about them in the last 25 years. I told myself that it was just a tiny fraction of his base that was overtly racist, homophobic, and xenophobic.
However, after taking a closer look at polling data, I began to realize the scary truth that nearly half of all Trump supporters did report to hold anti-immigrant and Islamaphobic views. They were in fact hostile to POC, and they did express a distrust for minorities.
But regardless of the polling data, it felt wrong to completely condemn half the country as a “basket of deplorables” or laugh at a CNN reporter mockingly put on a heavy Southern accent.
So, I began to look at the situation differently. With a bit more research, I began to understand that much of the anti-immigrant sentiment, or hostility towards or homophobia found in pro-Trump communities, can be found to have been cultivated and engineered throughout history.
While he is a unique and extreme case, at the end of the day Trump was just another individual in power using these sentiments to divide the working class. From Reagan’s demonization of the black single mother as a “welfare queen” as a justification cuts social services, to the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 that made white servants feel superior to black slaves even while they roughly occupied the same economic class, the American ruling class has been dividing people for much longer than Trump has been around.
I now believe that when communicating with, and attempting to understand Trump voters, a balance must be found.
We must not simply dismiss Trump voters as shameless deplorables. This will just divide our country further, pushing us into polarization, and confirming their fears that the democratic party does not take them seriously. Approaches like this, such as exhibited by Don Lemon, will almost definitely lose the Democratic party another election to Trump in 2020, regardless of who is elected in the primary.
At the same time, we also cannot let his supporters off the proverbial hook as economically anxious voters who simply wanted a refreshing change in politics. This approach would seek to completely excuse the more disreputable aspects of their ideologies, and this is fundamentally wrong; racism and any ideological thinking which is harmful and marginalizing towards vulnerable populations and must be condemned, and never ignored.
So then how can those who oppose Trump seek to reconcile and connect with his supporters?
To balance our views, we must understand the majority of Trump supporters as regular citizens. Regular citizens who have been led to believe that our national security is under threat from muslims, job safety is being compromised by immigrants, and law and order is under attack from POC. They have had their fears have been manipulated and preyed upon by Trump.
We must take a firm, yet accommodative stance on these supporters. While fully condemning their racism and xenophobia, we must still treat them with respect, and focus on undoing these problematic attitudes through education, and the exposure of Trump’s manipulative strategies. We must disassociate Trump with his supporters, and demonstrate that their problems are not caused by an immigrant worker, but by the wealthy CEO paying both of them a terrible wage, while handing himself millions of dollars a year. Their problems are not caused by muslims, but by the mammoth US defence budget that not only swallows millions of dollars of potential funds for education or healthcare, but also incites violence around the world, ultimately leading to the actual threats to US national security.
We must focus on building solidarity with Trump supporters, and not further alienating them. While xenophobia or racism currently work to trump class solidarity, ending the alienation of the Trump-supporting working class, and exposing his manipulative strategies is one of the first steps to uniting us. Because when it comes down to it, the working class is stronger united than divided. And it is this point that is most important, and transcends the debate between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats, too, are overwhelmingly guilty of elitism and causing division. The working class is fundamentally independent of partisan politics, and held together by a fabric much stronger than that of the Republican or Democratic party. The saturation of party politics may lead us to see otherwise, but our real comrades can be found in fellow members of our class, not our party.
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Musa Hussain is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.