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If You Don’t Want A President Trump, Stop Demonizing His Supporters

Steve Almond: "One of the central byproducts of Trump’s nomination has been a rush to label his supporters as ignorant racists in the thrall of a con man. Not only is that a dangerous oversimplification, it's counter-productive and hypocritical." Protesters of Donald Trump's presidential bid in Appleton, Wis., Wednesday, March 30, 2016. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
Steve Almond: "One of the central byproducts of Trump’s nomination has been a rush to label his supporters as ignorant racists in the thrall of a con man. Not only is that a dangerous oversimplification, it's counter-productive and hypocritical." Protesters of Donald Trump's presidential bid in Appleton, Wis., Wednesday, March 30, 2016. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president. To many Americans, the fact that a preening bully and compulsive liar with no discernible agenda aside from self-aggrandizement could become the next leader of the free world is alarming, pathetic and damning.

But to a whole set of other Americans, it’s a cause for exaltation, civic engagement or, at least, reluctant support.

...it’s essential to respect [Trump's] supporters and to make some honest effort to understand what’s motivating them.

One of the central byproducts of Trump’s nomination has been a rush to label these folks as ignorant racists in the thrall of a con man. Not only is that a dangerous oversimplification, it’s counter-productive and hypocritical.

I say all this as someone who is heartbroken by Trump’s ascent. Candidate Trump should be held to account for every cruel and false syllable that comes screaming out of his pie hole.

But I believe it’s essential to respect his supporters and to make some honest effort to understand what’s motivating them.

I say this for two reasons. First, because now that Trump is the de facto nominee, there are about to be tens of millions more Trump supporters. And second, because their motives are, for the most part, pretty complex.

So yes, there are some Trump partisans who are openly racist, including the white nationalists who will serve as his delegates.

But many whites who harbor racist views do so not because they were born into a culture of hate, but because they feel mugged of their own pride and terrified that they’ll wind up as our society’s lowest caste.

Hard as this may be for some progressives to accept, the sense of economic grievance that animates the white working-class and poor in this country is real. This is why Trump’s support is strongest in those precincts where jobs have been shipped overseas or eliminated, and wages have stagnated. (It’s also the reason Bernie Sanders has done so well. He, too, is responding to a loss of faith in politics as usual.)

When you feel powerless, it’s perfectly natural to gravitate toward a leader who projects power. When you feel the world has grown too complex, you seek out simple answers, such as vague and vehement promises like, I’ll build a wall! I’ll cut better deals! We’ll win again!

Progressives love to declare that Trump isn’t going to help them. But they are also within their rights to wonder: What have establishment politicians done for us?

A recent study by economists at Princeton revealed that the mortality rate for white middle-aged Americans, especially those with less education, has been going up, a disturbing reality that is true of no other demographic in America.

We may not like that Trump has given such a virulent voice to the discontent of this population. But we have no right to deny that this population has a right to feel fed up, and that they come by this frustration honestly.

The passion for Trump is fueled by folks whose dignity has been assaulted by the merciless mechanics of modern capitalism. They feel eager to return to a bygone and, for them, better era, because they’ve been left behind by this one.

Casting aspersions on [Trump supporters] will only increase the chances that Donald Trump becomes our next president.

Much of the reason people are voting for Trump is to cast out shame. Shaming them further is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

But regardless of why someone backs Trump — hope, fear, shame, tribal allegiance, disgust with the status quo, even racial resentments --each of these citizens is just as much an American as I am. Their franchise counts as much as mine. Casting aspersions on them will only increase the chances that Donald Trump becomes our next president.

Our energies are better spent galvanizing liberal and moderate voters, rallying around the Democratic standard bearer, and pushing him or her to articulate a set of policies aimed at restoring dignity to all Americans — including those who plan to support Trump.

Read More About Donald Trump by Steve Almond:

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