In the wake of the election, those of us who opposed Donald Trump are being told to “get over it.” News organizations are doing puff pieces that “normalize” a decidedly abnormal President-elect. Uncharitable descriptions of Trump voters are met with the sort of admonitions that liberals typically (and appropriately) offer when unpleasant characteristics are ascribed to an entire group of people.
If we had just emerged from a hard-fought election contest between sane candidates with different policy prescriptions, those responses would be appropriate. If a significant number of Trump voters could somehow have remained unaware of his core message, you could argue that economic distress or partisan loyalty prompted their support (although research confirms that most Trump voters were not economically disadvantaged, and that educated Republicans deserted him in droves.)
But this election was decidedly not normal, and refusing to acknowledge its implications is dangerous.
I think Jamelle Bouie, Slate’s political correspondent, got it right, when he wrote that there is “no such thing as a good Trump voter.”
Donald Trump ran a campaign of racist demagoguery against Muslim Americans, Hispanic immigrants, and black protesters. He indulged the worst instincts of the American psyche and winked to the stream of white nationalists and anti-Semites who backed his bid for the White House. Millions of Americans voted for this campaign, thus elevating white nationalism and white reaction to the Oval Office.
When Trump voters are accused of responding to racist demagoguery, nice people clutch their pearls. Michael Lerner, for example, wrote in the New York Times that “Many Trump supporters very legitimately feel that it is they who have been facing an unfair reality.” Lerner attributed the vote to “people’s inner pain and fear,” and blamed liberals for failing to sympathize with those emotions. He acknowledged the racism, sexism and xenophobia employed by Trump, but insisted that the vote didn’t reveal “an inherent malice in the majority of Americans.”
I beg to differ. As Bouie points out,
Millions of Americans are justifiably afraid of what they’ll face under a Trump administration. If any group demands our support and sympathy, it’s these people, not the Americans who backed Trump and his threat of state-sanctioned violence against Hispanic immigrants and Muslim Americans. All the solicitude, outrage, and moral telepathy being deployed in defense of Trump supporters—who voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes—is perverse, bordering on abhorrent.
It’s worth repeating what Trump said throughout the election. His campaign indulged in hateful rhetoric against Hispanics and condemned Muslim Americans with the collective guilt of anyone who would commit terror. It treated black America as a lawless dystopia and spoke of black Americans as dupes and fools. And to his supporters, Trump promised mass deportations, a ban on Muslim entry to the United States, and strict “law and order” as applied to those black communities.
A voter would have to have been blind and deaf not to hear and understand Trump’s central message.
A vote for Donald Trump represented one of two things, both reprehensible: either the voter was attracted to Trump because of the bigotry, or s/he didn’t find it sufficiently offensive or problematic to justify withholding support. There is no other category.
We have all heard the stories about the good Germans who refused to see that what was happening to their country after Hitler took power was not “politics as usual,” who refused to call out the virulent anti-Semitism, who didn’t want to “rock the boat.”
And then it was too late.