The New York Times published letters from readers to the editors in response to Nicholas Kristof’s dual set of columns about Trump voters, “In Trump Country, Shock at Trump Budget Cuts, but Still Loyalty,” and “How I Angered My Readers, Again.” (You can read my take on that first column here.) Here’s one from Rebecca Sweeden out of Bloomington, Indiana (“Seeking Insight Into Trump Voters,” The New York Times, 4/8/2017):
I have many liberal friends who believe all Trump voters to be deplorable and some have even cut off family members for it… By reducing Trump supporters to “ignorant deplorables,” we only enhance our image as liberal elitists who couldn’t care less about the working class.
I agree with many readers that we shouldn’t categorize all Trump voters as “deplorable”—though I have no qualms about saying that about the openly fascist white nationalists who, until his Syria strike, were among the more raucous of the passengers aboard the Trump Train. But a few readers make a few points about Trump voters that are worth considering. A few examples:
What makes Nicholas Kristof think that Trump supporters can be recruited by the Democratic Party? Can you recruit people who continue to support a president whose legislation if passed would threaten their very existence? Can you recruit people who still believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States? Can you recruit people who cannot be persuaded by rational argument and scientific evidence? Can you recruit people who take the most preposterous lies of the right-wing news media as gospel truth?
Mr. Kristof’s interviews make clear that these voters continue to favor cutting social programs that benefit other Americans. Keep programs that help me; cut programs that help others. This is a pretty miserable and ungenerous attitude, which seems based on these voters’ belief that they are hardworking but unlucky and thus deserving of a helping hand, whereas other benefits recipients are lazy and unworthy. What underlies that perspective, I fear, is racial resentment.
As a black man, I find it hard to see the difference between being a racist and misogynist and voting for a racist and misogynist. I don’t want to talk to either.
What’s interesting about Trump supporters is that there isn’t any other group of voters the media has probed so extensively. No one in 2009 was running around trying to figure out what was going on in the minds of Obama supporters. What’s different is that everyone in the real world has acknowledged, explicitly or not, that Trump is uniquely unqualified for the office of president for myriad reasons, and the reasons are so blatant that it’s hard to imagine how anyone rational could cast a ballot for him. Trump supporters are often treated as though they simply got conned, but Josh Marshall made a point here I want to build on (“Inside the Emerging Alt-Right Snuff Novel,” Talking Points Memo, 4/7/2017):
Before [Steve Bannon joined the campaign], Trump had run a thoroughly jingoistic and xenophobic campaign, with protestor (sic) beatings and various shades of crypto- and non-crypto racism. All on his own he drew around himself that coterie of “alt-right” white nationalists and neo-Nazis who will likely be his greatest and most lethal contribution to the American political scene.
Bannon didn’t join the campaign until August 17, 2016, well after Trump had already gained the Republican nomination. Until that point, Trump had managed to garner the support of outspoken racists far and wide all on his own. So my question to those on the liberal/left side of the political spectrum who constantly repeat that many of these voters felt they had no other choice is this: Hypothetically, would Donald Trump have been able to gain the Republican nomination without his “crypto- and non-crypto racism”?
There’s a feeling among many who identify as liberal that the onus is on us to demonstrate that not all Trump supporters are racists or sexists or bigots in general the same way we refuse to condemn all Muslims when an Islamic terrorist attacks. (Though, funnily enough, it seems many Trump supporters are willing to make those sweeping generalizations.) But the difference is that the vast majority of Muslims are willing to condemn terrorist attacks committed by other Muslims, and they don’t need to be prodded to do so. I haven’t seen the vast majority of Trump supporters—or Republicans in general—do much to condemn Trump’s open racism or any of his other many, many faults. Rather, there is the insistence to move on and forget about it.
So yes, I understand that not all Trump supporters are bigots—I’d wager most of them aren’t, at least not consciously so. But I also don’t feel obligated to constantly go out of my way to remind everyone that they’re not racist if they’re not willing to do so themselves. In all these pieces on Trump supporters where they feel alienated because of a perception that they or at least the man they support are racist, I haven’t seen one where the supporter attempts to understand why people feel that way about them—at least not in a way that’s any more sophisticated than “They’re liberals who listen to fake news.” Instead, it’s often a retreat into stubbornness; “I know I’m not racist, and that’s good enough for me.”
Rebecca Sweeden finishes her letter with this:
By reducing Trump supporters to “ignorant deplorables,” we only enhance our image as liberal elitists who couldn’t care less about the working class. Fixing the problem of divisiveness doesn’t rest solely upon the shoulders of Republicans in this country.
Well, yeah, it rests solely on the shoulders of Democrats, because if it hasn’t been obvious enough, Republicans are willing to do nothing to fix the problem of divisiveness. They have no problem describing half the population as useless moochers who just want “free stuff.” They endorsed and continue to prop up the most divisive president in modern history, one who has explicitly expressed contempt for large swaths of the population he’s supposed to serve. And if his supporters aren’t willing to untangle themselves from the web of lies that Trump and his acolytes, congressional Republicans, and right-wing media have ensnared them in, there’s really nothing Democrats or any of the rest of us can do for them.