A Lefty Looks at the Trouble With “Understanding” Trump’s Supporters

Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

I agree that we should take the time to try to unpack other people’s perceptions of what’s happening in this country — but. When it comes to too many of us, the standard Lefty logics as I read them (and have heard others say similar) go like this:

We should be leftist populists. We should take the same values as the racists and then transform these values into leftist values.

My interpretation of this is that we lefties should be willing to use Trumpian tactics to bring about our particular leftist vision of societal equality. But engaging Trumpian tactics just because they are successful means that you have to do Trumpian things like deny people freedom of speech and freedom of the press, be intolerant toward other points of view, bully, and use particular communities’ grievances as a weapon to label and scapegoat others. You have to dumb down the dialogue to bring about a dichotomized narrative of us vs them.

Should not we be asking if it takes this much to “win,” is the cost too much to bear?. What kind of society are we creating if we win this way?

We should understand the cry of suffering of the people. We should not want to understand the humiliation from the point of view of the humiliation itself. We should want to understand humiliation as a starting point for therapy, for self- transformation.

At this stage, this is a profound distortion of what’s actually going on with Trump’s supporters. Trump’s voters are animated by intolerance, loathing, and fear.

Yes, that’s right.

And, unlike so many opinion writers, academics, and reporters, and everyday people, I’m not going to qualify it by saying that hating only motivates some but not all — that many others feel the country has left them behind. Leaving out the jokers, a few self-haters, and some anarchists, People, it’s most of them. If Trump supporters do feel the country is moving past them, it’s because they don’t see White as the center of the American universe anymore. They are “suffering,” because they view the world as being corrupted and ruined by undeserving others. Don’t take my word for it. Numerous studies have borne this out (for example, see here, here, and here).

I just don’t see how giving cover to problematic behavior can lead to anything other than being naive and duped into giving someone a knife to cut your throat. We have a problem with this country. It’s that we don’t want to see the truth.

The truth and naming the unmentionable.

Too many White Americans (and some non-White ones too) can’t bear to confront the history of this country’s hatred toward many of its citizens. They categorically reject America’s inconsistent values.

We need some truth telling.

You cannot transform people by validating and legitimizing their hatred. Racism and other forms of intolerance built this country and courses through its veins. People try to dress it up because it’s ugly and mean and it doesn’t comport with the standard narrative. But it’s there nonetheless. And until we look the truth squarely in its hard, ancestral face, we won’t get anywhere near solving what just happened with the Trump phenomenon and why Trump remains so intransigent in our nation’s nerve center. Baring that ugly history is the only way to understand and transform it.

The humiliated people are not humiliated people, they are the possibility of dignity, the possibility of autonomy, they are the possibility of communism.

The possibility of dignity comes from mutual respect of, and genuine appreciation for, others’ differences and contributions to America’s preeminence. For every Thomas Jefferson and Susan B. Anthony, there was Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells. We have only lauded the former and given tepid support for including in this country’s greatness the contributions of the latter. There are no shortcuts. And not everyone is going to get it. Frankly, some people just have to be overcome. Others have to die off.

And we start anew.

But we don’t start anew by validating people’s hatreds and intolerance.

This Lefty Thing of Ours

For far too many of us on the Left, the lure of burning down the house to be born again is so powerful — but it only ends up hurting the very people we on the Left claim to want to help. Should Trumpism prevail, it won’t be the philosophers, polemicists, academics, and other elites who feel the sharpest cuts. And it won’t be many of the Trump supporters either. The ones who will feel the brunt of destruction are the same ones who always toil at the bottom — -particular people of color, immigrants, the poor, disabled, gay, etc.

And for my most Progressive friends, what about the people who don’t want communism as the end product? What do you do with them in the revolutionary project? I would just like to know one country who has been successful over the long-term using communism is its model.

Why does it always have to be about the system being unrecoverable? Why not fix it? Why does everything have to be so dramatic and destructive? Get this. There are many marginalized people who don’t want to run the system through. In a free and democratic society, they just want their fair share. That’s all they’ve ever wanted. And they believe that this can be accomplished through hard work and perseverance because that’s the way meaningful change has always happened.

Calling Spades Spades

The trouble with understanding Trump’s supporters is that we DO understand them. We’ve had plenty of time — -and it’s not a pretty picture. As the Republicans will eventuality discover about their spawn: the Trump price for electoral success — -subjugation of one’s values, morality, and even, the basic threads of human decency and empathy — -is too high. As it goes for the inevitable Trump copycats, no matter if proud Lefties lose for a hundred years (which we won’t — -check out Stephen Prothero’s Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars Even When They Lose Elections for the real victors of history), the price our America is paying for bringing Trump to power WILL ALWAYS be too high. Appeasement to moral degradation only wounds further those who possess the least among us.

These are words I live by (from someone who actually firsthand knows something about desperate despair and triumph).

Stand steady. Persevere. There are better ways to do this.

A native of of the great state of Mississippi and proud resident of New Jersey. Lecturer and Doctoral candidate in Media, Race, Class, and Politics @Rutgers.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store