Decision 2016: An Encounter with a Trump Supporter

userpic=obama-hillary-california,politicsI’m working from home today as I have some doctor’s appointments, one of which was with my neurologist on my migraines. While I was there, talked turn to the crazy elections, and it became clear I was with a Trump supporter, if not a sympathizer. I just tried to listen and bite my tongue (as I didn’t want to create a migraine), and what I heard was very illustrative. I believe it is important to understand the other sides even if you don’t agree, so I would like to share with you what I heard and my thoughts on it.

My doctor is an ethnic Chinese immigrant, with a son near college age, who runs a small medical practice. The first concern she expressed to me was affirmative action: how Hispanics and Blacks are more easily accepted to colleges and get promoted over whites, and Asians who are treated as white. When you think about it, this is one of the major complaints of the white populace that is supporting Trump: the push for diversity is taking away our jobs — he is directly feeding on that anger and resentment. Now, those of us on the liberal side of the spectrum know this happens to some extent, but we also see the value of diversity, and the value of making up for past wrongs in the area of diversity. We also see the implicit privilege that comes from the lighter skin. But when faced with this question from the right, what do we say? We can’t make the promises that Trump makes to those folks — that we’ll go back to the way we were. The world is changing, and a world based only on merit does not exist (as if it ever did, for many lower-income people with merit never had the means to sharpen that merit or to make that merit known).

The next area of discussion was immigration — not immigration from Mexico, but Muslim immigrants. This is an area where the fear and uncertainty was amped up. There was fear of Muslims in society, of Muslims in the neighborhood. Drawing upon the attacks in other countries, there was the fear that all Muslims were jihadists and radicals. This is one of those irrational fears — you can say that it isn’t true, but that won’t be convincing. You can quote statistics, and those aren’t convincing. Especially coming from her strong Christian background, there just is scant knowledge of Islam and its precepts — I’d venture to guess that Jews know more about Islam than Christians. I think for many progressives, there just isn’t that innate fear of the stranger, of the Muslim, that there is on the conservative side. How do we combat that fear? It will take time — think about how long we had Jews on radio and TV before they moved from stereotypes to accepted. We haven’t even started that process with Muslims — name a mainstream TV show where the lead or major characters are really Muslim.

Another topic was free speech. She expressed the position that all media was biased, and there was no free speech anymore. She mentioned how bedroom talk (such as between Donald Sterling and his mistress) was made public and then used to destroy a man, and how every had to be politically correct in everything, to the point of having the news on a x-second delay. Now, we know that most real, journalistic media (as opposed to many internet sources) are relatively fair and unbiased, and often “political correctness” is just awareness of the impact of our words on others, but again, I could see her point of view.

Other points of contention was government spending to defend other countries, whilst veterans receive poor medical care and little mental health care. There was concerns about gun control, and the upcoming rules that will restrict ammo purchases. There was concern about immigrants coming to this country and taking taking taking. There was a general opinion that the country is going in the wrong direction.

Mind you, I did not agree with any of this, but kept my mouth shut. But her concerns, I believe, are important to hear. They underlie the support for Donald Trump. These are concerns about what is wrong with Hillary (although I’m sure I could have gotten some). They are areas where someone who is privileged middle class is seeing a direct threat to those privileges, and believes the best way to address that threat is a leader who promises to restore America to what it once was. Remember: Trump’s slogan isn’t “Make America Great”. It is “Make America Great Again“. That “Again” is key — it means we are going back to a safe and comfortable time when everything seemed good (if you were in the right group), and all those pesky and petty concerns of today (sexism, racism, abilism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, etc) were just not considered.

Edited to Add: An interesting realization I had discussing this on FB: Trump appeals to his supporter’s fears. Clinton appeals to her supporter’s hopes. That difference — fear vs. hope — is the vital distinction in this election.

It is vitally important for us to see why the Trump supporters feel that way, and what they want. We then have to ask: What will allay those concerns in the Clinton era? How do we convince people that diversity improves life for all, not just those not of the predominant spectrum? How do we show why political correctness and addressing the various -isms are important to society? How do we get the message across that Clinton’s plans will do these things, will make society better for all.

If we fail to do this — if we fail to know Clinton’s plans well enough to address the fears and discomfort of the other side — we’re going to remain divided. As progressives, we need to be able to make the case of not just why Trump is wrong, but why Clinton is right — and more importantly, why her approaches (although different than Donald’s) will still benefit them.

The political discussion did not turn me off of a good doctor (I just will be more cautious on politics). It did make me realize how much of the people with whom I interact are an echo chamber, so I don’t see the other side. We need to embrace (within reason) the contrary voices around us, hear them (but not necessarily agree), and learn from each other.