Fishbein: Trump's Silenced Supporters

Disliking a candidate does not excuse discounting his supporters.

by Daniel Fishbein | 10/20/16 12:30am

If you’re a Donald Trump supporter at Dartmouth, you might as well be invisible. In visiting campus this past week, Bill Clinton continued the trend of liberal candidates speaking to liberal students on an overwhelmingly liberal campus. This trend implies that it’s acceptable if “you’re with her,” but there’s no place for you here if you want to “make America great again.”

I support Clinton as much as most people I know. This term, I have been working to get out the vote and spending a good chunk of my time everyday trying to make sure she wins in New Hampshire. To me, Trump is completely unfit for the presidency, an orange man with a comb-over who spews vitriol at minorities and forces his tiny hands on the women around him. But while I disdain the candidate, I try my best to refrain from bashing his supporters. Just because they support a man who many liberal college students view as a bigot does not mean they are bigots, and any attempt to silence their opinions represents the same xenophobia we hate about Trump.

Last winter, in my small, predominantly white and middle-class hometown in central Massachusetts, I had a conversation with my barber about politics. I had been watching Fox News on the barbershop TV, and the anchors were talking about Trump’s invasion of the Republican establishment. When I asked my barber if he supported Trump, he told me that he did, explaining that, while he did not endorse many of Trump’s comments about immigration, he felt that past candidates had overlooked small business owners like himself. In his eyes, Trump represented a healthy dose of change; in that way, Trump was unlike many of the other Republican candidates and the polar opposite of Clinton.

If I wanted to, I could have objected to many of the points my barber made. I thought that he did not fully grasp that Trump’s proposed economic policy would mostly benefit rich people or know that Trump had actually ruined many small business owners in his time as a real estate magnate. I could have tried to educate him on my personal belief that Bernie Sanders and his democratic socialism far better represents the type of candidate my barber wanted. But I chose to listen to what he had to say and thus learned about his perspective as a man who put so much effort into his work but still felt overlooked by his country’s leaders.

As Trump continues his outright assault on logic, we need to listen to what his supporters tell us. When thinking back to my conversation with my barber, I can see why Trump appealed to him. Trump is a candidate who complains about how the media tries to sabotage him, how the Republican establishment has turned against him and how his opponents have continually tried to destroy his character. My barber, as a small business owner often overlooked or discounted by politicians, felt the same frustrations. Trump and his supporters are bound by anger and the belief that their voices do not count. To continue ignoring his supporters, to silence them and remove them from your surroundings, only enforces these frustrations.

For many of us, Trump represents elements of an antiquated world we want to change. He is a rich, white man who tells lies on national television, and he is so full of himself that he thinks women want to be groped by him and so unaware of his faults that he feels in the right when he mocks minorities.

Yet by ridiculing him, Clinton supporters have only fed the fire. In the presidential debates, Clinton herself has not taken the high road and cogently talked about her policies when Trump so clearly has none of value. Rather, she has tried to silence him by calling him a liar and a fraud. In the past, she has even written off large chunks of his supporters as degenerates.

We all need to recognize this contradiction. While beliefs in feminism, tolerance and equality have led many, including myself, to cringe at the sound of Trump’s voice, we cannot just ignore the fact that many reasonable people who are not racist or incredibly narcissistic agree with him. In discounting their beliefs, we effectively become the type of person we denounce Trump for being, one who refuses to listen to others. And in doing so, we push his supporters to see Trump as a candidate who will not ignore them but, rather, speak to them and at least claim to care about their interests. By blindly labeling Trump supporters as bigots without letting them have their voices heard, we fan the fire that feeds Trump’s success.