Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Fight must be against Trump, not the people who voted for him

By Nicholas Kristof  /  NY Times News Service

A few days ago, I blithely tweeted a warning that US Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking of voters who supported US President Donald Trump. That provoked a vehement reaction.

“Sorry, but if someone is supporting a racist ignoramus who wants to round up brown ppl and steal my money, I’m gonna patronize,” one person said on Twitter in reply.

“This is normalization of a hateful ideology and it’s shameful,” another said.

“My tone isn’t patronizing. It’s hostile. Intentionally. I won’t coddle those who refuse to recognize my humanity,” another said.

“What a great idea! Let’s recruit a whole bunch of bigoted unthinking lizard brains because we could possibly ‘WIN!’” yet another said.

And so the comments went, registering legitimate anxieties about Trump — but also the troubling condescension that worried me in the first place. I fear that the (richly deserved) animus toward Trump is spilling over onto all his supporters.

I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, unauthorized immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence, but let us be careful about blanket judgements.

My hometown, Yamhill, Oregon, a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump.

I think they are profoundly wrong, but please do not dismiss them as hateful bigots.

The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.

This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white, middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class “deaths of despair.” Liberals purport to champion these people, but do not always understand them.

In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It was not because they were “bigoted unthinking lizard brains,” but because they did not know where to turn, and Trump spoke to their fears.

Trump tries to “otherize” Muslims, refugees, unauthorized immigrants and other large groups. It sometimes works when people do not actually know a Muslim or a refugee, and liberals likewise seem more willing to otherize Trump voters when they do not know any.

There are three reasons I think it is shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of the US as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for former US president Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?

Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of the US political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making the country ungovernable.

Tolerance is a liberal value; name-calling is not. This raises knotty questions about tolerating intolerance, but is it really necessary to start with a blanket judgement writing off 46 percent of voters?

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