Donald Trump won another five states last Tuesday, bringing his delegate count to nearly 1,000 and putting him closer to the 1,237 needed to secure the Republican nomination. He won by margins of approximately 30 to 40 percent in each state.
Trump has obviously struck a chord with voters. The Washington Post ran an editorial in March calling Trump a “radical risk” if given the presidency in November.
But it is not Trump alone who is the threat. It is those who harbor the ill feelings that he so willingly voices or those who act like these words don’t matter. It is those who cheer when he calls immigrants rapists and says we should ban Muslims from entering our country. These are the thoughts and feelings that, when held by an individual, mean little, but when held by a majority, become a greater risk. Some Trump supporters may back his policies more than they do his rhetoric on women, violence and religion. But we must assume that they have at least decided to turn a blind eye or have even come to a point where they feel that his discrimination does not matter.
How do we fight hatred and willing acceptance of discrimination? After all, if our society has cultivated these attitudes, we should take responsibility. This is our problem. No one is going to fix it for us.
We need to think of our culture and society in terms of “we” instead of “us and them.” If there is hatred, bigotry and misogyny in our country, we are the only people who can make it stop.
This means more than debating one another. Trump supporters have heard all the complaints, haven’t they? Yet they haven’t changed. Jabs and well-worded explanations may convince few people on Facebook and in your community. They don’t always convince you, do they?
Additionally, the temptation to unfriend or avoid people with different beliefs than ours may be strong, but it ultimately closes us off from others and the problems we could otherwise be mending. Pulling ourselves away from Trump supporters can make us less aware of them. And if we are unaware, we can cause no change for good.
Cutting ourselves off from Trump supporters also means we have no influence in their lives for good. We will only isolate them further. Isolation can lead to dangerous radicalization.
When someone says demeaning and inappropriate things or holds up an ideology that is violent or discriminatory, we do not have to embrace it. But we can be kind. Reaching out to that person under unrelated circumstances, we may build a positive relationship. And as uncomfortable and unpleasant as it may be to expose ourselves to those who seethe with anger over things we hold to be good and dear, someone has to start building the bridges if any of this is ever going to end.
The old phrase about walking a mile in someone’s shoes seems a lot easier when those shoes come off the feet of someone downtrodden and in need of our help. But this idiom also applies to those we consider our political or social adversaries.
No one voting for Donald Trump in November is doing so because they want to see America crumble, its potential destroyed. Each is voting for Trump because they believe, just like you, that their candidate has the ideas that will help the country and their families. Try to understand them, their fears, their hopes. Learn how to talk to them as people, rather than caricatures, lessers or monsters. Hate will never fix hate.
Each time we belittle Trump supporters, claiming they have low moral standards or questioning their humanity, we place ourselves in an imagined higher plane of thinking and living, and we push them further into an ideology that could head to dark places. There is no coaxing in our insults. We don’t invite openness or love, which would actually have a chance at ending discrimination.
How are we to help them see immigrants and Muslims as people if we can’t see Trump supporters as people?
Seeing the world through different eyes than you or me does not make a person evil. Their anger does not make them evil, as ours does not do so to us. But it is something to work to eradicate in ourselves first and then in others.
As disturbing as it is to look across the aisle and see darkness that was once hidden from our view, we should perhaps be grateful for Donald Trump and his hand in revealing it. Seeing it means we can do something about it.
We can make America great again, but we must be the difference.