The following guest post was written by Ned Staebler, founder of the Michigan Talent Agenda.
I’ve hesitated to write this for several reasons, not the least of which is that I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. I hoped that, at some point, Republican Party voters would come to their senses. I hoped that GOP leaders would step up and be brave, risking (at least in perception) their own political futures in a real attempt to stop Donald Trump. In my heart, I knew that this hope was unfounded, but without hope there is only despair. I choose hope, even in the face of long odds. Heck, I root for the Lions!
I’ve also been hesitant to write this because I knew that some people would dismiss it out of hand. They’d say this is the usual name-calling and demonization of those with opposing political views that we’ve all come to despise in politics. I assure you it is not. I have many, many friends that have voted for and vociferously supported those with political opinions diametrically opposed to my own. While I might vehemently disagree with their support of those candidates and have on numerous occasions debated them vigorously on the merits of the objects of their support, I have always respected their right to a difference of opinion. I would never reject their friendship or company based on their political predilections or beliefs. After all, before party and before politics, we are people.
But, as you have heard many times in the past 6 months and are likely to hear many more before November, Trump is different. Why is he different? Not for any of the ridiculous reasons he would give. He is not “great”. He is not “terrific”. He is not “an outsider” or a “winner. I guess he is rich, but clearly not as rich as he makes himself out to be. Besides, many of his predecessors as nominees have been wealthy. He is a liar—again, not novel in politics. He is a bully, brash and unpredictable, and his control of the nuclear codes would greatly endanger our way of life. These are undesirable traits in a leader for sure but, again, not unheard of. He is an unabashed self-promoter, clearly egotistical, potentially pathological, and certainly more concerned with his own image than the well-being of those he seeks to ‘serve.’ All of this is true and would be reason enough not to vote for him. But, none of these is sufficient to merit special treatment either for him or his supporters.
So, why then do I feel obliged to speak up, and why is right now the time to do so? Trump is different because he has placed hate and bigotry at the centerpiece of his campaign. His support does not come from policy or political ideology. He’s barely outlined any and he’s often immediately backtracked on even those brief forays into policy. His rise is almost completely based on his willingness to blame “those people” for the ills faced by “ordinary Americans”.
Sometimes he is vague about who “those people” are and who he means by “ordinary Americans,” hearkening back to the dog whistle days of previous elections. But Trump is not as refined as those other politicians who made references to “welfare queens”, “states’ rights”, and “inner city culture”. Instead, Trump lashes out at the “political correctness that is ruining America”, and he plays upon the racist, bigoted, misogynistic fears of a group of largely older, under-educated white males who feel that life hasn’t dealt them a fair hand. In his willingness to exploit this powerful emotion, Trump has attacked Muslims, Hispanics, the LGBT community, the disabled, and women. In the past, he had said and done things that are insulting to blacks and Jews.
It works, and he knows it works. When asked why they like Trump, the most common reason his supporters give is some variation of: “He says what he thinks”. So, does my 5-year old. But, I wouldn’t vote for him (yet). Sometimes they talk about “taking back America”. From whom exactly? If pressed for a policy that they like, they usually fall back to The Wall. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the stupidity or the racist undertones of The Wall.
On Twitter and Facebook, his acolytes barrage his critics with tirades of racist, anti-Semitic, bigoted, misogynistic hate. And, Trump knows that this is the secret of his success. When asked to disavow support of white supremacists, he balks for fear of alienating his base.
Herein lies the ultimate difference between Trump and past candidates and, by extension, my treatment of his followers. Previous candidates certainly derived support from the racist element of society that now supports Trump, and they sometimes knowingly fostered that support with their dog whistle tactics. However, mostly their campaigns were based not on hate but a differing policy vision for our country. Some of my friends on the Left might argue that their policies had racial implications that were deep and discriminatory, but I think it’s fair to say that they always had at least the pretense, however thin, that hate was not the driving force in their candidacy.
Though almost all of these candidates would seek to restrict a woman’s access to reproductive healthcare or prevent the LGBT community from equality, there was plausible deniability for those of their supporters who claimed to be “with you on those issues”, but were more moved at the polls by taxes, the economy, foreign policy, or education policy. With Trump that is nonexistent. His candidacy is about hate, pure and simple. If you support him, you are either motivated by that hate or are at the very least excessively comfortable with it. You can’t justify hate and bigotry with: “but I got a tax cut”.
I just got off the phone with a Republican friend who said: “It’s what politicians do. They say wild things in primaries and then tack back to the middle during the general. He’ll moderate.” No! I reject this. You can’t walk back hate. It must remain unacceptable to mainstream racism and bigotry. Our country was founded on the premise that we were all made equal by our creator and our political system was built upon this foundation. Any attempt to normalize the notion in politics that we are not all equal is an existential threat to our democracy.
Words have meaning and power. When it becomes acceptable to assign inferior status to a group of people because of their sex, race, religion, or heritage when it’s politically expedient and then to simply “tack back”, we have entered uncertain and dangerous waters for our Republic.
Therefore, I want to make it clear. If you want to support Donald Trump, I will not associate with you. I won’t do business with you, and we certainly will not be friends socially. I have a great deal of tolerance. But I will not tolerate bigotry and hate.
Please know that if I see you with a Trump sticker or posting pro-Trump propaganda on social media, I will not hesitate to call you out on your support of bigotry. I intend to respond to each instance with the question: “Are you a bigot or are you just excessively comfortable with bigotry?” I urge others to do the same. We need to make an unambiguous statement that hate is not acceptable as a political platform.
Also, this is not a temporary thing. There is no statute of limitations on bigotry. If you can get comfortable with the hate that is Trump, you deserve to wear the appropriate shame (#TrumpStink) in perpetuity.
I know I will upset some people with this post. I know I will lose some friends and business associates. That’s OK. I have plenty of friends who don’t support bigotry. I have plenty of work to do with people who aren’t misogynists.
Please understand, I don’t say this lightly or without the realization that there will be repercussions. I fully expect many of my “moderate Republican” friends to fall in line and “support their candidate”. It is a testament to how strongly I feel about this that I am willing to speak my mind and face the consequences. I was brought up to believe that if we are silent in the face of injustice we are supporting it, and so I refuse to be silent.
[CC image credit: Thomas Hawk | Flickr]