2016 — September 10, 2016 at 10:01 am

Some Trump supporters deserve our empathy — as do all of Trump’s victims


Trump’s “policies” would hurt his fans but his words are already battering the most vulnerable

trump debate

Hillary Clinton is done being politically correct and the Trump campaign is demanding a trigger warning.

The Democratic nominee has focused this campaign back to the subject of her Alt-Right speech of a few weeks ago — the racism and hatred Trump’s campaign has stoked, encouraged and embraced.

“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” Clinton said at fundraiser Friday night. “Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

And she went on. “And unfortunately, there are people like that and he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.”

This is pretty much all unassailable fact — except perhaps the “half” part, which even Clinton notes is “grossly generalistic.”

The right wing press is taking great offense to this claim, the Trump campaign wants an apology and many members of the media are offended on behalf of Trump supporters.

When they aren’t yelling “Kill that bitch!” or demanding someone, “Go f*cking Cook my burrito, bitch!“, Trump supporters have become one of the most sympathized with groups in America — with many on the right accusing liberals of staying purposely oblivious to Trump’s appeal out of some sort of elitism or gluten allergy.

Those who don’t see the charms of Trump’s intolerance have been saddled with an intolerance of their own.

If you don’t get Trump, you don’t know “how to talk to people from Middle America… who like to hunt, and fish, and pray and actually work for a living,” Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson said at the Republican Convention.

Trump is the first candidate who “speaks to the struggles” of poor white people “in a long time,” claims J.D. Vance author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis.

On the left, Thomas Frank—author of the classic take on right’s appeal to the white middle class What’s the Matter with Kansas?—notes Trump’s obsession with trade shows he has a grasp of grinding angst of the working class that mainstream Republicans and Democrats lack. In Trump, millions of Americans see a respite from, “Ill-considered trade deals and generous bank bailouts and guaranteed profits for insurance companies but no recovery for average people, ever—these policies have taken their toll.”

These things may all be true — but the bind many aging white Americans find themselves has either been created or nurtured almost entirely by conservative policies.

I call it the “Trump Trap.”

Americans who don’t have college degrees are finding that their career options and the options of their kids are severely limited in this economy are looking for someone to blame. For decades conservatives have offered someone — “them.”

“Them” benefit from government spending. “Them” are taking what you deserve. You can pay “them” back by cutting spending and lowering taxes.

This video from Demos explains the strategy succinctly, using the frame of public education:

Nearly every conservative policy — from cutting education to gutting unions to incentivizing the financialization of our economy to starving our infrastructure — has beaten down the middle class, driving us toward an economy that only serves the already rich or the highly educated. And since your likely level education is closely linked to your parents’ level of education, it’s a nightmare for working class Americans, who once could be promised a decent trade for life.

Trump has seized on this Trap to make a case that immigration and trade are what’s killing our economy. There’s convenient xenophobia in these arguments and possibly some truth in his arguments, especially about trade. But he’s doing something that Republicans haven’t done well for a while — empathizing with the economic concerns of workers.

However, it’s the same old con.

Trump is essentially employing the classic conservative playbook: Telling white workers to blame “them” and using their angst to call for more huge tax breaks for the rich, even though he probably pays no taxes at all.

“The dramatic rise in inequality experienced in the US since 1980 can be traced to the Reagan tax cuts, not to trade,” Douglas Campbell and Lester Lusher find.

It should go without saying that immigration and crime are way down but inequality is spiking. Trump is focusing on fake crises in his effort to make the real one worse.

People who are immiserated and conned by conservative policies deserve our sympathy — and they probably make up the bulk of Trump’s supporters. As I’ve been saying, Trump’s biggest fans would be his biggest victims.

However, we can’t ignore the racist hostility that Trump has abetted and inflamed with his racist conspiracy theories including birtherism and the suggestion that Mexico purposely sends us criminals. These attacks summon the worst instincts of millions and make life more dangerous and unstable for some of the most vulnerable and hardest working people in our country.

Don’t believe me? Ask a Latino.

Even the reaction of Trump diehards to Clinton’s comment serves to prove her point.

Trump’s campaign hasn’t done this haphazardly or accidentally. And it must be called out. Unfortunately, doing it in a way that also shows empathy for those who are being conned is hard.