“We the people”

Patrick Deneen, Reporter, Columnist

Sunday’s Trump rally brought some excitement to Bloomington, to say the least. Personally, participating in the protest made me think differently about his campaign.

I still consider Donald Trump despicable and harmful for American democracy, as well as threatening to people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, those with special needs, and countless other populations. I could share my opinions about why he’s winning, its implications for our future, or both. Etc.

But instead, I want to discuss the people: those for and against him. Too often, we ignore those with ideologies which differ from our own.  I left the rally with a deeper understanding of and sympathy for Trump’s followers.

As he often says, many of his supporters have never voted or felt represented by politicians. They’re generally white, rural, low-income, blue collar males who see politicians ignoring them and a changing America that has little place for them.

They feel alienated—socially, economically, and politically.

Trump’s coalition is complex. Some of his supporters are simply caught up in the Trump “winners’” circus, others enjoy standing against political correctness and other “oversensitive” social changes. The following descriptions are not universal, but demographically, they form the backbone of his campaign.

Socially, Trump voters’ voices are discredited and drowned out by social change. They feel like America no longer respects them.

For example, when Trump said “I love the poorly educated!” armchair pundits across America immediately mocked the statement—“Look at all these dumb, ignorant Trump supporters!” That didn’t sit well with Trump’s coalition, or with me. It’s wrong that Trump exploits ignorance for political gain. But there’s nothing wrong with loving the poorly educated. They too should be included in democracy. As social change and elitism drown out certain voices, the bodies behind these voices are more likely to stand with Trump as the authority who seems to amplify them.

Economically, when rural, blue collar white Americans lose their jobs or feel left behind from the economic recovery, they often blame globalization. Many Trump supporters are not well off and don’t see a market for their skills in globalized, tech-oriented America. They trust tycoon Trump to fight for them and reverse the trends, even if he doesn’t offer a plan. If you ask them, Rubio can keep his “New American Century”—they want America to be great “again.”

And politically—Trump often says it himself, his campaign comprises millions who have never voted before. They feel ignored by mainstream politicians, and it’s compelling when Trump says “I love you. I will never let you down.” Trump’s supporters, long alienated from the political process, are happy to join a movement that projects care for them.

Making America great again feels like their movement—a coalition of winners who are going to, well, make America great again. And “Trump supporters vs. all[1]—reinforced by both sides—creates powerful bonds.

That’s why Trump’s recent speeches have focused so much on denouncing protestors. When they call his followers bigots, it’s a personal attack. Whether or not Trump stands for bigotry isn’t the issue (he does). Protestors are “censoring” something they deeply identify with.

I empathize with the woman who, facing protestors chanting “Love not hate,” danced a carioca step while chanting “You are the haters!” She felt like we were trying to silence her. I can’t fault her for being upset about that.

I also believe we have every right to, and should, protest Trump. Often, prejudice forms a foundation of his appeal. But please understand that those who feel alienated by modern America don’t see Trump as a racist. They see someone who “loves” them and will fight for them.

I’m glad, in a way, they’re getting involved in politics. I’m all for participatory democracy. I just wish that this incarnation of democracy didn’t exploit feelings of alienation to advance prejudice.

Every one of us could fall into the herd mentality. It’s a seductive message: “Look at us. We’re winners. And some people are keeping America from winning.”

All of this has led otherwise decent people to join overt prejudice, insulting Muslims, immigrants, foreigners, and practically every non-Trump supporter. Some at rallies are overt bigots. Too often, others join in.

This herd mentality doesn’t justify the violence, encouraged by Trump himself, and the hate that people of color have been widely exposed to at rallies. There’s no excuse for bigotry.

But we have ourselves to blame for this troubling and violent behavior and rhetoric.

America has ignored many of its citizens for decades and now we’re aghast when they turn to a big personality who pledges to listen to and fight for them. Our government hasn’t worked properly, fueling anger and discontent. Both Trump and anti-Trump movements have exploited massive polarization.

That’s another thing I realized at the rally: the protestors seemed as crazy to Trump’s supporters as they did to us.

With our accusations of bigotry and impassioned slogan-making, I’m sure they saw us as anything but rational. They interpret “Black Lives Matter” as reverse racism that ignores their well-being. We interpret “All Lives Matter” as a dismissal of racism in America—all lives do matter, but white lives don’t need a movement to defend them. Black lives matter. And all lives matter. Unfortunately, in modern America, these movements are in opposition. This illustrates the polarization that fueled Trump’s rise.

One protestor repeatedly yelled at supporters “Trump wants to bang his daughter!” to reference weird comments about Ivanka. This behavior was vulgar and unnecessary. So too was one Trump fan’s shirt: “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica.” Both showed a disappointing lack of class. And both delegitimize their causes.

Too often, we fail to see people with different ideologies as distinct individuals, rather seeing them as the “other,” opposed to all that is good. But at the rally, I saw veterans, families, and countless others who, by supporting Trump, are doing what they think is best for America.

They’re vulnerable humans who want to be accepted, striving to be a part of something greater than themselves.

Just like all of us.

[1] This is a highly biased source, included only for context.