This week’s election shows how far we have left to go to create equality
It is somewhat incredible — and somehow predictable — that I found myself in the same emotional state on the morning after the the 2020 presidential election as I was the morning after the 2016 election. This year I had retired quite late, going to be with the unsettling realization that Trump would likely win another term. I had the identical remorse I had that night in 2016.
The trigger that unleashed my emotional reaction around the thought of a Trump victory was never at the heart of my despair. That despair was, instead, based in my having to face the fact that nearly half of the citizens of this country are comfortable with Trump’s complete lack of dignity and respect for anyone save those he finds of use.
He has enjoyed an approval rating that has faltered less than most of the former presidents. His base has remained constant. Social media and mainstream news portrays this group as mostly rural, uneducated, old white men. But the demographic of those that support him overall, it turns out, is much broader. They are quite middle class, better educated than what is portrayed, and they claim to be socially tolerant — all characteristics that make them a formidable opponent.
They are far more dangerous to our democratic ideals than their distant hayseed cousins.
An alarming number of young people have become enamored with Trump’s fascination with social upheaval.
But they are not his base. The largest part of his support comes from the solid middle class — folks of my generation, many of whom enjoy comfortable lives and yet have something in them is irreparably broken by the challenges life dealt them. Blaming others is an easier route, saving them from dealing with their own anger and sorrow. It is easier for them rationalize believing another individual is unworthy of true compassion or even the same basic rights they themselves hold.
Many of Trump’s supporters see themselves as being socially tolerant. But tolerance is an odd term. It conveys an unspoken term limit.
At what point does someone’s tolerance expire? Are there behaviors in the person or group being tolerated that are unacceptable? Are there human rights that those doing the tolerating do not feel should be extended to some people? Do their religious beliefs keep them from fully accepting asome people?
I find that when I scratch the surface of these supporters, tolerance is entirely finite. One may have a black co-worker that’s “not like other black people.” Some have a gay — usually male — friend who is more like a pet, so he is “not like those other ones.” They tolerate the family that operates their favorite Mexican restaurant, but none of them trust a Muslim; all Muslims are terrorists that don’t belong here.
Liberals like me live in a vacuum. We believe the freedom we have found for ourselves, we believe, is shared by everyone. Before Trump was elected in 2016 we assumed those longtime friends of ours that became his supporters had experienced life as we had. Most of us grew up with the same fears and prejudices; if we didn’t learn those things at home, we got them from the schoolyards and hangouts we inhabited.
But as we grew into adulthood, we learned how to accept the changes that were quickly becoming part of the social fabric. We discovered how we, ourselves differed from the norm and found ways to accept our own selves. In most cases, that acceptance extended to others that were different.
I always believed that most reasonable, functioning people had done the same. It would really have been a challenge to remain unchanged. After all, the world has been transformed in so many ways. Much of the explosive social revolution we’ve seen was created by our generation.
It turns out, I was wrong, incredibly blinded by appearances. Many of these people never let go of any of their intolerance. Seeing the world being transformed only strengthened their ill-formed beliefs.
They did learn, though, that they had to keep their intolerance hidden. They knew that it could be detrimental to their own success.
But the advent of Trump changed that. They began to believe they could freely express their intolerance, their obsessive desire to return to the past — to a time when their prejudices could limit social justice for others.
They have become very comfortable in this “brave new world” where intolerance is the norm. They are constructing a narrative that blames liberals for wrongs Trump is accused of. They see themselves as victims, wrongly accused of racism and overall intolerance.
There are many times in my life where I had to look at my own deep flaws. I’ve had to admit that my racial acceptance was only skin deep, to, at some point, admit I needed to change my behavior towards women. I had to own my complicity in the suppression of transgender members of the queer movement.
None of this came easy. But I genuinely want to be the person I claim to be, so I will dig deeper. These people — these Trump supporters — won’t do that. But they have to. Their ability to dismiss their hate allows the fascism Trump is establishing.
Those of us who understand that our system of democratic life is being eroded have to challenge them. We cannot live and let live which allows their dangerous beliefs to go unchallenged. Not now. Not ever.