Don’t demonize people who voted for Trump
About a week ago, I was riding the bus to the University of Massachusetts. I was running late, so I asked the bus driver to call ahead and make sure the bus to Amherst wouldn’t leave until I got there. They did, and I made it to the Amherst bus on time. The driver, having done me a favor, asked half-jokingly if I could repay him by doing a “huge favor” and throw away his Slim Jim wrapper. I obliged, and we began polite discussion about why I was headed to Amherst, what my major was and the like.
As we passed Hampshire College, our conversation shifted to how he was upset about the institution taking down the American flag because, “The government doesn’t give a d*** about whether you fly the flag. The only people you are insulting by taking it down are the men and women who shed blood to defend it.” From here, the discussion became political. The bus driver, Joe, voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Being a white-passing Hispanic with a lesbian mother and a liberal bubble constantly surrounding me, I was a bit taken aback. I had voted for Hillary Clinton (while defiantly wearing my Bernie 2016 pin) because despite my disdain for her, she seemed like the better of the two options.
Despite my disagreements, I held my tongue. I was interested in hearing the reasoning of someone who was moderate-right in their political views, because every discussion I have had with Trump supporters online ended in them dismissing me as a “liberal cuck,” and not providing any real answers for their vote beyond trolling. Joe explained to me that as a former Army Reserves member, he couldn’t look past Clinton’s mistakes in Benghazi. He believed that Clinton was corrupt, cold and aloof. Lastly, he was a white man who grew up in a lower-class home. His mother had worked long hours to provide for him because his family was denied benefits for reasons he believed were due to their race, so when he saw government handouts for illegal immigrants, it upset him.
These statements were all valid points, I thought. I know little about Benghazi, and Joe did his research, so I’d let him have the benefit of the doubt on that issue. In addition, there is little argument against Clinton’s gaming the system and corrupt political dealings. In regards to the benefits exclusion, I can attest to many instances in my life when I was given aid and my white peers were denied, seemingly for no other reason than because I can check a “Hispanic” box. White privilege is real, but poverty is colorless.
Joe was not wrong about the fact that immigration laws exist to be enforced, and that there is injustice in how our government assistance programs tend to look at minority status instead of need. However, he also had many points I found invalid, like his defense of Trump’s racist, sexist and ableist statements as “just harmless talk that guys do,” or his claims that Trump would “fix healthcare.” When Joe began talking about these points, I confessed to him that I was fairly liberal, but considered myself to be level-headed, and that I wanted to hear his points. He was surprised that I didn’t start ignoring him or attacking him for his beliefs halfway through our discussion, because his view of liberals was that they were whiny and out-of-touch with “the silent majority.” I debated him on his dismissal of Trump’s offensive language, and he eventually conceded that it was inexcusable, but he still felt actions were louder than words. I admitted to him that I didn’t like Clinton or Trump, so I went with the lesser of two evils based on my place in society. As it turns out, he felt the same. I thanked him for his service and for his time speaking to me, and I got off the bus.
The current divide in American politics doesn’t have to be as polarized as the political parties themselves. At the end of the day, we are all people, and a little decency goes a long way. Sure, I still think Trump is a walking trash can, but Joe isn’t. Not everyone who voted for Trump is inherently racist and bigoted. Everyone has their reason for why they voted the way they did, and it isn’t fair to make assumptions until you hear their logic. The fact is, Joe and I are not so different. We are both Americans who felt disconnected from our political system. If I was him, who am I to say that I wouldn’t have more conservative views? Even if, like many of my Facebook friends, you find yourself to be a liberal crusader, hell-bent on preaching peace and love for all, loudly screaming your opinions in the faces of others is not the way to do it. The fight for a more liberal America, if you make that your goal, cannot be won without understanding and convincing people with opposing views, including Trump supporters.
Anthony Mulligan is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.