I can’t bear to watch the debates. They’re excruciating in nature, regardless of who you support. I’m sure the majority of Americans share in the sentiment that this election just needs to be over. The debates are rife with acerbic back-and-forth and vitriolic rhetoric, and little productive discourse; outside of the debates, as new developments become only more questionable, the divide between left and right deepens.
However, even as events serve to only magnify this divide, one commonality permeates both the Trump and Clinton camp: They could never even consider voting for the other person. In a divergence from previous elections, where perhaps supporters of a candidate disagreed with the policies of another but tolerated them as a person, the attacks on either candidate are becoming increasingly personal, especially from the Clinton side.
While it’s incredibly important to call out Donald Trump’s autocratic, racist, and bigoted proclivities, as they will surely inform his policymaking as well as overall perception of the American conglomerate, this angle of criticism is currently dominating the discourse. Liberals identify everything wrong with him, and extrapolate from this that he is unfit for the office of the presidency. While not necessarily false, this reveals a liberal blind spot to the realities of millions of Americans.
What we as liberals fail to realize is that Trump is more multifaceted that we are willing to admit. We see racism through a monolithic lens; we recognize his problematic rhetoric and characterize him by that alone. This is not inherently wrong. Racist discourse lends itself to problematic policies, and we have to be aware of that. However, because liberals perceive Trump through this social justice lens, we forget that his economic and social policies do actual speak to a great deal of Americans. And although we may not agree with it, we have to concede that to an extent, it makes sense.
Trump is a businessman, and he claims to run America like a business. While this may seem economically unfeasible or distorted, this type of language and promise appeals to the typical American – the one who considers themselves more of a businessperson or common man than a politician. And even when we consider his racism, such as building the wall, or the ban on Muslims, this doesn’t necessarily strike a chord with Americans because of a deeply rooted racist sentiment. Of course, at the end of the day, his policies are jarring, problematic, and at their core, deeply racist. But the people who support this aren’t perceiving it as such. Their support comes from a weighing of Islamophobia versus terrorism, the fear of offending someone versus the impetus to act to combat attacks on the homeland. While there are many problems with this mindset, the support of or disgust with these policies comes from values, and calling Trump supporters offensive or racist doesn’t address this.
Trump supporters, in general, boast an incredible amount of privilege when we contextualize race and power in 2016 America. The ability to vote for a president who intends to sharpen racial divides speaks volumes about the social status of the voter. However, Trump supporters are still silenced, insofar as they believe the political elite – such as the Clintons, or the Obamas, or even the Bushes – don’t represent them. The problem with the way we perceive the election currently is there’s no nuance in how we characterize the candidate’s supporters, and this is a problem intrinsic to both sides.
In a similar vein, it’s the detachment of Hillary Clinton from society, rather than her policies, that alienate her from the electorate.
Hillary proponents tend to characterize her as accomplished, pragmatic, and effective. Her strongest asset is her intellect and political prowess; the Democratic base has indicated their overwhelming confidence in her ability to implement policies, and effectively negotiate foreign policy. On paper, she shines. And when we consider the value-oriented lens we perceive our candidates with, it’s easy to downplay the email scandal, her questionable past, and strong ties to Wall Street in favor of everything she represents: female empowerment, governmental knowledge and political expediency.
However, while her supporters remain perplexed as to how people could possibly believe Hillary is not the best for the job, perception remains at the heart of the issue. Where a supporter sees experience, a critic may see corruption. To a proponent, her tenure as Secretary of State represents knowledge and capability; a critic, a series of devastating failures (read: Benghazi). Perception is everything in this election and sheds light on how a demagogue such as Trump can snake his way to the nomination.
To contextualize the issue, we can examine what occurs on the peripheral of politics. In sharp contrast to Hillary’s measure and polish, another outspoken blonde woman who has garnered attention for her comments is political commentator Tomi Lahren. Much like Trump, Tomi is not here to play games. She speaks her mind unapologetically and claims to be the voice of the silenced conservative: the ones who cannot speak for fear of being deemed politically incorrect. Tomi has a lot of opinions on a variety of issues, yet tends to circle back to race more often than not, gaining popularity for her views on Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick in the wake of their various football-related actions. While she takes a stand against the “violent” Black Lives Matter group, and throws around accusations of racism against white people, she amplifies opinions that people are too scared to voice themselves.
Unfortunately, as she decries Beyonce’s intersectional feminism as exclusive to “young black girls” – as if the general message of empowerment does not transcend racial barriers – it seems that she’s perpetuating the racial dichotomy that bothers her so much. There are many problems with Tomi Lahren’s commentating, including but not limited to her condescension, her lack of critical perception, her belittlement of discordant ideas, and her arrogance – typically, if you claim you’re going to “shred” someone, or “eviscerate” their argument, you actually ought to have an intelligent, logical way to do so. Her arguments are poorly constructed and lack intellectual depth; her criticism of Colin Kaepernick doesn’t even consider the fact that him calling out racism cannot be conflated with him blindly hating white people.
With everything wrong with her, why, then, has she enamored conservatives? Sure, she proliferates conservative values with voracity and intensity. She’s controversial in the most exciting and “I-told-you-so” way. Indeed, if you google criticisms of her, you’ll be met with a variety of results. Unfortunately, the majority of her critics just can’t seem to resist the low-hanging fruit – that is, her apparent anger and intonation. Shrill, nasally, angry: all the sexist buzzwords are there.
Could she chill a little? Probably. Is it productive to call out her tone in a manner that echoes the sexist way men have undermined and condescended female commentators for decades? Not at all. I disagree with almost everything she has to say; however, I appreciate that she has the right to say it. I appreciate that as a woman, she has entered the field of political commentating and does not shy away from speaking her mind. I appreciate her lack of filter because it shows she is not trying to fit a mold of what society tells her she ought to be.
And that is why she, and Trump, and others fitting this archetype, have risen to such salience. Today, representation is everything. It’s why Ghostbusters was so simultaneously so groundbreaking and strangely controversial; it’s why having racial minorities in positions of power matters. But as we enact policies to ensure equality of race and sexual orientation, and dance around discourse to avoid offending everyone, we have to wonder if we’re forgetting about the working class whites in America.
To be clear, this isn’t a broad conflation of working class whites with Trump supporters, because of course, that’s not always true. Rather, it’s an attempt at empathy with those who feel the political elite don’t represent them. We need to consider those who look at the relevant issues today, and realize that liberals care so much about who is on TV, or in which bathroom, but not about the trade deals that eviscerate agricultural economics, or the taxes harming the middle class. Those in power – even the liberals, even the women, even the racial minorities – don’t represent everyone, and Trump supporters are calling for a shift in the status quo. They look at these “limousine liberals” – the people who care about veganism, and organic foods, and being politically correct – and wonder when they’re going to care about the people.
Of course, factually they do. Issues raised by Black Lives Matter and similar groups are critical and need to be addressed. The environment matters (vegetarianism has its perks, I promise), and representation is paramount in ensuring academic success. Yes, bathrooms are important, and the language we choose has psychological effects that we ought not to ignore.
Yet at the end of the day, clash between the two sides boils down to a fundamental problem occurring right now in American politics: there is a silencing of dissenting opinions.
Bipartisanship is a problem, and has corroded Congress. But on a greater scale, the issue isn’t political differences. It’s the stifling of discord.
I’ve always been of the opinion that if we want to elect Trump solely because he speaks his mind, we might as well vote for some drunk frat guy because that standard is incrediblylow, especially when it comes to the office of the presidency. Unfortunately, issues of pragmatism aside, this proclivity towards free speech – true, uninhibited speech – resonates with a great deal of Americans.
And this is a problem. When did who we support for president become an issue of who speaks for who so? When did society and politics become so oppressive that this is a valid measure? People don’t care about Hillary’s policies – hell, you could make the argument she’s as conservative as Mitt Romney – they care that she’s detached from them, and seems above the law. Likewise, nobody actually cares that there are some political science undergrads who probably know more about foreign policy than Donald Trump. It’s not that Trump supporters don’t know that. It’s that he promises to give a voice to them, and when you’ve been silenced, that’s all that matters.
Ultimately, this election holds so much opportunity for analysis. The controversial and highly polarizing nature of the candidates will most likely depress voter turnout – another implicit silencing, as voters feel the current voting system offers no avenues for them to express their preferences through. Unfortunately, this discord has little to do with policies and plenty to do with personality. Just as there are some Clinton supporters who are willing to bite the bullet and vote for her in order to prevent a Trump presidency, so too do many Trump supporters arrive there from a dislike of Clinton, rather than a support of Trump. Like it or not, there are many Americans who are being silenced today. Is our two-party system doomed to perpetuate this cycle, or is there a way to unclog the blocked lines of discourse and allow for true representation?