Should we empathize with Trump voters?

In a word, no.

People who vote for Trump care about racism, and to a lesser extent, misogyny over *any other issue*.

There’s a movement among some liberal white folks (even our beloved wandsci) to empathize with these jerks.  They’re poor.  They’re seeing privileges stripped away.  They’re not used to being so close to the bottom.  They’re uneducated.  They’re scared and don’t know any better.  We should try to understand their point of view.  That’s the argument.

First, although the media narrative is an economic one, it’s not actually true.  White Trump voters are better off than the average American.  It is true that they’re generally not college educated.  But that’s on them.  They’re making plenty of money without the fancy degree that they could still get if they wanted.

Second, even if the media narrative were true, which it isn’t, that’s still no excuse to be racist.

Racism is deplorable.  As the ladies on the Here to make friends bachelor podcast note, plenty of people have bad things happen to them and don’t become assholes.  Your reaction to hardship or tragedy doesn’t have to be voting against your economic interests so that you can feel superior to someone with a different skin color.

There’s no point in trying to empathize with racists anymore than there’s a point in trying to empathize with dangerously misogynistic Chad on the Bachelor franchise.  Empathy will not change their behavior.  Shaming might.  More likely these hardcore racists are just lost to humanity and will either someday see the light or they will die bitter horrible people.  And that’s ok.  The importance of shaming is not to change their beliefs.  Shaming does two things.  First, it changes the behavior of the bulk of these horrible people because it forces them to watch what they say and how they act, so it is harder to hurt minorities.  Second, it shows that bulk of easily-led people that casual racism is not cool and tilts them for good over evil, which means they too are less likely to commit acts of overt racism.

Empathy has no place.  These people are racist.  Their behavior is deplorable.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  We should shame them.  This behavior has no place in mainstream society and if it can’t be removed entirely, it should be treated as the abomination that it is.  Let them dress up in their costumes and play their stupid games by themselves where we can laugh at them as losers who can’t get past 1865.  But when their behavior starts affecting normal people, and when it starts having a negative effect on people who are already discriminated against, that’s when any residual caring about their racist fee-fees should disappear.  They are bad people with bad beliefs and hopefully one day their children will escape and see how much better the world can be without their hate.

23 Responses to “Should we empathize with Trump voters?”

  1. becca Says:

    On the one hand, there are definitely Trump voters who resemble these remarks. And it’s deplorable to vote for him, regardless of motivation.

    That said… There but for fortune.

    I just don’t believe we live in a world with tidy categories of “morally correct Hillary Clinton voters” and “deplorable racist Trump voters”. For one thing, the spring Reuters survey provides ample evidence that while >40% of Trump voters agreed with statements like “blacks are more violent than whites”, a good ~30% of Clinton voters also endorsed that one. In other words, America consists of wide swaths of deplorable racist people, of all political party affiliations.
    There are Southern Democrats who will vote for Clinton *because* of Welfare reform, or “super predators”, or even for her friendliness toward segregating charter schools now.

    But my argument here isn’t a variant of “let’s hear David Brooks out” compulsive centrist disorder. The Trump side really does care less about how racial and ethnic minorities are treated- it’s a 30+% point spread in the polls. It’s a meaningful distinction between the groups. My argument here is that the big difference between Clinton supporters and Trump supporters is how afraid they are right now at this moment, rather than the depths to which they will descend when threatened.
    We only have to look at that vote for the AUMF in 2001 to remember how very united we can be in fear, and we only have to look at the human costs to realize how very evil that is (I draw *no* moral distinction between evil domestic policy and evil international policy). IF Trumpism is best fought with shame and not with empathy, it must be fought with a sense of humility and the awareness that we are all deplorable monsters- it’s in the core American Identity. It’s in the identity that stole the land of the Native Americans, it’s in the identity that interned Japanese Americans (George Takei is a National Treasure and articulates the danger of Trump’s views of immigrants exceedingly clearly), and it’s in the identity that is conducting an endless (if halfhearted) war of Domination and Conquest in the Middle East that has killed over a hundred thousand people. Clinton is not the solution to Trumpism, and her election is necessary but utterly insufficient to actually reduce racism.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That argument can be made for Romney or McCain supporters, but Trump is a one-issue guy. His only consistent issue is racism. If you support him, you support racism over anything else.

      Clinton is working to end racism, as we should all be. It is irrelevant that we all have implicit bias– we are either aware of that and working to make the world a better place, we’re not yet woke, or we are working to preserve white privilege. Clinton is the first of these, Trump is the last.

      And yes, #2 on the blog is also very upset about Clinton’s neoconservative foreign policy. My understanding of these issues is that things are extremely complicated (based on my colleagues who study the middle east, Africa, etc.), more complicated than either liberals or neocons understand. I figure Clinton is more cognizant of these issues than am I. But we have to start with not blowing up the world.

      • becca Says:

        Trump is only “one issue” if you demand intellectual coherency. His word salad is calculated to attract attention, and sooner or later Trump’ll say something you agree with (my favorite: “The war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. They lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none.”. Blind squirrel, meet nut.). People are hearing what they want to hear from him.

        “How should the US interact with other nations in a way that minimizes human suffering?” is a *super* complicated question. “Why will Americans will justify oppressing and killing minority racial and ethnic groups?” is somewhat less complicated, and Trump is a symptom of fear and greed that drives that, both at home and abroad.

        TLDR: You shouldn’t vote for Clinton out of fear of being shamed as a racist, you should vote for her because our country will do fewer shameful racist things in our names than under a Trump presidency (“fewer”, not none, and we have so much work to do…)

    • Rosa Says:

      there are plenty of deplorably racist Democrats, but I challenge you to find a Trump voter who isn’t. There are many categories of voters but only one Presidential candidate running on a platform that is mostly just racism.

      • becca Says:

        Well, I’m not too sure my SIL will *actually* go through with voting for Trump, but I will assure you she will not be voting for Hillary (SIL thinks Hillary has dementia). She is from Mexico, has biracial kids, and is about as kind a person as you’re likely to meet. She’s raised a pretty woke daughter, too. I don’t think she’s deplorably racist. She is an evangelical Christian and historically a solid Republican voter (luckily, she’s in California, so I don’t think it matters).

        The other probable Trump voter I know is a former Bernie supporter, and I’d argue he is pretty non-racist for his demographic (old white guy from Michigan, employed in the trades). He’s voting against the establishment, moreso than for Trump. He’s got some tinfoil hat tendencies. I’m sure he’s more tolerant of racism in his presence than GrumpyNation (to to be honest, I’m not sure how you function professionally in the trades in the Midwest without developing a thick skin about racism), but I’m not sure I’d write him off as deplorably racist either.

        That said, a couple of exceptions are basically a #NotAllTrumpSupporters response.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sorry to break it to you, but your friends are not exceptions. They are racist. It is kind of a by definition thing.

        And I’m really sorry about your SIL. That’s f’d up. Unless you’re wrong about her supporting trump.

  2. monsterzero Says:

    An added benefit of behavior modification by shaming is that when some people behave in a non-racist fashion for long enough, they will rationalize it by actually changing their beliefs to match their actions.

    • chacha1 Says:

      Behavior modification is really, really powerful. It is basically how homophobes come around to not being homophobes once they realize that there is a gay person close to them who they can’t bring themselves to be hateful to. They start acting like “hey this is just a person who I care about who happens to be gay” and before long they start believing it is no big deal for a person to be gay.

      In a civil society, behavior is much, much more important than belief.

  3. Nanani Says:

    Wholeheartedly agree.
    Empathy for DEPLORABLE poor people seems like a slap in the face to all the poor people who are managing to NOT BE DEPLORABLE. Ditto “not college educated” or any other supposed reason.

    Also, “not used to being so close to the bottom” and “watching their privileges get stripped away” are not things to empathize with, they are good things quite close to egalitarian goals. Getting rid of *unearned privilege* certainly is a social good, and leveling the playing field logically implies that those who were previously high -because of inequality- will come down.

    Let’s be unapologetic about equality.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    I am strongly in favor of shaming deplorable behavior. A high standard for socialized behavior is the only thing that makes civilization possible. I could not give less of a **** what people actually believe. I just want them to behave decently. And that means, not taking actions intended to damage other people.

    Empathy is awesome on the 1:1. On the societal scale, it is the original slippery slope. It leads to arguments like “we can’t put that guy in prison for beating his wife, because *his* father beat his mother.” Nope nope nope. Sorry it happened, but it doesn’t give the guy a pass for beating his wife. Sorry those angry white guys with jobs think they should have better jobs, but it doesn’t give them a pass for trying to make sure black/Latino/Asian/Middle Eastern people can’t get jobs at all.

    Everyone has their issues, everyone has their crazy, and the people who CONTROL IT are the people who should be favored and supported and listened to.

  5. Old Jane who lived it Says:

    Yes, there are many who support Trump’s racism. But there are ALSO MANY who simply want ‘Not Clinton’ due to 30 years of press bashing of her and the failure of national journalists to name Trump a liar and call him out instead of pandering to him and seeing him as a wonderful sensational headliner. OUR NATIONAL PRESS and the unwillingness through out this campaign and through out the primaries, combined with uncontrolled lies told and retold on social media are as responsible as racists for where we are today; AND, this started 9 years ago when racists attacking Obama’s birth were given free reign and has continued. Millennials have grown up all their lives hearing Anti-Clinton bashing and because the press and media has mixed opinion and sensationalism into what should have been facts people no longer know the difference. AND the press’s decision to not spend the same 30 years reporting on the deaths and illegal mistreatment of black, brown, poor people those truths are completely foreign. What if the press had fact checked the War on Drugs and Welfare Queens rather than reprinting propaganda? Maybe we would have different choices today.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Even with the mainstream media coverage alone, it’s still pretty obvious that Trump is an unapologetic racist and Clinton isn’t. Even with Fox News! “Not Clinton” means that being a racist or allowing a racist to control the country is more important than voting for what you believe to be the lesser of two evils.

      • Old Jane who lived it Says:

        I AM SO TOTALLY in agreement with you. And so totally horrified by the way some rich privileged member of my family deliberately choose to not see this. And how they twist and turn and try to claim the big orange nastiness just says things he doesn’t mean….. and never cheated or lied or bribed or did any of things he has been proven to do while throwing unproven accusations at Clinton. And, millenniums grew up hearing these falsehoods about her for their entire life. I am really scared of Trump winning … or a large third party vote tossing the election to a Congress that won’t stand against Him and/or Pence. It is horrific.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You should start reading propane jane (@docrocktex26 on twitter) — she’s a fresh breath of sanity whenever the omg could this really be happening gets too much to bear. The Obama coalition has our backs. Like she says, they elected Barack Hussein Obama in order to save us from Sarah Palin. They can elect Hillary Clinton to save us from Trump.

        But we should definitely be GOTV anytime we start to worry!

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    One of the things I like about HRC’s current rhetoric is that she’s using a lot of super-nanny concepts. Some behavior really is unacceptable and deplorable and deserves a different reaction than other behavior. She’s drawing a verbal line.

  7. NJ_anon Says:

    Empathy and understanding is not the same as condoning or turning a blind eye. It is gently and firmly pointing out that Trump is a racist and a magnet for racists and those who condone racism

  8. Cloud Says:

    To clarify what I’m doing: I am trying to *understand* the viewpoints of these people and for me that means empathizing a bit. I am trying to understand why they are racist so that I can support things that might help to make some of them not be quite so racist. Or maybe that isn’t possible, and we need to figure out how to combat their racism effectively so that we can make changes (e.g., to schooling) so that their kids aren’t so racist. I want to solve this problem because I think that unless we do, we will always be at a risk from someone like Trump. I also think that unless we do, we are consigning a lot of people of color to live in states that are actively hostile to them.

    I’m not trying to empathize with them to make excuses for their racism, or for their dangerous insistence on voting for Trump, and I have no problem at all with shaming people who are racist or with a politician being willing to just lose their vote. Right now, my main concern is outvoting them. But after the election, I want to think about how to address the racism, and I can’t do that if I don’t try to understand where it comes from.

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    confidential to suburbanp: We were raised Catholic. People who really understand Catholicism’s Good Works aren’t voting for Trump. If you can’t tell the difference between Catholics and Trump supporters, that’s on you. Maybe you’re like my “Catholic” relatives (as opposed to our genuinely Catholic relatives, all of whom are voting Clinton)? They don’t really understand most of the New Testament either.

    Good Grief, didn’t Trump get into an argument with the Pope or something? Real Catholics aren’t voting Trump.

  10. Kay Says:

    Soooo, not super related but…the best thing I read via Twitter yesterday went something like this “if Hillary Clinton died of pneumonia, came back as a zombie and ate my entire family I’d still vote for her over trump” (and over many others I might add)

    HRC all the way (back) to the White House 2016!!!

    Anon in Massachusetts

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hahaha. I don’t think I would vote for her if she ate my family. That’s a tough one. Zombie HRC vs alive Trump is pretty easy so long as she’s not actually eating people. Once brain eating gets involved it really does become the lesser of two evils. Could the DNC swap an undead presidential candidate out after the election, or can they only do that if the candidate is dead? And cannibalism is still illegal, so presumably we’d end up with Kaine if they can’t otherwise remove zombies. So yeah, I’d back Clinton.

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