For people who savor calling others snowflakes, Trump supporters certainly are a delicate bunch. And to hear many tell it, we should treat them as such, with understanding and compassion, giving them time to work out their sadness at the defeat of their Emperor God.
Calls for this kind of forbearance have filled the airwaves and op-ed pages since the election. Don’t gloat, they tell us. Be good winners, they implore. Reach out to at least one Trump supporter and try to engage in productive dialogue, comes the advice of political scientist Ian Bremmer.
Do it for the sake of unity or in the name of healing. Do it for America.
Although team Trump built its brand on a mantra of “fuck your feelings” and transformed conservative politics into a singular quest to “own the libs” on social media, we are now expected to return their contempt with ecumenism.
Despite their roaring approval of (or muted indifference to) the ripping of children from their parents at the border, their rapturous rejection of masking and social distancing — which has contributed to the deaths of nearly a quarter-million people — and their orgasmic joy at the sight of law enforcement beating and tear-gassing racial justice demonstrators, it is we who are asked to practice forgiveness and equanimity.
And while they should be given time to come to terms with the failure of their QAnon lunacy to pan out — after all, Dear Leader neither disrupted a global pedophile ring led by Hillary Clinton nor jailed Barack Obama and John Podesta on the orders of a not-really-dead JFK Jr. — we should make this pivot immediately. We are to graciously, or perhaps grudgingly, but certainly, welcome them back to the beloved community. And not after some reckoning on their part, during which they are asked to perhaps ponder why most Americans have twice rejected their movement and its leader, but before Thanksgiving, before the election is even certified, and long before they have admitted defeat, presuming they ever will.
In case you were wondering, this mentality is why the South, despite what your history books told you, ultimately won the Civil War and why we still have to deal with the same kinds of bottom-feeders who fought for the Confederacy.
Because rather than utterly crushing the slaveocracy, as was deserved, the victors capitulated in the name of unity. Rather than confiscating enslavers’ land and distributing it to those who had been trafficked, it was the kidnappers who sought and often received compensation for their loss. Rather than smashing all remnants of the Confederacy, lawmakers abandoned Reconstruction because it was seen as too harsh in the aftermath of what had been, after all, a “cousin’s war.” For the sake of the family, we had to bind up the wounds and compromise.
Well, for the sake of white family members, at least. No one ever asks Black folks how they might feel about such rushed and urgent reunifications. Of course not, because it is the Black and brown who are expected to demonstrate forgiveness to their adversaries, no matter how depraved.
These are people who said Barack Obama was a foreigner and spread every form of racist calumny against him for eight years. He was going to confiscate white people’s farms, following the example of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. He was pushing health care reform as backdoor reparations to punish white people for slavery. He was deliberately trying to destroy the economy, also as a form of payback for said slavery. He was taxing tanning bed visits as a way to punish white people for going to them. He was going to replace the White House Easter egg hunt with a watermelon hunt.
The list of defamations was endless, dripping with the envious hatreds so typical of ignominious losers — people unable to cope with their crushing mediocrity, who forever and always blame others for the steaming heap of colonic misery their lives have become.
With people such as this, who advocate shooting border-crossers or gathering the undocumented onto cattle cars, we are expected to find common ground? We should shower compassion upon those who gloat at Amy Coney Barrett’s elevation to the Supreme Court, hopeful that she will help void women’s reproductive freedom, return LGBTQ folks to tertiary citizenship, and strip health care coverage from millions of Americans?
With so-called “western chauvinists” like the Trump-loving Proud Boys — who insist they “won’t apologize for creating the modern world,” but whose members have never created anything but paperwork for their probation officers — we are supposed to engage in respectful conversation?
Even before Trump’s election, I regularly received threats of violence against my daughters, my wife, and me from his unhinged true believers. They have continued in this for four years, and I have no reason to suspect they will suddenly turn off the spigot of toxicity now that he has lost. Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from one such soldier in the MAGA Army who assured me Trump would steal the election, and then it would be “springtime for Hitler” in America. Blacks would be crushed. Jews like me would be herded into camps. And he couldn’t wait for it. Somehow I doubt that with his dreams of a Trump coup having failed, he will magically prove open to hopping on a friendly Zoom call so we can work out our differences on such subjects as capital gains taxation, infrastructure spending, or agricultural subsidies.
And I know, not all Trump supporters are like that guy. But those like him have never been condemned by (or expelled from) the ranks of the less hateful. Indeed they are marching as I write this at the “Million MAGA March” in DC: an event featuring a coterie of white nationalists, conspiracy loons, and violent militia terrorists to whom Trump waved appreciatively on his way to play golf, buoyed by their devotion.
Frankly, the less hateful ones are the real problem anyway. Without the decent family members and neighbors and colleagues of ours, voting for him because of their 401ks (the growth of which they falsely attribute to something he did) while ignoring everything else, his defeat would have been more crushing. If everyone who said they were horrified by his racism and sexism and everything about him, but voted for him anyway because of “the economy,” or because they “feel seen,” had acted like an adult rather than a greedy or ego-bruised child, the virus of Trumpism could have stood rebuked today, rather than just its most recent carrier.
But no, they decided their retirement fund was what mattered. They decided that because Trump wraps himself in the flag, tells off those uppity football players, and embraces small-town Amurka, he’s one of them. To hell with everyone else.
Putting aside the hate, how does one find commonality with irrational cultists? How does one talk to the 8-in-10 Trump voters who say Biden’s win is not legitimate? The lunatics like Michele Bachmann and Paula White expecting God to overturn the results? The two-thirds who thought Obama was a foreigner or at least said they weren’t sure? The half or more who think the QAnon movement might be on to something?
There is no need to understand them, or rather, I already do. They are people who marinate in the sickening nostalgia of a bygone era when white male dominance and Christian hegemony were unquestioned. Their slogan — Make America Great Again — was a symbol of unvarnished evil from day one. The America they remember wistfully was never great. It was a place of perpetual limitations on Black freedom, of separate and unequal schools, of Black bodies hanging from trees flanked by the kind of white people who would today be Trump’s base-iest of base voters. It was a place where women were meant to follow the chauvinistic dictates of men, LGBTQ folk were to remain in the closet, and all were to remember this was a Christian nation, and if they didn’t like it, they could leave.
There can be no compromise with the likes of these.
Yes, there can be dialogue with conservatives, but only with those willing to be held accountable for this political universe that they helped create. The John Kasichs of the world are not blameless. Neither are the Lincoln Project folks: the George Conways and Rick Wilsons and Steve Schmidts; or columnists like Jennifer Rubin, Mona Charen, and David Brooks. We can and should be grateful for their attacks on Trump in recent years while acknowledging how their histories laid the groundwork for the present crisis. These folks’ prior campaign activities and writings traded on racial scapegoating too. Their heroes and candidates from Reagan through Romney trafficked in the racist imagery of welfare cheats and Willie Horton, or intimated that the poor (disproportionately Black and brown) were “takers” not “makers.”
So let these “responsible” conservatives take responsibility for the seeds they planted, having come to see the poisonous results of their previous labors. Let them own their role in the creation of this monster. Let them make amends in whatever way those victimized by their legacy deem necessary. One can make peace with persons such as that, but with none among the rest.
And for Bernie stans who think these people are reachable with a robust class analysis — that they can somehow be converted from hating the Black and brown to hating the 1 percent? — you can miss me with that shit too. The only rich people Trump’s voters hate are the Black athletes. And not because they’re rich, but because they’re Black and rich — better off than they are — thereby upending the familiar hierarchies of the caste system to which, as Isabel Wilkerson reminds us, they have long been tethered.
One cannot make nice with those so addicted to their caste status that they will sacrifice their lives for the team whose colors they fly. Those like the man who told scholar Jonathan Metzl he’d rather die than go on Obamacare (even though he had no insurance and was dying of liver failure) because it was for “welfare queens and Mexicans” (and who subsequently did die) cannot be brought to the light of reason. They are too beholden to the psychological benefits of whiteness, which allow them to believe that although everything in their lives has turned to shit, at least they aren’t Black or brown.
The uselessness of a typical leftist class approach became evident to me twenty years ago, after a prolonged e-mail argument with a young man about the Confederate flag. During our dialogue, I explained how racism had impoverished the South we shared by weakening labor unions and worker solidarity, encouraging whites to sacrifice material interest for racial elevation. Two weeks in, the young man finally came to agree. Yes, he allowed, racism had probably held us back. We’d likely have higher incomes, less poverty, and better schools were it not for racism. But then came the clincher: the part where he said, with no sense of misgiving, that he would “be willing to work for $1 an hour if we could just go back to segregation.” After all, in that alternative, higher-wage universe, with more functional schools — all of which we might have had in the absence of racism — everyone would have reaped those benefits. And if everyone gets them, what good are they?
With people such as this — and it is people just like this who are willing to risk COVID death to seem strong in the face of liberalism and science — one cannot bend. One cannot compromise. One cannot plant one’s flag in the soil of togetherness.
People like this must simply be defeated. Without hesitation. Without sentimentality. Without apology.
And when we someday build a nation that provides good health care, education, and job opportunity even to the pathetic likes of these, they can thank us. Or not. But either way, we have no choice but to keep moving forward.
To make America great for the first time — with or without them.
I’m an antiracism educator/author. Forthcoming: Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020). I post audio at patreon.com/speakoutwithtimwise
Previously Published on Medium
Image by Scott Lum, Flickr, Creative Commons License