I have nothing new or novel to say about Donald Trump; everything that I could possibly say has been said better than I could say it by someone better than I am — whether that’s Mitt Romney attacking his business acumen, John Oliver attacking his flip-flopping, Marco Rubio attacking his … hand … size, or just literally everyone in the entire world who thinks that maybe, just maybe, the American people owe it to themselves and the rest of the world to think critically for, like, a split-goddamn-second about whom they give executive authority over the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world to. No one reading this is even thinking of voting for the man1. I’m not going to dissuade anyone from voting for him with anything I have to say. Therefore, I’m not going to try.
Instead, I’m going to do something I try to do from time to time to make myself into a better person2: I’m going to try to see this and understand it from the other side. Fear not, I am no Trumpist; if he is somehow elected, I will be among the first to move to whatever the warmer, less frozen version of Canada is. I do this in part because it is only through knowledge of our enemy that we may destroy him.
It is possible for me to perform this monumental transformation because, somewhat improbably, I actually have a Trump supporter friend3. And no, he’s not a hate-mongering bass-ackward rube, he’s a PhD data scientist immigrant from Singapore.
I was arguing vociferously with him the other day on this subject, when he brought up the “Make America Great Again” slogan, which just really gets my goat — like super hard goat-getting. Because when I hear that slogan, it implies two things:
- America used to be great
- America is no longer great
When I look across pretty much all of the major categories in which a nation might be considered great, I gotta say that objectively America is as great or greater now than it’s been in the past, ever. Militarily, we are indomitable in a way that, despite current quagmires in the Middle East, we just weren’t during the Cold War; right now we contribute over 1/3 of the world’s total military expenditure and as much as the next 9 highest countries combined. Economically, even coming out of a recession, we have basically been single-handedly driving the world economy, and socially the last 50 years have seen an incredible expansion of civil liberties, culminating in a series of Supreme Court decisions as recently as last year4 that have brought unprecedented freedom to our people. If I’m thinking about any time before now that America was great, it’s probably late WWII and the immediate aftermath (never mind that we saw two recessions in ’45 and ’49 and another in ’53); unequivocally the United States was the dominant force in the world after World War II.
Oh wait — by “the world” I must mean “the west,” because there was always a terrible fear that this might happen to you for just, like, no reason whatsoever if you lived here:
Aaaaaaaand by “the United States” I really mean must “the white male United States,” because there was also this whole thing going on:
We have a long way to go and a lot of things are broken and awful, but yeah, big picture, I’d say America is greater now than it’s ever been. So I called my friend out on this, asking him exactly what he thought it meant to make America great again. And to my surprise, he acknowledged my critique and conceded that, generally speaking, we live in a freer and better society than existed anywhere before this time. But he was concerned that the political process in America was completely broken5, and that to him, Trump was the one man who could fix it.
This sounds ridiculous 6, but he brought it back to something that you hear a lot from Trump supporters that, quite frankly, I think makes most people think they are insane: “he says what’s on his mind,” or “he tells it like it is.” And we, the sane ones, hear that and think, “Man, that is a crazy reason to vote for someone7.” And that’s in part because this is how of we all play that out in our head.
As an example, the guy I’m talking to is the kind of person who will — loudly — tell someone to suck a dick at work, in an open office, sometimes with accompanying sound effects and hand gestures. This is a guy who’s super smart and talented, but who — for some unknown reason — feels that this is the most accurate and appropriate way to express himself in public — at work no less– and it’s easy to think that in the same way that, say, the person two desks over might be offended at hearing him tell someone to fellate an unspecified member, he might be offended by not being allowed to say it. And he sees Donald Trump’s ascendency as a natural reaction against a recent trend toward political over-correctness in the country.
This is not an argument framed along First Amendment lines (although I’m sure that a lot of people probably think it is). To my knowledge, there is no First Amendment protection against getting fired from your job in private industry just because you told someone to go munch a bag of dicks8, and I’m 100% definitely certain that his employment contract specifies that he can be terminated at any time and for any reason — certainly for creating a hostile work environment, for example.
In fact, this argument has nothing to do with the government at all: when I asked my friend, seriously, whether he thought that we should have someone in the White House who would say whatever was on his mind to foreign heads of state, and how mind-bogglingly disastrous that would be, he responded, “The president doesn’t do anything anyway.” If Congress makes all the laws, and the Supreme Court decides which of those are constitutional, what does the president even do9 — especially now, since pretty much no matter whom we elect, Congress will thwart them at every turn.
So while I’m sure that, for every constitutionally literate person who feels the way my friend does about what their First Amendment rights do and don’t protect, there’s someone who thinks it’s their First Amendment right to refuse service to the gays ‘cuz they’re a goddamn ‘murcan and their great-great-great-great-granddaddy didn’t die at the Battle of First Thanksgiving ‘gainst them Injun hordes just so they’d have to bake a cake for a queer wedding, let’s assume best intentions here and assert that a good chunk of people see legitimate grievances on both sides, but don’t understand why somebody else’s rights or privileges are trumping their own (excuse the pun) purely from a societal standpoint.
So we can take this narrative and slip into the shoes of a stereotypical Trump supporter: someone who’s afraid of losing their livelihood because of the opinions they have about just how big a bag of dicks someone should munch, or someone who’s already lost their job — let’s just say potentially to low-wage immigrant labor — but who can’t say anything about it without immediately being labeled just, like, super racist. Then along comes the richest, classiest, winningest guy on earth to run for the position of Grand Figurehead of these United States of America, and he’s up there saying that he’s going to deport all the immigrants and anyone who doesn’t like it’s a loser who can go eat the biggest, classiest, winningest bag of dicks. This guy’s saying everything you wish you could say — he’s saying a lot of other stuff too, a lot of which contradicts the stuff he said that you agree with, but never mind that, he’s getting away with it! There’s a mob out there and it’s just like me — I’m not racist or sexist or offensive, I’m right, because I’m part of the biggest, classiest, winningest mob!
And maybe this narrative is true for some or even all of his supporters; honestly, I don’t know. It’s certainly easy to imagine it applying in my friend’s case. But when I asked him why he thought having a president who was willing to say pretty much anything could possibly be a good thing, he had a surprisingly rational response. He believes that there are a lot of issues with the country — and there are, although we’d disagree about what they are, for sure — but that they inherently cannot even be raised because raising them would be politically incorrect. This goes beyond being upset with a societal decision that one’s right to refuse service is less important than a gay couple’s right to that same service; it goes to the critical issue that one cannot even raise the question without being labeled a bigot. How can you bring up a question about losing jobs to immigrant labor if, in doing so, you are immediately labeled as racist? How do you address the very real issues faced with increased competition for formerly privileged classes in the face of expanded freedoms and shifting demographics if you are immediately labeled a protectionist bigot for doing so? Here’s a guy who’s willing to bring all of those things up, and he’s running to be the leader of the free world, and he’s winning.
So how do we destroy him? Honestly, I don’t know. I hope that we do, because I think a Trump presidency would be at best a disaster for the country, and at worst a disaster for the world. But maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from him in the meantime. And honestly, by beginning a dialogue about some of these issues — after all, free speech and the ability to tolerate offence [sic?] are the hallmarks of a free and open society — we can learn something from one another.
- In fact, probably not one’s reading this at all. ↩
- Impossible, I am perfect already ↩
- One of the consequences of working at a large company, I suppose. ↩
- Lookin’ at you, same-sex marriage! ↩
- because it is ↩
- because it is ↩
- because it is ↩
- or telling people they can dress however they want on Halloween, apparently ↩
- Like, a lot? The President still does a lot of things and it is super duper important that that person not be Donald Trump. ↩