At first we heard the rumblings from a distance, and didn’t take it seriously. No, this could never happen to us. We saw the ominous-looking funnel gaining strength, about to touch ground. But the tornado – the Trump-nado – threatening to further divide and perhaps irrevocably damage the nation (besides his own political party) seemed just too far-fetched.
It sounded too ridiculous, too preposterous to make it through. Some of us still insisted on holding out hope that somehow it wouldn’t hit us, after all… until the fateful date of July 19th, 2016:
“His son Donald Trump, Jr., cast the votes for the New York delegation that put the billionaire businessman over the top of the 1,237 delegates he needed to clinch the nomination, as any talk of disruptive protest votes or walkouts dissipated. ‘It is my honor to be able to throw Donald Trump over the top in the delegate count tonight with 89 delegates,’ Donald Jr. said, surrounded by three of Trump’s other children – Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany” (CNN). This is possibly the new first family moving into the White House, folks, just add Melania Trump.
The deeply ironic and comical plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech via Melania at the Republican National Convention was not enough to defuse the Donald. And how could it be, when so many other, (more) serious Donald Trump faux pas have done nothing to stop this tragic nomination from happening? Just look at his ludicrous Twitter account which, by the way, has 10 million followers. The man has reached mythical status (even if, for many, he’s the Hydra).
There are various possible reasons why Trump has gotten this far. As we know, there is a fundamentalist wave acting internationally – we see it in the U.S., in Europe, in Latin America, in the Middle East. It’s a symbiotic relationship between opportunistic political leaders and a sentiment of discontent, hopelessness and alienation of a considerable segment of the population. We are stuck in a vicious cycle of discrimination and extremist violence (physical and ideological) on different sides of the political spectrum.
The malleable, vulnerable minds of regular people fall prey to extremist rhetoric, and they pick up whatever is around to inflict damage on the innocent scapegoats they are manipulated into dehumanizing.
Such a wave feeds and is in turn fed by the fostering of divisions, fear and distrust through an excluding thread of discourse, often with underlying national, religious, cultural and/or ethnic themes. Politicians and opinion-makers use these elements to unite an otherwise disparate electorate under a stereotype-painted ideological flag that uses “the other” as a scapegoat for a nation’s problems (remember the Nazis after WWI). It seems to come about most easily when people are losing their jobs and homes and want someone to blame; they are angry and desperate, and want simplistic solutions to their problems (remember the global recession set off in 2007). It can be said that recession leads to revolution.
But this is not just it. Other, much more politically experienced right-wingers have failed where Trump has thrived. He knocked them all out. Our hopes for the rising left have been all but dashed or at least put on hold until the next cycle. So perhaps we should take a hard look at ourselves – in desperately trying to prevent the Trump-nado, did we actually help strengthen it?
Where have we gone wrong?
It’s not enough to blame the millions of people currently supporting Trump, what they stand for, Trump himself, or even external forces and conditions. It’s time to deeply reflect upon our own role, as the opposition, getting into this quagmire. It’s time to rethink the strategy to prevent the Trump-nado from moving in on us and wreaking havoc for the next four – to eight (!) – years.
I also feel like it’s not enough just to cast my vote against him as a U.S. Citizen. I need to speak up. Here’s where I think we could have done better, and where we can improve. Hopefully there’s still time to address the situation…
Name-calling and the spread of (mis)information
Yes, some of Trump’s supporters are racist, ignorant, fear-mongering social media freaks – a role Trump himself has conspicuously played. But we shouldn’t dismiss all of them as being like that, without even so much as trying to look at what underlies the rhetoric they are espousing and often sharing so indiscriminately. By lashing out against Trump’s supporters and ridiculing them, we – just like them – have fallen into the tricky trap of emotion and ideology.
Without realizing it, via our “like” and “share” habits, we become Facebook-trigger-happy tools in a much broader struggle of the capitalist political titans.
We contribute to a snowball effect engineered by those with keen knowledge of what goes viral (e.g. those running political campaigns).
For instance, one image and quote circulating on social media sought to attack both Trump and his supporters in one fell swoop, and to pit his own supporters against him. The version I came across bears the seal (planted there or legitimate?) of The Other 98%, which describes itself as “both a non-profit organization and a grassroots network of concerned people that shines a light on economic injustice, undue corporate influence and threats to democracy.”
I really wish this were true, and even jumped on it and shared it on my Facebook page right away – before, a few seconds later, realizing it was probably too good to be true, looking it up and finding out it was actually false. I deleted it from my page and instead put up the Snopes.com article debunking it.
My own indiscriminate sharing episode caused me to practice some serious self-reflection. It’s easier to choose these easy punches over harder-earned bits of credible information. But we need to. We need to use logic and facts over the irrationality, ignorance, mud-slinging Trump himself promotes. Or else noble causes run the risk of being undermined.
We need to stop playing his game.
Because we are playing his game. We are succumbing to his team’s destabilizing strategy.
We hear his irrational ideas and insults, his deceit, his proposal to build a wall to keep Mexicans out (to be paid by the Mexican government). We become blinded by rage. And instead of responding with class and substantial arguments, some of us descend to his low level and use a similar token back.
We further enrage his current and potential supporters and encourage them to rally to the side of the “wronged” candidate. We, along with Republican Marco Rubio (whose presidential campaign now Rests In Peace), make fun of Trump’s orange skin. We make fun of his hair. We call him the types of names children use against each other in the schoolyard. We become bullies, too. Some people become violent, while others condone it.
Meanwhile, we are distracted from trying to really investigate and dig up something to destroy Trump’s presidential bid, something that could crack his staunch supporters’ faith – the way the unfolding DNC e-mail controversy could eventually do against Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Team Trump is all over the story, pouring on the gasoline. Where’s Anonymous been, for a possible counter?
Yes, Trump makes horrible, irresponsible and very public xenophobic comments which, with the necessary congressional and policy-making avowal, could prove quite disastrous for the U.S., and the world. This “joke” of a man is now the Republican presidential nominee, and we simply don’t know how much of his crazy rhetoric could pan out. There’s only one playoff left until he wins the championship – and our team is perhaps lethally divided, while his gets stronger. Through all our differences, how many of us and them can be united under the #NeverTrump hashtag?
Writes Michael Moore (who doesn’t even believe the widely disliked Clinton can beat Trump with facts):
“Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long, all the way until the last polling place has closed, making sure every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Bob and Joe and Billy Bob and Billy Joe and Billy Bob Joe) has cast his ballot? That’s right. That’s the high level of danger we’re in. And don’t fool yourself — no amount of compelling Hillary TV ads, or outfacting him in the debates or Libertarians siphoning votes away from Trump is going to stop his mojo.”
LeipGlo’s Daniel Leon has rightly pointed out to me that we have spent too much energy mud-slinging against Trump while overlooking what makes the alternative a better candidate. Let’s take a lesson from First Lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention who, contrary to many of her fellow Democrats’ speeches there, refused to give Trump airtime and instead focused on why we should go for the Democratic ticket. She calls on us to take the high, classy road in this battle.
Treating Trump and his camp as a joke (or punching bag)
Many people have taken to Trump because they don’t feel represented by other politicians. Trump has validated these people, drawing upon their intimate (often bigoted) thoughts, while planting thoughts in their heads too. They see him not as a politician, but as someone whose financial prominence, celebrity status and “loose cannon” style give them hope for their own lives. Trump embodies capitalism and a warped idea of the American Dream featuring a dirty old man, his trophy wife, pretty kids, a TV show, buildings named after him, and his own (scammy) university.
Of course, Trump supporters have enraged the opposition with their remarks and attitude. Both sides have engaged in violence. But we need to take the higher road, and some responsibility. By treating Trump’s supporters simply as morons, by attacking them, we have further ignited their anger and inability to listen, to engage in dialogue. Look at what happened with Brexit, where all supporters also are not cut from the same cloth. Trump is now courting the leftist grassroots movement behind Bernie Sanders, which shares a distrust of the “establishment” with much of Trump’s voter base, although their agendas are different.
We need to stop giving Trump’s team and electorate fuel to try to discredit us and win over disgruntled Democrats and on-the-fence Republicans. Trump doesn’t need any more help in achieving that.
We are losing voters who could perhaps be swayed, the people who weren’t sure. This includes a segment of the conservative Latino community, which has helped decide many an election (let’s not forget the Bush-favoring debacle in Florida in 2000). Focusing on a Mexican-American (!) Trump supporter as the human face, a New Yorker article from March 2016 painted a troubling picture:
“Fourteen per cent of Hispanic voters say they will ‘definitely support’ the Republican candidate in November, and Castillo, who describes himself as an ‘American of Mexican descent, in that order,’ is not an anomaly in his support for Trump. Although eighty per cent of Latino voters held an unfavorable opinion of Trump in a recent Washington Post/Univision poll, a fifth of Hispanic Republicans said they planned to vote for Trump during the Party’s primaries. That level of support has remained constant in states with a discernible Hispanic presence. According to entrance and exit polls, Trump got just under half of the admittedly few Hispanic Republican votes in Nevada and a quarter of them in Texas, surpassing Marco Rubio in both instances. Rubio won Florida’s Latino vote (seventeen per cent of all Republican voters) by a wide margin, but Trump’s backing among Hispanics remained at twenty-six per cent.”
The Facebook group Latinos/Hispanics for Donald Trump has about 26,000 members. Here’s a personal Facebook post by a Hispanic guy in his 30s, with whom I once attended school in South Florida:
“Where’s all this ‘tolerance’ I keep hearing about from democrats? If you thought Trump supporters are violent, they are boy scouts compared to the Bernie and Hillary supporters. Lol. I have yet to see Trump supporters organize at a Bernie or Hillary rally and attempt to intimidate, provoke violence, riot, and shame people out of their Free Speech. It’s disgusting how these people try to turn their right to assemble into an excuse to provoke violence and riot at every single Trump event. If these are the kind of people who oppose Trump, he’s doing something right.”
And here’s a post ardently defending Trump, by someone you probably wouldn’t see as the stereotypical Trump supporter – a U.S. diplomat and former international relations professor at a Florida university, also of Latino background (Daniel Leon spotted this one for us):
“From tabloid magazines to The New York Times to the hundreds of semi-respectable Facebook pages, thousands of articles have appeared over the last couple of months about Trump being a racist and/or a bigot. And let me add some more. Other accusations are he is a fascist and the new Hitler; he incites violence; and that he hates women. (…) Trump is the anti-Establishment candidate. All the puppets of the media, banksters, Wall Street shysters, Neocons and the oligarchs (Koch brothers, George Soros, Sheldon Adelson etc.) will reject Trump until he secures the presidency. (…) A record number of citizens voted for Trump even though the Republican contest started out with 17 candidates. Many Democrats and independents switched their party affiliation to vote for Trump (me included). (…) He is not a bigot. He is not a racist. His popularity will keep rising, trust me. And in all likelihood, Trump will be the next president.”
Undoubtedly, Trump’s supporters now represent a big political force that could change this country (for the worse), and should be taken seriously. This helps explain Clinton’s choice for Spanish-speaking, moderate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) as her running mate.
She and her team are probably losing hope at this point of attracting the needed number of Sanders supporters, with for instance a Green Party bid on the horizon that could further splinter the Democratic vote.
Conquering the trap of shock and outrage
Part of the documentary (Dis)Honesty – The Truth about Lies features a marketing specialist working with the website Tucker Max. The website is perhaps purposely disgusting and misogynistic in portraying its protagonist’s sexual exploits with women. As a “guerilla marketing” strategy to boost the success of the site and related book, the marketing specialist launched a fake smear campaign against Tucker Max that reinforced and augmented people’s criticism against it. This included planting negative comments in online forums and defacing Tucker Max movie posters. The campaign snowballed into widespread media attention and even protests, as well as heightened curiosity surrounding the character, which served to increase the brand’s popularity and staying power.
That’s kind of what Donald Trump and his team have been doing, with the (unwitting) help of the opposition. The shock advertising crafted via Trump’s words has served both to catch the attention of his target electorate and keep Trump in the media. After all, the media cannot resist a sensationalistic story, just as it cannot resist replaying terrorist attacks and giving ISIS airtime.
Trump’s tactics have succeeded at driving the opposition into a rage that could crucially impair our logic and cripple our chances of defeating him. He has struck divisive suspicion and fears – though different fears – in the hearts of both his supporters and his opposition. He has united an otherwise disparate electorate under his flag, in a way none of the other presidential candidates have been able to achieve.
We need to stop, take a deep breath and think straight. What could we, as regular citizens, do? How about those of us living abroad?
I’m in favor of micro-level campaigning. Let’s do our research. If you oppose Trump and know supporters of his personally, I suggest you talk to them. Better yet if you have a relationship with them that precludes you from seeing them as simply morons – and them from seeing you as simply a liberal liar. If they’re not being hateful, tell them, “I respect your viewpoint, but…” Find some issues or pet-peeves you may have in common and present the alternative to Trump for solving them. That is, the fact-based alternative. You might make them at least think twice about what they’re getting ready to do at the polls.