I Empathize with Trump Supporters (and You Should, too)

Preface: This is the planned follow-up to my Trump blog post from last Friday. I’ve been wrestling with the decision to publish this, as it seems on many levels to be irreverent to the tragedy that happened over the weekend. Ultimately, I realized that the greater message here isn’t about whom you’re voting for. It’s about being willing to empathize with our fellow human beings, no matter how different their values are from ours. I think we can all use a healthy dose of that right now, and that’s why I decided to publish this.


Let me start by setting the record straight:

I can’t stand Donald Trump. As a teenager in the wee ’90s, I read how he screwed investors over with his multiple bankruptcies, and I remember thinking, “Man, what an asshole” (partially because 16-year-old me thought I was being rebellious by simply thinking the word “asshole,” but mostly because he was kind of an asshole).

Over the ensuing decades, my opinion of him only sunk lower. When he entered the political spotlight last year, and the nonstop filth started pouring out of his mouth, I expanded my opinion of him to, “Man, what a fucking racist misogynistic homophobic asshole” (partially because 40-year-old me is allowed to say “fucking” and knows the definition of “misogynistic” and “homophobic,” but mostly because he is kind of a fucking racist misogynistic homophobic asshole).

But then, he started winning primary after primary after primary. And at some point, I had to accept a grim reality: A ton of people do in fact support him. Literally 13 million people have voted for Trump so far.

So does that mean that all 13 million of these people are racist misogynistic homophobic assholes, too?

Call me an optimist, but I refuse to believe this. The fact that Trump has earned so many votes tells me there has to be something more going on. Yes, his main demographic is white and male, but we can’t just ignore the fact that he also enjoys support from MuslimsLatinos, womengays, and a host of other minority groups.

It can’t just be about bullying and hatred and racism and misogyny and whatever-phobia. And for my part, I won’t dismiss the opinions of 13 million people simply because I don’t understand them.

And so, I’ve spent the last few months trying to gain some insight into the Trump phenomenon. I researched Trump’s actual positions, so I could understand what parts might resonate with people. I sought out articles about and personal accounts by his supporters, both loyal and reluctant. I even met a few in person, mostly through chance encounters, and I was lucky enough to engage them in civil discourse.

And I was right: Trump supporters are not hateful bigots. Well, okay, not all of them are. Their values and priorities are simply different from mine.The issues that matter to me aren’t on their radar, while the issues that matter to them aren’t on mine. And it’s not my place to say that my issues are more valid than theirs.

I discovered that many of them even share the same worries as I do, amongst them a growing cynicism towards our government. I found that I could understand on some level why they were throwing their support towards Trump.

Ultimately, my attempts to connect to the Trump phenomenon led me to this somewhat pro-Trump blog post.

Now, as the post makes very clear, I’m only considering voting for Trump in the general election. It’s not a set decision by any means. I simply wanted to share my disillusionment with our political system, and explain why I would even consider doing something most of my friends deem unthinkable.

Since the majority of my social network leans left, I was expecting people to jump in and tell me why I was wrong. I wanted people to point out the flaws in my logic. I wanted to be convinced that voting for Trump is a dumb thing to do. Because my opinions of him certainly haven’t changed.

And people did step up. Many brought up perfectly valid arguments and even points that I had failed to consider. Some folks were somewhat condescending and even angry, but … whatever. I have nothing but respect for those who offered their rebuttals in a level-headed manner.

I was surprised, however, to get outright dismissal and hatred from a handful of folks. I even got a few choice “fuck yous.”

Now, that just strikes me as a bit of a self-defeating strategy. If someone proclaims that they’re undecided on a potentially history-changing decision, why in the world would you try to sway them by berating them?

I think the only appropriate reaction here is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I think the only appropriate reaction here is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Frankly, I expect better from my own side of the political spectrum. I’ve always believed that liberals are the tolerant ones. That’s what surveys and science tell us, ya know. We’re the ones who value harmony with the world. We’re the ones who are understanding and empathetic towards all of our fellow human beings, no matter how different they are from us.

I guess I was wrong. As it turns out, there are assholes everywhere. Oh wait, I wrote about this before.

Now, I do get why this is happening. Many liberals are terrified by the prospects of a Trump Presidency, and rightfully so. However, as their fear grows, they’re slowly becoming just as close-minded and intolerant as their far right-wing counterparts, even to the point of outright violence. It’s telling that many Trump supporters feel they have to hide their beliefs from public view.

On some level, I experienced this firsthand last Friday. And to be blunt, some of my brethren disappoint me.

Look, my fellow liberals: If you truly despise Trump, if you truly want to convince others not to vote for him, then at least try to understand the mindset of those tens of millions of people who support him. If your only admonishments thus far can be reduced to little more than anti-Trump talking points, then I’m guessing you haven’t made that effort. And along those lines, stop with the sanctimonious rhetoric. We all know that Trump has spewed some vile racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic bullshit. You pointing this out to a Trump supporter is only stating the obvious and won’t convince them of squat. Instead, figure out why they know all this about Trump, yet still support him.

I’ll even wager that you yourself have friends you didn’t realize are Trump supporters. If you discover one, don’t shame them. Ask them, sincerely and openly, how they came to their decision. Because the ones who are least vocal about their support are probably the ones with the most compelling reasons for actually supporting him. These are the people who get what an asshole he is, yet believe they still need to vote for him. These are the people you should be engaging.

That’s how you change minds, you know. By connecting to them. Not by pounding them into submission.

Trump 2

See? This is how you express 100% disagreement in a rational, yet persuasive manner.

On the other hand, if you believe that no Trump supporter is worth engaging, that they must simply be brushed aside with a flick of your hand or a flash of your fist, then I would argue that you are just as much of a bigot as those you accuse of being bigots.

If your anti-Trump cause is worth fighting for, then get out there and make some connections. Be logical, be rational, be sympathetic, be empathetic. And above all, recognize that a Trump supporter is still a living, breathing, thinking human being. Recognize that as liberals, we’re the ones who are “supposed” to be good at humanizing the other side, even if the other side doesn’t extend the same to us. (And yes, I recognize the irony in that statement, as I just effectively dehumanized the humanizing abilities of conservatives. Damn it, life is complicated.)

And if you can’t even be civil to someone on your own side who’s having doubts? Then you probably should just shut up and do some quiet reflection for a while.

Because I guarantee you, you’ll only alienate people and push them even further towards Trump if you continue to treat any Trump supporter as a faceless asshole.

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5 thoughts on “I Empathize with Trump Supporters (and You Should, too)

  1. Pingback: How Clinton Supporters Hurt Their Own Cause | Dennis Hong's Attic

  2. I might follow up your post with a post of my own concerning this topic. We forget that the people on the other side of the aisle are still people with their own fears and insecurities. It’s dangerous in a diverse and often divided country like the US to forget that your opponents are your fellow citizens. I may not agree with Trump’s supporters, but I understand their fear and will say (as a liberal) that I understand their fear. If we simply label them as “deplorable” people, then we aren’t bridging that gap, we’re just widening it. Solid post.

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