With all due respect to Carly Fiorina, along with my esteemed colleagues Dan Spencer and streiff, I find the idea that Donald Trump’s supporters are beyond stereotype to be the most irony-laden concept to come down the pike in quite some time. The driving force behind Donald Trump’s entire base of support is stereotype – stereotype of everyone who is not a Trump supporter.
After all, I am old enough to remember that Trump was a novelty item when he announced his candidacy, and was so desperate for the appearance of support that he had to pay people 50 bucks a head to show up in the background for his announcement speech and clap for him. Then that speech fed into a stereotype of illegal immigrants as rapists, and Trump’s support took off.
Since that time, Trump has made stereotyping of other people – especially foreigners – a hallmark of his campaign rhetoric. His proposal to close off all immigration to the United States for all Muslims? Based on a stereotype. His rhetoric about both China and Mexico with respect to trade? Based on stereotypes. Trump stereotypes the media, politicians, anyone who’s involved in any group who’s the object of that day’s two minutes’ hate. He’s cynically played on his supporters’ inherent distrust of foreigners to suggest that both Cruz and Rubio are ineligible to run for President even though he himself has said in the past he knew good and well that they were eligible to run. He also casually stereotypes women as people who need him to “take care of” them (Among other things). He stereotypes every conservative and/or Republican who opposes him as an establishment toady who is probably corrupt or representing a “special interest,” to boot.
Now, whenever Trump is pressed on any of the divisive and stereotype-laden rhetoric that his campaign has cynically used to split this party in two and bring the country to the brink of civil unrest, Trump will always say that sure, there are many great, quality people of group X, but there are enough of them who are a problem that we are justified in treating the rest with suspicion until they prove their worth as Americans. He’s said it about Muslims, Mexicans, pretty much everyone he’s lumped into a giant group.
I think it’s eminently fair to apply the same standard to Trump’s supporters, as a group. Are there good, conservative, intelligent, non-bigoted people who support Trump? Sure. I haven’t met any personally, but I’m sure they exist. Are there enough of them who are racist, xenophobic, authoritarian drooling troglodytes to pose a problem? You bet.
Using Trump’s own rhetorical standard, is it okay for me to treat them all like racist xenophobes with a fascist streak until they prove to me that they’re not one? Sure. Sauce for the goose, and all that.
But really, it goes beyond the sauce for the goose being good for the gander. It goes to a justified belief about people who are comfortable, after hearing Trump’s rhetoric, in pulling the lever for him to be President of the United States. The justified belief in this case is that they have to be pretty comfortable themselves with the kind of ready, lazy stereotype that is Trump’s stock in trade. And that’s pretty much the textbook definition of what a “racist” or a “xenophobe” is. And while I share many conservatives’ outrage with liberals’ abuse of those words beyond that definition, that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to not call an actual racist (or xenophobe, or whatever) a racist (or xenophobe) when I see one.
Let’s apply this to other contexts. If I hear that a Muslim has been going to a mosque where someone like Anjem Choudary preaches hatred every Sunday for years, I’m going to feel just fine treating them like a potential terrorist because anyone who isn’t one wouldn’t feel comfortable just sitting and listening to that kind of rhetoric and endorsing it with their presence year after year.
Conservatives said and believed the same kind of thing about Obama with respect to Jeremiah Wright. They said it was meaningful that Obama sat in a pew and just listened to such a man approvingly for years. They said Obama’s silent consent in following Wright indicated at the very least casual disdain for America.
The list really could go on and on. We treat what a person is willing to endure in the rhetoric of their leaders as probative evidence of their own state of mind, and we always have. And the fact that Trump’s supporters are willing to tolerate his rhetoric doesn’t speak well of them, at least if we assume that they are listening. And given the insane, wall-to-wall coverage Trump has gotten from the media, we are relatively safe in assuming that they are.
The main reason Trump’s support exists is stereotype. It’s a bit much for me to hear that people who have chosen the stereotype candidate in this election should not themselves be stereotyped. Maybe that’s not very being-the-bigger-person of me, but Trump has already littered the roadside of this election with the corpses of his enemies who have tried to be the bigger person. And to me this is not a game. The future of the country as I know it is at stake.