Trump could have won—it’s about time we take his supporters seriously
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
People who don’t talk to former or current Trump supporters need to know that the “orange man bad” narrative is tired and near death.
I wasn’t interested in politics until about 2015; most people my age probably didn’t care about politics until then. I remember thinking it was interesting that Obama was the first black president, but I had no special feelings about him. Maybe that was a by-product of age, I was 15 at the time and more interested in getting a starting position on my high school football team than who would be the leader of the free world. Things changed when Donald Trump began his presidential bid. I started to care because the rhetoric was so egregious and to me, distasteful. At that time, I was a bit further to the left (or at least enamoured with “woke” politics) than I am now and certainly unable to understand how anyone could be a Trump supporter. However, travel will introduce you to people you wouldn’t imagine being friends with and Facebook makes the world smaller than you had thought it could be.
There’s a Trump supporter (lets call him Ryan) I know from a gym we both went to years ago. In all honesty, if we had met face-to-face more than twice in our lives I would be shocked, yet in spite of years of bickering and ad hominem attacks, Ryan and I never unfriended each other on Facebook (though I was tempted to a hundred times or more). I don’t claim to share Ryan’s opinions, but after the abysmal performance of Joe Biden, coupled with my dislike for the old man, it’s clear to me that the Democrats have lost touch with the majority of people and have built a stonewall of terrible ideas around their lack of platform. Though Ryan and I may not see eye-to-eye, I have become good friends with a former Trump supporter and UBC alumni who I am calling Gonzalo. We started our friendship drunkenly arguing about Trump and his cabinet in a South Korean hostel a scant three months after Trump won the 2016 election. People who don’t talk to former or current Trump supporters need to know that the “orange man bad” narrative is tired and near death. Polls that predicted a Biden sweep were as wrong (or worse) in 2020 as they were 2016. Somebody has to say that Trump is popular because the opposition sucks. The question is whether the Democratic party will rebuild itself into something that reaches the masses and doesn’t spawn Trump successors or slip further into the sleepy centrism that made Trump possible.
A lot of us love liberal ideas, yet seldom do we consider whether those ideas are good or even applicable to all. I asked Ryan what drove him to Trump and his response was simple: “Well, political correctness (PC) and being force-fed bad ideas while at the same time being told how to think and what not to say is a good start.” Though his definition of PC is certainly different than mine, I can’t pretend as if it’s not true that the box of acceptable ideas and statements has shrunk as the years go by. Recently, political commentator Saagar Enjeti pointed out that when people disparage socialism and the left, they are actually talking about cultural liberalism. He sees this critique as people showing how much they despise woke politics. Though Ryan went on to describe the Democratic party as “Marxist progressive” (which is laughable to those on the left), Gonzalo built on the point by saying: “Trump supporters have many reasons for being where they are. Instead, it’s important to look at the underlying issues that caused them to support Trump since it’s easy to forget that many of the same people that voted for Obama previously, later voted for Trump.” Here, Edison research polls agree, showing that 82 percent of Trump voters put the economy as top priority and Ryan himself stated that Trump’s “businessman-like competence,” economic progress, plus the fact that he did not start a new war have continued his support.
Gonzalo went from supporting Obama to Trump to Buttigieg, a thought process he explained by saying: “I was a steadfast supporter of moderate neoliberal ideals. Trump on the other hand was a maverick for me. He was able to campaign in a manner that no other politician had been able to campaign. Not to mention his position on China and North Korea was what really made me support him.” Though Gonzalo’s support for neoliberalism breaks my revolutionary heart, Ryan agrees in part with the idea that Trump’s 2016 campaign was beneficial to the world: “Donald Trump is not just the leader of the United States, but of Western civilization […] As a Canadian I view the success of the United States as pivotal to the success of Western civilization […] NATO countries like Canada not paying their fair share when it comes to its defence commitments [impacts me directly]. The Trump administration worked on this issue and thus strengthened the collective defence of Western civilization through NATO.”
The most common slander used against Trump has always been that he is a racist. I was particularly interested in their responses for two reasons: one, Gonzalo is a Latino, so should have a more nuanced thought on this; and two, I have previously accused Ryan of being a racist myself. Gonzalo’s opinion was the most illuminating: “It seemed more like attempts to smear him and use race as a way to divide opinion against him. It felt as if I had to vote a certain way because of my race and that was more infuriating than what was brought up against him.”
I have never—and by all indications will never—supported Donald Trump, however, I have noticed this type of race-determined vote rhetoric constantly. Too many people are too comfortable declaring that [insert demographic] belongs to one party or another when the reality is that no group is a monolith and people can tell when they won’t get better results by voting the way their parents did. Ryan predicted that Trump would do better with minority demographics, and according to polls, Trump only did worse with white men versus improvements with all other demographics; as to accusations of racism, Ryan stated simply that: “I feel like the people who play the R (race) card are people who most likely are losing a debate. Yes, racism exists, but I don’t see evidence of this in Trump.” My personal contentions aside, if the 70-or-so million Americans who voted for Trump were all racists, America would have many more hate crimes than it currently does. I certainly believe that there are racists who support Trump, but it’s more likely to me that the two-party system is failing everyone than it is that there are tens of millions of rabid racists in the country.
Finally, I asked both men how they thought the election would go and any chance of post-election violence. Ryan gave the expected response that the elections seem rigged and that: “Both sides are capable of extreme violence but so far most of the riots have come from the left; I haven’t seen a Trump riot yet.” Gonzalo, however, felt differently, saying that although there hasn’t been a Belfast moment yet, “I am worried that if something isn’t done soon, the country will slowly begin to break down. As for who will cause the most damage, far-right groups are the most likely […] FBI reports already state that they are a growing threat to the US. Given their access to firearms, inhibition to follow conspiracy theories, and general anger towards the other side, they are likely to be a major issue after the election regardless of the results.” From my point-of-view, it’s undeniable that the left has been in the streets willingly destroying things, but the type of violence to come will vary between the groups. Altercations stemming from leftist mobs are more frequent, but I think that the right is more likely to kill innocent people through “lone wolf” terrorism.
Political elites on the left, and even you the reader, need to realize that Trumpism is not going away. He spoke to people for more reasons than just a shared disdain for the poor minority. In fact, after Trump’s four years in office, 56 percent of Americans thought they were better off than before, according to an Gallup survey from last month. Throwing our support behind the emaciated corpse of Joe Biden and the neoliberal shapeshifter known as Kamala Harris will only garner us a more powerful despot later down the road. The goal needs to be making parties that actually help the people, instead of mud slinging at the “other” side.