Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Little Rock last week drew thousands of Arkansans from across the state. And as much as we would all like to pretend that most of them were just there for the spectacle, the reality is that Trump’s message resonates with at least some of our population.
It is important to remember that Trump supporters are not Trump, and that jumping to conclusions about them does much more harm than good for everyone involved.
Of course, most college-aged adults are not Trump supporters; younger people, even in the south, tend to be much more liberal than their older counterparts. Trump’s rally means very little for most of those students, who perhaps found it marginally interesting or terrifying that he came to the state but who have no intention of giving him the time of day. Most politically active students already know who they want
to vote for and who represents their interests best, and for most of them, that isn’t Trump.
The problem is that individuals are often so confident in their opinion regarding who would make the best president that they tend to regard the opposition as less than, and this is true of all sides of the political spectrum. Democrats tend to characterize Republicans as ignorant, while Republicans characterize Democrats as elitist. These characterizations don’t just stop at the candidate running on the opposite side; they bleed over into how we see individuals on a daily basis.
This is where the bipartisan divide in the United States is truly a threat.
There are plenty of criticisms that one could lobby against Trump’s platform, and to do so would be responsible. Challenging candidates on issues is fundamental to a functioning democracy. The reality is that Trump as president would do very little to help the average Arkansan, but his message somehow convinces some that that doesn’t matter. Those who support Trump may be misguided and may indeed be ignorant, but more importantly, they are being actively misled.
It isn’t an accident that Arkansas, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, is represented almost across the board by Republicans who believe in personal responsibility over welfare or state aid. It is almost always those who would benefit most from liberal policies that support the ultraconservative.
Conservatives in this country have been cultivating a voice for decades that seems to have found a home in Trump. Rhetoric wins elections. As long as Republicans are the party of freedom, liberty and God, if only in name, a large portion of the population will continue to vote for them, often against their own interests.
The solution isn’t to yell and shout about how bigoted republicans are for supporting someone like Trump. Telling people that their beliefs are invalid is the best way to ensure that they never listen to you again on any issue. Unfortunately, in this climate of us against them, explaining to individuals why their beliefs are misguided or incorrect doesn’t work very well either.
We need to hold the right wing of the Republican party responsible for the divisive language they employ to garner support from often poor white people.
In addition, we need to start bridging the gap between the Right and the Left. Though ideologically the two will never meet, it makes no sense for there to be such vitriol between two people whose only distinction is the way that they vote. The bipartisan divide is destroying our country, both by being inefficient and by dividing neighbors and entire cultures over issues that are misrepresented from the beginning.
image via floridapolitics.com