Opinion: There’s a Better Way to Talk to Trump Supporters


Serena Phanitdasack

A Donald Trump costume held the center of attention at Women’s March San Jose

When they go low, we go high.

-Former First Lady Michelle Obama

I have long been a champion of progressive policies such as crafting a more equitable health care system, ending the assault on undocumented immigrants, and dramatically reforming the criminal justice system. I would be happy to discuss the intricacies of each policy with anyone who wishes to do so. But this isn’t about policy.  It’s about language, and the way we communicate with those we disagree with.

Considering that the districts surrounding Foothill College supported Hillary Clinton by upwards of 70% in 2016, it is safe to assume that this school is composed of people that strongly oppose Trump and his conservative cronies. I do not take exception to that, and I certainly share that view. What I do take exception with is the rather hateful language that has infiltrated the policy discussion and poisoned our political system. And although we didn’t start this fight, we are certainly perpetuating it.

Donald Trump exploited the fault lines long present in American society, and rode the subsequent wave of anger to the Oval Office. Each day he continues to erode the institutions that have long made our democracy possible, and his language has cleaved America down the middle. His racist rhetoric, past sexual transgressions, xenophobia, and general lack of understanding of public policy has led to a wellspring of resistance, and a renewed dedication to the civic process, evident by the string of demonstrations that have taken place during his administration.

I attended the 2018 San Jose Women’s March — an impressive display of democracy in action. Women, and those that support their plight, gathered together and signaled to the world that they will no longer be relegated to the sidelines. It was exactly the kind of activism that has time and time again changed the world, and it is certainly needed in these trying times. With all that said, something rather ironic stuck out to me. Many of the marchers carried signs with them, lifting them for all to see, and interspersed amongst the “Love Trumps Hate” signs were signs that depicted Trump supporters as neanderthals and as idiotic racists wooed by Trump’s rhetoric. This characterization of his supporters can be seen all across the country, and although many feel that it’s justified, I would argue that it’s dangerous.

Other than perhaps the kooky uncle that spouts off unsubstantiated conspiracy theories on social media, the only interactions that my fellow students have with the legion of Trump supporters is via Trump himself, or the sickening displays of outright racism depicted on the news. And although the situation through this lens and on social media can seem bleak, there are rays of hope, and we should not yet condemn all of his supporters as lost causes.

Yes, there is true hatred within his ranks, and yes, there is a sizeable majority of people that will continue to follow Trump no matter what he does. But according to the New York Times, approximately nine percent of Trump supporters also voted for President Obama in 2012, and as Trump’s approval ratings continue to plummet, there is a steadily growing portion of his supporters that are drifting away. Progressives must target this demographic if we hope to win elections and implement the progressive policies that are so critical for the future of our nation. This means we cannot continue to lob incendiary rhetoric at them, and paint the nearly 63 million people that voted for him with a single brush. This doesn’t mean that they should be let off the hook for their support of him, for by doing so they allowed racism to once again openly flourish within our borders, but we should certainly look for ways to identify those that are wavering and attempt to separate them from the pack.

But our current method of labeling every single one of his supporters as a “knuckle-dragging deplorable” or a “Trumptard” is counterproductive. It is exceedingly rare for one to turn from their ways when they’re being insulted — no matter how warranted and truthful the insult may be — and often times the response is to just burrow deeper. Although we may be justified in cutting them off and lambasting them for their decisions, a democracy cannot properly function when hatred rules the day. The responsibility, as weighty as it is, to safeguard our democracy falls on our shoulders, and we must do what we can to evangelize the promise of progress. We can refuse to tolerate racism, sexism, and xenophobia, and work to eradicate them from our nation. At the same time, we can attempt to address their root causes (ignorance) rather than attacking their symptoms. The best way to resist Trump is to work on winnowing his base and growing the progressive movement, which is perhaps a more permanent form of resistance.

I’m sure some would point out our changing demographics and say that the days are numbered for the forces that elected Trump, so all we have to do is wait. Although that’s a valid point, simply waiting for such a change is gravely unjust for the people currently at risk and suffering from the policies emanating from his administration, and from similar administrations to follow.

Now, I know many will read this and label it as oversimplified and idealistic, and that the writer is nothing more than naive political neophyte. But for those that claim the progressive mantle and advocate for a more equitable America, the only path forward is the one I’m advocating. There is already been some limited success in this department, as shown by Black Lives Matter Activist Hank Newsome’s success in getting Trump supporters to actually listen to him at a pro-Trump rally, and even beloved progressive icon Bernie Sanders has urged Democrats to reach out to Trump supporters.

I hope to one day see the United States become a country that aids those that struggle beneath the weight of discrimination, that are saddled with debt from ballooning healthcare costs, and that are robbed of their life and liberty due to an antiquated and blatantly racist criminal justice system. Unfortunately, in order for that to happen, we must convert at least some of those with views I find reprehensible to our cause. I am absolutely prepared to fail, and to be called a snowflake by the right and a sellout by the left, but the cold truth remains: we need those we’d love to hate.

As the late, great Maya Angelou once said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” We would do well to heed her words.