Recently, I’ve had some conversations about whether or not Trump supporters can be labeled as racist. I contend that they can, but not in the way you might think. First, we have to describe what we mean by racist. The Oxford Dictionary defines racist as a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another. That means you don’t have to wave the Confederate Flag or have a tattoo of a swastika to be racist. Racism comes in many forms. Racist thoughts and feelings include being afraid when crossing paths with a black man on the street, thinking that someone with brown skin and speaking Spanish is an immigrant or an illegal immigrant, not wanting Syrian refugees in your country because they could be Muslim extremists, thinking that a person of color only got their job because of affirmative action, preferential housing treatment for people based on the color of their skin, etc. Anyone who thinks these things and more could even have friends of color, but they definitely have feelings of discrimination and prejudice.
Some of Trump’s platform and campaign promises were indeed racist: Build a wall to keep Mexicans out (who are all criminals), require all Muslims to register (we need to keep track of those terrorists), refuse to let in Syrian refugees and refugees from other Muslim countries (terrorists again), as well as attacks on the Iranian and Chinese governments (citing trust and trade deals as a concern). There also was a growing concern as the election grew near that overt racists would become more emboldened and begin to commit hate crimes, which actually has happened. And Trump has the very public endorsement of the KKK. This is all very unsettling, and it should make any sensible person look elsewhere for a presidential candidate.
But Trump supporters did not look elsewhere. They were drawn in by other campaign promises, like the repeal of the ACA, deregulating banking, deregulating environmental protections, and bringing back jobs from countries like China. These kinds of Trump supporters were thinking of their own financial interests. I certainly can’t fault someone for thinking about their own financial security, but Trump supporters did so knowing that he could likely enforce many of his discriminatory campaign promises. Unfortunately, when it comes to political candidates, you can’t separate the parts you don’t like, so you have to decide which principles you will sacrifice in favor of others. Trump supporters decided to tolerate his racist rhetoric and policies for the hopes of more money for themselves.
Tolerance can be tricky. The Oxford Dictionary defines tolerance as the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with. Often, tolerance can be a good thing. It allows people to agree to disagree on religious views, lifestyle choices, etc. However, tolerance can be bad. Sometimes we tolerate our friends being mean to other people because they’re our friends and “if you’re nice to me, I’m nice to you.” When we’re bystanders to bullying and discrimination, we are tolerating the bullying and discrimination we’re witnessing. We simply cannot tolerate racism, nor can we agree to disagree on human right violations. When we tolerate the racism of another person, we are complicit in their racist acts. Trump supporters might not feel racist, but they were able to justify voting for someone who is racist and who promises to commit racist acts. It’s like getting paid $20 to look away as someone you don’t know gets kicked in the head.
I want all Trump supporters to feel ashamed of the decision they made but not so that I can elevate myself as the better person. I want them to feel ashamed so that they will feel motivated to stop these kinds of legislative and executive decisions from being made and so that they will consider these things the next time they vote.