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When you attack Trump, you attack his supporters

Column: When was the last time you changed someone's behavior or opinion by calling him an idiot?

Donald Trump is an easy target for his foes. His outsized ego and stunning ignorance make verbally tearing him down about as difficult as demolishing a house of Legos. But what happened to "when they go low, we go high"?

Stephen Colbert called him a P.O.S. ("part of society," the talk show host explained, ha ha); billionaire Mark Cuban called him a "jagoff," GOP strategist Liz Mair called him a "loudmouthed d***," John McCain's daughter called him a "barbarian," and celebrity Rosie O'Donnell called him an "orange slug."

With each elitist insult and smug dismissal of the Republican presidential nominee as "bat**** crazy," (Mr. Cuban again) the speakers also slam Mr. Trump's millions of supporters, including hundreds of thousands of people in Maryland, where he won every district in the Republican primary.

Surely some hope that such abuse will energize the electorate against Mr. Trump. But let me ask you this: While it may feel good in the moment, when was the last time you changed someone's behavior or opinion by calling him an idiot? Especially an angry person. And, as we've been told and shown time and again, many of Mr. Trump's voters are angry.

The New York Times released a video Wednesday chronicling their wrath at various rallies: "[Eff] those dirty [racial slur for Mexicans]"; [eff] that [racial slur for African Americans]"; "[eff] Islam," attendees shouted. They called Hillary Clinton a "bitch," a "tramp" and a "whore." "Kill her," they said, "hang" her.

And then, presumably, many of them went home to their families, where the mob mentality melted away and the rest of their evenings were spent a lot like Clinton supporters' were: cooking dinner, reading with kids, watching TV. (It would frankly do us all well to remember that as humans, we're a lot more alike than different — for better or worse.)

I'd like to think that those screaming bigoted and hateful remarks were the minority, the easy targets for liberal media to highlight. But it's clear that they're not the only Trump supporters outraged by the status quo.

In an interview last month in The American Conservative magazine, J.D. Vance, a former Marine who grew up in Appalachian poverty and went on to graduate from Yale Law School, said it comes down to the fact that a large segment of the white working class in America is barely scraping by, and no one seems to care.

"These people — my people — are really struggling, and there hasn't been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries," said Mr. Vance, who recently published the memoir "Hillbilly Elegy."

Establishment Republicans focus on taxes, trade policies and economic growth, largely ignoring certain communities ravaged by addiction, single parent homes and lost jobs. And liberals often look down their noses at them, frustrated that they won't fall in line on social issues. Liberals are also more likely to excuse the bad behavior of poor blacks as the result of systemic failures and mock the bad behavior of poor whites as personal failures.

For most people, such derision is an invitation to defensively double down on their position, whatever it may be.

In this case, it's electing Mr. Trump. And that's a real problem. He's uninformed, quick to react, racist, misogynistic and absolutely unfit to be president. He's also extremely entertaining, selectively charming and a remarkable salesman. Of course, you have to work very hard to focus on the latter traits over the former, but I admit that it would be a lot easier to do if I thought his opponents were laughing at me while he is offering a helping hand.

Mr. Trump deserves to have his political flaws and hypocrisy exposed, but millions of Americans shouldn't be dismissed in the process. They're frustration is real, and it's clearly powerful. The more we disrespect their candidate with eye-rolling arrogance, the more they may fight for him.

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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