Unpacking the relationship between the Donald and his supporters
I don't normally engage Trump voters because if you are a Trump voter in 2020 there probably isn't any reason for us to have a conversation that pretends at normalcy. Popular sentiment suggests that I shouldn't waste a second of my time, or theirs, doing so. I am sure I have even given that advice to no small number of people at some point. But every once in a while you have to face your demons, lest they become truly monstrous in the absence of any criticism whatsoever. We're not exactly talking about a powerless group of people here.
As a defense mechanism, I find it helpful to place Trump supporters in certain contexts, to frame them in ways that make sense to me while not entirely doing them a disservice as human beings. It’s not for their benefit or out of respect; it is hard to respect people who support policies that seek to wipe me out of existence. But I don’t see them collectively as evil, because if I did I would just walk around Columbus all day, every day shouting, “The power of Obama compels you!” So I contextualize them in a way that fits.
I used to treat Trump voters as if they were soldiers. It is largely how they see themselves, so really I'm just holding them to their manifestos. They believe they are in some compulsory war with… well, we don't even really know what they're at war with. Statistically, they're almost exclusively white people. It is confounding to ascertain what white people have to be at war with in a country in which they're always winning. But that's neither here nor there. They believe that they are fighting something unfair, something unjust. And they believe this because they don't care about Donald Trump. They only care about what Donald Trump represents. And Donald Trump represents whiteness.
Think about how you would talk a soldier out of firing upon you. You would probably appeal to their humanity. You might even pull out pictures of your children. But in the end it doesn't matter what you say to a soldier in the middle of a war because their job is to win the war. A soldier doesn't care about your humanity or your dreams or your statistics or facts. Such things may haunt them later, after the heat of battle has cooled and silence settles in, but none of that is relevant to a soldier in the pitch of war.
Something that occurred to me in all of this avoidance was how important it is (for the purposes of contextualization, if little else) to note how different a 2016 Trump voter is from a Trump voter today. In 2016, a lot of Trump voters thought they were voting for someone to run a country. That is not the case with a Trump voter in 2020. Those remaining diehards are voting for a cause, debating ideology regardless of statistic or effect. They are not disenfranchised by the world being on fire, even when their sleeves are smoking. A soldier doesn't care if they have to spend days using their helmets to dig trenches. They figure discomfort is the cost of war.
Watching one black person after another being called out during Trump’s recent State of the Union speech, I was appalled at how manipulative the whole exercise was. We were good enough for the gallery, but not so much a consideration when it came to enacting humane policy. It was an abuse of power, but again, this was behavior I was used to. It’s the kind of abuse that crosses the aisle when it’s convenient.
But reading along with commentary online as it was all unfolding, I realized that while all of America feels on fire, and while we are made less of a society because of the installation of Trump as president, we aren’t all in the same fire. I needed to adjust my context even further for Trump voters. My soldier analogy was on point, but it didn’t fully capture the nature of a Trump voters glassy-eyed dogma.
And then it hit me: America is not in an abusive relationship with the Trump administration. Trump voters are in an abusive relationship with his administration.
Non-Trump voters didn't elect him. We didn't ask him to go steady. Trump voters did, and their relationship has all the hallmarks of an abusive union: gas lighting, blatant lying, crass manipulation. There is mental and verbal abuse. It is impossible to feel safe within proximity of Trump’s antics.
Again, all of these things are happening to non-Trump voters, too, but we can see the abuse. And because we didn't buy into it, we can see it for what it is. Trump may very well be the first president to require a trigger warning.
Finally, a word directly to Trump voters: I'm not telling you to flip your vote to the Democratic column. I believe that you are incapable of doing so as a species. What I might suggest is that you withhold your vote this go-around, and that you make it a point to not vote for someone who abuses you. I'm not saying run into someone else's arms who you feel is only marginally better than the person you’re with. But I am saying you have options.