Published on November 1st, 2016 | by Louise Sloan0
Why Decent People Elected Trump
“It’s about basic human decency,” Michelle Obama said in a passionate speech in New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, regarding the imperative not to elect a confessed and unrepentant sexual predator to the presidency of the United States. Obvious, right? Clearly not. Like many of us, I have been anguished over the fact that otherwise decent people I know don’t seem to register Trump’s extreme indecency, or care enough about it to refrain from electing him president. How can they not see his profound unfitness to lead?
The man openly encouraged his followers to beat people up. He brags about assaulting new acquaintances. He puts down whole big sections of humanity, painting them all as criminals, or guilty until proven innocent. He is constantly insulting, dehumanizing and objectifying women. He supports taking rights away from American citizens and wants to bar anyone from one of the world’s major religions from entering our country, which was founded on the ideal of religious freedom. Never mind the profane language he consistently uses. How can decent people possibly see this man as deserving our nation’s highest office? How can they be OK electing him as role-model-in-chief for our children?
I think it’s because of who, exactly, Trump targets, with his lack of human decency: Mexicans. Muslims. Gays. Blacks, through his “law and order” rhetoric that not only brushes aside concerns about the countless incidences of racist policing, but seems to encourage more of the same. And women.
Trump is speaking to an audience for whom those groups are “the other.” They may not love his style, but it’s not like he’s attacking THEM. Many of them, as decent, upstanding citizens, think he’s crass. They may not like his language or behavior. But we do not yet, as a society, actually agree on who counts as fully, 100 percent human, and thus deserving of that “basic human decency.” And ultimately, Trump has been attacking groups that are just not quite 100 percent equal human beings, in the conscious or, more likely, unconscious view of his more-refined supporters.
Oh, they may know some of these folks, “respect” them, even, they’d say. But ultimately, these groups of people constitute a “social issue,” a side note, a distraction from the “real” issues. Attacking and denigrating these particular groups, depriving them of rights—it may not be optimal, but it just isn’t that big of a deal. Yeah, so Trump whips up a little more hate? It was already there, this is reality, deal with it. Besides, it doesn’t affect THEM. It doesn’t hit them in their gut, in their daily life. It doesn’t affect their close friends.
These kinder, gentler Trump supporters wouldn’t act like he does; would likely reprimand their children or shun a neighbor for the same behaviors. They might even have a Muslim acquaintance, a Mexican coworker, a gay neighbor. But their small-government beliefs, or their fears about terrorism, or their hatred of Hillary, or their faith that this rich guy with his gold-plated living room might just be able to “fix” the economy and purify the government despite his many bankruptcies and business failures and his history of corrupt business practices–these things win out over “basic human decency,” because the humans who are most affected by his lack of decency aren’t quite top-level human, are just a smidge less than equal.
As Tony and Pulitzer-Prize–winning playwright Doug White, who is married to a man, said, regarding friends who planned to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 even though they didn’t agree with the candidate’s anti-gay agenda: “Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, ‘My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.'”
Fortunately for Trump voters, they probably won’t have to look anyone in the eye. Our largely segregated neighborhoods and schools help straight, white, Christian people maintain their thinking that they are “we the people”; those others, not so much. If you don’t get to know people of other races, ethnicities or religions; if your gay sibling and their friends are in the closet or off in a big, liberal city far from you; it’s easy to let hateful rhetoric about them sink into your mind, or at least roll off you, no big deal.
You may not even understand how, specifically, Trump is already affecting people from the groups he denigrates. You don’t have to hear about your Mexican friends trying to reassure their frightened young children that no, you’re American citizens, honey, and Mommy and Daddy have green cards, we won’t be deported. No, sweetie, Daddy doesn’t need to change his Muslim religion if Trump gets elected, he’s an American, and everyone in our neighborhood will try to make sure he stays safe. You don’t have to wonder how your investment-banker friend who was pulled over 7 times for driving her own BMW while black–no traffic violations–is emotionally processing Trump’s “law and order” police-can-do-no-wrong rhetoric, especially since she’s raising two black boys who soon will be young black men. You don’t have to think about how anti-gay policies will affect the daily lives of families and children that are dear to you. This election has shaken me up so much because I realize that I am in fact surrounded by otherwise good people who, despite all their positive qualities, ultimately don’t see me and certain categories of people I love as having equal human value.
The issue of Trump’s misogyny is a little more complicated, because of course many of his supporters are women. But they are women willing to accept that the denigration of women, that the idea that sexual assault is no big deal, is just the way of the world. Similar treatment of men would be unconscionable–because men are people! Imagine if Trump were bragging about grabbing the penises of handsome young men.
Sure, women are more or less people, too–like we rate maybe as much as 98 percent personhood at this point–but there’s that wiggle room. We are not men. An assault on a woman is just… life.
This was the attitude of an older female relative of mine, who shrugged off a gang-rape at University of Virginia in the ’50s, blaming it on the woman, who should have known not to go out at night with a group of guys. In her speech last month, Michelle Obama declared Trump’s attitude toward sexual assault “not normal.” And I like to think that most men do not, in fact, engage in or condone this behavior. But it IS normalized. It is in fact the way of the world. It is, unfortunately, as evidenced by Michelle’s own shaking voice and clearly personal experience with it, normal. The question is, do we accept this? Are we OK with it, enough so that we forgive it in a presidential candidate, in the person who will lead us all, in the highest office in the land?
Like many women, when I think of the times I’ve been groped and sexually threatened by men, I can’t even remember them all. And I’m one of the lucky ones who hasn’t been raped or molested–I had two near misses, at ages 8 and 18, where my loud yelling–even though in both cases no one was there to hear–spooked the would-be assailants and got me out of danger. I don’t even count the countless times I’ve been groped on a crowded bus or subway as “having been molested.” I don’t count the piano teacher who made me, in elementary school, sit on his palms, ostensibly in order to teach me not to slide around on the piano bench. Even for me, the bar is incredibly low. I’ve never been molested, I think, despite countless strangers’ or skeevy authority figures’ hands on my crotch and butt and breasts–I’ve just gone through life as a normal female. “Thank god I haven’t been an actual victim,” I think.
And Trump’s treatment of that People reporter? That’s happened to me personally, too, twice. Two different men, incidents 20 years apart, making a pass at me while their wife was in the very next room–in one case in her own home, while she was getting dessert ready after the dinner she’d just served the three of us. I imagine she, like Melania, would insist I was lying if I brought it up now, 35 years later. I know first-hand that some men act like that, and Trump is on tape admitting, bragging that he does this as a general rule. I don’t think anyone really thinks the specific story is false. It’s that they don’t really think it’s that important. We’ve had presidents behave that way in private–what’s the diff if it’s public, if they brag about it? Why even pretend that we think it’s a major problem, that it’s wildly inappropriate? It’s not. We have a patriarchal system, it’s life, boys will be boys, get over it. We have more important things to think about than the personal safety of a class of people who shouldn’t expect it.
Basic human decency? It’s not so basic. Now that it’s clear that so many of our fellow citizens don’t define this value in the same way, I hope those of us who do share Michelle Obama’s view of it work harder than ever towards making “basic human decency” normal. Really normal, like the actual NORM, like we can all agree that everyone, everyone, everyone deserves dignity, safety, equal rights, equal opportunity and basic respect.