December 14, 2015

Why We Can’t Afford to Ignore Trump.


Given that he is the current king of outrageous sound bites, I am still a bit surprised by the recent attention Donald Trump has received over his statement that all Muslims be barred from entering the United States.

It’s not that I don’t find his comments outrageous and offensive—I do—but Trump has been doing this type of stuff for so long that I feel a bit numb to it.

This may be the statement to finally end Trump’s campaign. Many in his own party, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, called him out on this statement while former SNL alum Will Ferrell recently returned to the show as President George W. Bush to call Trump a “knucklehead” and “Oompha Loompha.”

Many in the press and on social media have wondered how to deal with Trump, with several suggesting that it’s best to ignore him. At first glance, this seems to make sense: one thing that’s certain is that Trump loves attention. He also knows how to play the media. Indeed, The International Business Times and others noted that in his 1987 best-seller, The Art of the Deal, he wrote: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational, the better.

It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that.

The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.” Therefore, there seems to be a lot of sense in ignoring Trump except that he is still the Republican front runner despite his most recent comments.

Another disturbing truth is that a lot of people agree with him.

Many of them are people I grew up with. I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of my extended family shared his views as well.

While many of us would like to pretend that racism, xenophobia or bigotry does not exist anymore—or that the people who hold such beliefs are only a small and insignificant minority of people—this simply isn’t the case.

Ignoring Trump won’t make him go away, nor will denying the above.

If there is any plus side to Trump’s campaign, it’s that many of us who live in self-contained bubbles where we consider ourselves progressives, surround ourselves with like-minded people, and who believe that logic and reason always overcome fear and ignorance are waking up to a reality. Much like the people they criticize, there is a tendency of these bubble-dwellers to ignore the things that make them uncomfortable.

For example, racism: Yeah, we know it exists, but we aren’t going to talk about it except to say that it is bad. Next topic, please. (While this is an exaggeration, I have been in enough situations like to know it happens.)

Voter data released by the polling group Reasonate “reveals that Trump’s appeal lies largely with historically unengaged and uninformed voters.” While at first glance, some may see this and dismiss such people as “stupid,” being unengaged and uninformed is not synonymous with stupid.

Many Americans never travel outside the US to gain new perspectives. There is also a tendency for people to get much of their information from television. TV is very selective as to what it can report. Anyone who doubts this need only compare the amount of media coverage Trump receives to all his fellow GOP candidates or even someone like Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders who does quite well on a grassroots level, but is hardly ever covered by mainstream media.

As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote in an aptly titled piece called “It’s Too Late to Turn Off Trump”:

“[I]t’s so ironic that some people think the solution to the Trump problem is turning him off. What got us into this mess was the impulse to change the channel the moment we feel uncomfortable. Even if we take the man off the air, the problem he represents is still going to be there, just like poverty, corruption, mass incarceration, pollution and all of the other things we keep off the airwaves.”

He’s correct. If there is any silver lining to this, it is that for many of us we are finally being forced to talk about these things. Discomfort be damned.

Sometimes being forced into these uncomfortable situations is the only way that we can attempt to come close to addressing the problem.

I have decided that rather than de-friend people on social media who agree with Trump or automatically respond, “You’re wrong!” when I hear examples of Islamaphobia or xenophobia, it is far more constructive to ask why they feel this way or what they are basing this it on. While there will always be people who chose not to believe the truth or ignore facts, there may be a few who will learn something new.

Even if we never see eye-to-eye, it gives a better understanding into how people like Trump manage to build the sort of fanbases that they do.

While I am pretty certain that Trump won’t be the Republican nominee for President much less ever become President, these attitudes won’t just go away. Furthermore, given the extremist nature of his position, there is the real possibility that others will come along with equally extreme views on immigration, religion, etc. but they may not be seen as “that bad” because of the difference in their choice of language.

There is a no doubt that the challenge in changing such attitudes will be hard, but the first step is to acknowledge that they exist and Trump, for better or worse, has made us aware of this. Therefore, it’s not only imperative that we do pay attention, but that we act on that uncomfortable feeling it brings up inside of us.



Bonus video: How to Be a Man






Author: Kimberly Lo 

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Ninian Reid at Flickr




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