I’m gonna go ahead and guess that most of you look around every day at your Facebook friends or relatives or whomever you happen to know and have to face daily that identifies as a Trump supporter, and are left with a total lack of understanding. (I’m also going to assume that if you are a Trump supporter, you’re reading this because you’re lost, or trolling, or have some serious masochistic tendencies.) Now, though, we may have gotten the clearest window into what motivates these people, and maybe it’s not a general desire to watch the world burn, as many of us on the other side had suspected.
This week, The Guardian interviewed a Trump campaign chairperson for a prominent Ohio county. While this isn’t an official spokesperson position, this is a person who very deeply connects with Trump’s ideals and heads (or headed, until she resigned today) a localized movement in his name.
It can be hard to understand how anyone can listen to what Trump says, and see what he stands for and support him and those beliefs, without relegating all of his supporters to the Totally Awful People category. Then Kathy Miller opened her mouth, and suddenly some pieces clicked into place. Because this woman said some some truly atrocious things that I don’t want to undercut. They are awful, and they may have come out of her mouth, but they represent the thoughts of many, and possibly— at least some of them, definitely— of Trump himself. Here are a few of her choicest, most maddening talking points:
—She called the Black Lives Matter Movement “a stupid waste of time.”
—She thinks low voter turnout among African-American communities is because of “the way they’re raised.” This is in spite of the fact that black voters came out in proportionately higher numbers than white voters in Ohio in the last two elections.
—Instead, Miller thinks “If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault. You’ve had every opportunity, it was given to you.”
—Continuing on that awful, completely ass-headed idea, she said, “You’ve had the same schools everybody else went to. You had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have. You had all the advantages and didn’t take advantage of it. It’s not our fault, certainly.”
These are disgusting, factually incorrect comments, the kind we’ve all heard over and over throughout, but absolutely not limited to, this election season. These are the kind of quotes that tune me out of a conversation as quick as a light switch, because I prefer spewing all of my thoughts at people at once (as you might have guessed) or not at all. I just don’t have it in me to start with a history lesson, or an ethics primer before we can get to an actual political discussion.
And then Kathy Miller said something that made all of her awfulness make sense. This woman, if you believe her words, actually believes that until very recently, racism didn’t exist in the world. “Growing up as a kid, there was no racism, believe me. We were just all kids going to school.” Elaborating:
I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected. We never had problems like this … Now, with the people with the guns, and shooting up neighborhoods, and not being responsible citizens, that’s a big change, and I think that’s the philosophy that Obama has perpetuated on America.
I don’t want to give people like Miller any benefit of any doubt, but I’d always thought of their type of ignorance as willful. But the way she talks about these things… I mean, her view of the world definitely doesn’t deserve any more credence than this face gives it:
But I don’t think I’ve ever understood before just how deep this kind of belief goes. This woman, and the thousands upon thousands of voters she represents, see racism as being in the Invisible Things category. It had never clicked in that they had as little evidence in their own personal bubbles to believe in racism as they do in climate change, which is maybe why so many of them believe in neither. Because neither has ever rung their doorbell to present evidence of itself, and they’ve never had that epiphany that many of us have had through experience or television or the internet or basic conversation, where we realize that maybe other humans have had life experiences that we’ve never seen, that are not exceptions to the base we’ve lived, but just plain different. Which means those who have never seen racism have to choose to believe it exists, same as they do in air, or gravity, or God.
All of these are things that we’ve been told about, but most of us don’t actually have any evidence of that we understand. Which, I suppose, is where “how we were raised” and “community” and all those things factor in. At some point, we all separate these Invisible Things into categories, often without recognizing it. Some are invisible fact (like germs and air), some are near fact, but maybe we see the politics in them, and some we know are choices to believe or not believe. (Like when people who believe in God recognize the difference between believing in religion and believing in, say, Santa Claus.)
And then there are those who see no difference between the categories.
You know how you feel when you come across a conspiracy theorist? Someone who really, genuinely believes the earth is flat, or that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams? And you just can’t believe that these people have such a totally different view of the world than you thought was ever logical? I never understood people who actually don’t believe racism (or sexism or homosexuality or transgender people or whatever else we take as fact) exists. But what if we categorize a disbelief in racism— like, if we can wrap our minds around the idea that there are people who genuinely don’t think racism is a thing that exists in the world or can motivate anyone’s behavior, violent or otherwise— what if that view is nothing more than a kind of conspiracy theory?
That new view takes these people beyond the point of base-level ignorance, to targeted ignorance, which might possibly make them easier to understand. I know that making it easier to write people like this off risks underestimating their numbers and their impact in the same way that allowed Trump to get this far in the first place. But if we put a refusal to believe in basic systemic oppression and bias in the same category as a refusal to believe in the moon landing or climate change, it does make those beliefs a bit easier to fit into a world that we want to see as generally good, doesn’t it?
If you have anyone in your life whom you love who is a Trump supporter, and you’ve been struggling with how to understand them, not wanting to write them off as dumb or awful, could this help? Or am I just grasping at straws to try to understand the incomprehensible?