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What We Mean When We Ask For Empathy For Trump Supporters

By Emily Cutler | Politics | November 4, 2016 |

By Emily Cutler | Politics | November 4, 2016 |

You might have seen the Washington Post article from Wednesday arguing that what’s needed most in this election is empathy for Trump supporters. In my continued effort to swear less, I’ll just say I find it … flawed. It’s flawed in the same way a lot of the rhetoric surrounding this election has been flawed: It doesn’t address specifics and it offers no substantial solutions.

Basically the repeated urging to “have empathy” is vague to the point of being meaningless. What does it mean to “have empathy”? How do we express that empathy? And most importantly, in what ways has the Left unfairly maligned the Trump supporter with this lack of empathy? No one’s really bothered to answer any of those questions. My suspicion is that no one bothers answering them because doing so would expose the fact that demanding “empathy for Trump supporters” is built on three poorly constructed misconceptions in this election.

1) Trump Supporters Are Disenfranchised Blue-Collar Workers
This has been one of the strongest narratives running through the election. Trump is speaking to white, rural, poor and working-class voters whose plight isn’t being addresses by either major party. I’m in no way suggesting that those people don’t exist, and don’t deserve to have both their struggle and their concerns addressed. I’m saying that’s not who Trump supporters are.

It might be some of them, but as this FiveThirtyEight article points out, it’s nowhere close to being the majority. In fact, if you need one reliable statistic to carry you through any weekend arguments with family members voting for Trump, remember that his supporters’ average income is $73,000 annually. That might not make them rich, but it makes them more financially secure than the average American ($56,000 annually) or the average Clinton or Bernie supporter (both at $61,000).

2) Liberals Aren’t Addressing The Struggles Of Poor Whites
The flip-side of the fact that Trump is finally speaking to the disenfranchised masses is that no one else has bothered to so much as consider them. Hillary and other coastal elites are only interested in helping urban, minority poor people, and aren’t concerned with hillbillies or rednecks. In fact, one of the two suggestions that the Washington Post article made was to “consider policies that would restore well-paid jobs to blue collar workers—i.e., institute policies that address the real distress of downwardly mobile blue collar men.”

Because no one on Hillary’s staff knew that people living outside of large cities vote.

Clinton does have a platform that addresses the shrinking middle-class and the loss of decent-paying, low-skilled jobs. It’s the reason most Trump supporters hate her. Her plan calls for increased taxes on wealthy in order to pay for things like infrastructure repair, paid worker benefits, child care, and community colleges. She also supports increasing the minimum wage and tax incentives for businesses that implement profit-sharing with their employees. All things that most Democrats would argue helps working-class and poor voters, and all things most Republicans would vote against. We can argue about how plausible or effective individual policies would be. But to argue that Clinton is refusing to address the struggles of rural, poor, white voters is blatantly untrue.

3) Trump Supporters Aren’t Racist, They’re Just Misunderstood

I’ve been careful in this article to separate Trump voters from Trump supporters. While I would have some choice words for anyone who has decided Trump is better than Hillary, I do understand that political difference lead to some credible differences. I’m so unable to imagine a situation where I’d be able to vote for Rick Santorum that I’ve simply decided there is not a Democratic nominee I can conjure bad enough to make me do it. It’s my own personal “Can God make a rock so large even he can’t move it?” I wouldn’t say that I have any more empathy for a Trump voter than for a Trump supporter, but I would have a very different understanding of the two. I would argue that Trump voters are mostly decent people making a bad decision based on a bad situation. And I’d argue that Trump supporters are racists.

I’d argue that because that’s what they keep telling us. The media in general might be trying to confuse the issue by presenting Trump supporters as wayward lost souls in need of mercy and understanding, but his supporters themselves are refuting that idea at every turn. When someone says, “I’m concerned about my financial stability,” they’re a reasonable person deserving of a serious audience. When someone says, “I’m concerned about my financial stability because the Mexicans are taking my job and the blacks are using up my tax dollars on welfare,” they’re racist.

The issue with calling Trump supporters racist is that we don’t want to acknowledge what a large problem racism still is in the country. We think racism is bad! We passed the Civil Rights Act! We’ve got a black president! So we instead infantilize Trump supporters by pretending they’re all just salt-of-the-earth people concerned about their futures who don’t know any better than to be taken in by a racist charlatan. If large groups of people are telling us that the reason they’re voting for someone is because they’re racist, we owe them the respect of taking them at their word. What we don’t owe them is our empathy.

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