A lesson I learned from Donald Trump

Editor’s Note: A wide swath of Americans, from progressives and organized labor to independents and anti-Trump Republicans, are rejecting the racist, sexist, and Islamophobic rhetoric that has characterized Donald Trump’s rallies this election season. A variety of tactics have been deployed to challenge him. Many activists have responded to Trump’s divisiveness with demonstrations and protests aimed at shutting down his events. These actions have prompted debate among the democratic left around the issue of free speech and the question of how and when to apply particular tactics. In this op-ed, Noreen Hernandez gives her take on the matter.

Donald Trump’s campaign… What else can possibly be added to the conversation regarding this tsunami of stupidity?

Has it only been ten months? June 15, 2015 seems like a lifetime ago. I snorted when I heard he was announcing his 2016 campaign for President of the United States. I thought it was a replay of a “Saturday Night Live” skit because the announcement seemed better suited for NBC’s “Weekend Update” than the “Nightly News” show.

I wondered if he realized elections are won through a democratic voting process, and not by proclaiming “You’re Fired” to the people running against him. I was convinced this was a publicity stunt to boost ratings for “The Apprentice,” and soon he would drop out. Because, really, WHO would vote for him?

It turns out a lot of people would. I was shocked. Not in a grrrr, raise my fist in anger way. But in a hard-to-breathe, how is this happening sort of way. I listened to his ridiculous quotes, which masqueraded as answers during the debates. The daily comments against women, Muslims, and immigrants never stopped. I looked into the crowd of his supporters and wondered who ARE these people? Since they hopelessly agree with his tactics, I stopped listening because I figured they were all crazy bigots.

I was wrong, because his supporters aren’t crazy or bigots.

Okay, some might be, but mainly they are angry and scared. They unashamedly laugh off his chauvinistic bigotry and forgive his lack of knowledge of economics and foreign policy. I also noticed they don’t defend him. When I talked to his supporters, the conversation ends with some version of the statement:

“I don’t know really what he stands for, but he’s different. And something just has to change.”

I realized, they aren’t voting for Trump, they are voting for change. His supporters aren’t hopeless. They’ve lost hope.

Their world has changed. The only jobs left for them are temporary or part-time. The promised pension evaporated. The home they saved for has become too expensive to keep, but they owe too much to sell it. They keep hearing the economy is getting better, but it isn’t for them.

Trump gets angry for them. He says the same stuff out loud they don’t dare to. It doesn’t matter if his supporters don’t understand how he’ll fix things, because they can’t understand how things became so broken in the first place. Trump feeds into this hopelessness by placing blame instead of creating solutions.

Will transforming our neoliberal economy and learning to develop sustainable global relationships build a healthier future? No! Build a wall.

How should we decide if a candidate is able to successfully manage the responsibilities of the office of president? Look at Carly Fiorina’s face, or Trump’s hands, then decide!

My basic instinct is to run far away instead of listening to Trump and his supporters, so I understand why protesters blocked access to a Trump rally in Arizona. But I don’t agree. History has tried to teach us the danger of silencing voices we don’t agree with.

The solutions to the complicated issues plaguing our economy, race relations, global interactions, and gender issues are found during open discussions. A problem cannot be solved unless all the voices are heard and valued. It is the silenced and neglected voices which turn to anger and violence.

Blocking access to difficult viewpoints shuts down the avenues which could lead to solutions. We have so much more to lose than an election if we refuse to listen to uncomfortable views. Trump makes us cringe, but he shows us the ugly truth of how our economic uncertainty is creating a culture of divisive prejudice.

It’s impossible to make any advances towards justice without listening to some very uncomfortable viewpoints. Our nation’s problems can’t be solved until we honestly listen to the explanations of all the views.

I won’t vote for him. But he has presented many of our problems in no uncertain terms to us, and we must listen.

This article originally appeared at Noreen Hernandez’s blog.

Photo credit: Protesters in Chicago demonstrate outside the venue where a Donald Trump campaign rally was to take place. Trump cancelled the event. (nathanmac87/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)