There are few ideas worse than admitting you’re a Donald Trump supporter in mainstream society today. I should know. As someone who has written more than one article defending President Trump, I’ve been called every name in the book.
My experiences have led me to the conclusion that Trump supporters are irredeemable in the eyes of many on the left. They’d sooner invite a venereal disease into their bloodstream than a Trump supporter into their inner circle of friends.
It’s ironic really, because the great Labeler-in-Chief has himself perpetuated a culture of labeling that’s so damaging and divisive that just wearing a hat displaying his 2016 campaign slogan is seen by some as a trigger equivalent to wearing “a KKK hood.”
Oh, the power of a label.
As a devoted student of history I’m constantly struck by the ability of people to see their fellow-citizens as “less-than,” and unworthy of receiving the same rights, privileges, and respect they enjoy.
Be it European Jews during the 1930s or African Americans during the first half of the 19th century; human beings have repeatedly rationalized treating one another in the most despicable ways, simply by first assigning “less-than” labels to any group of people they hope to oppress.
Though we’re not facing anything as extreme as the Holocaust or slavery today, people on both sides of the political aisle are absolutely assigning “less-than” labels to one another with still-devastating consequences. Pro-Choice? Murderer. Pro-Trump? Racist. LGBTQ advocate? Anti-religion. Christian? Homophobe.
Labeling is as convenient as it is dismissive. When we assign fellow-citizens with “less-than” labels, we no longer need to have civil debates and discussions. After all, the moment you reveal your political stripes, dozens of preconceived perceptions become attached to you, and your opinion and insights are nullified or amplified based on whether or not someone shares your bias.
That reality has long been a factor in politics, but never more so than it is during the Trump era. Trump has himself labeled so many people, and offended so many groups, that there’s simply no neutral ground left to stand on.
Last year, a family member essentially told me: “If you voted for that man and still find any reason to support him today, I have absolutely nothing to say to you ever again.” And just like that, I’m forever a “less-than” in her eyes. That one criterion alone has disqualified me from being worthy of her time and affection.
On the one hand, I get it. If you see Trump as a racist adultering misogynistic liar, then of course any person who stands behind such a man is just as unworthy as the man himself. And if I hadn’t studied scores of former presidents, I’d probably have to agree with that perception. But the reality is that it’s precisely because of my deep affection for many historical heroes that I can tolerate and stomach many of Trump’s own shortcomings.
You see, any label you try to pin on Trump has already been accurately pinned on some of the most celebrated men and women in history from Thomas Jefferson to FDR to Martin Luther King. Of course, scores of respected people doing bad things doesn’t make bad things respectable — or even tolerable. Especially because, well, one hopes we’ve evolved considerably in what is and isn’t acceptable over the past 242 years since our nation declared independence.
But if we’re being honest, all of our past (and present) heroes share in common the reality that even seriously flawed people can accomplish great things. (How else was the same man who repeatedly preached White Supremacy also the Great Emancipator?)
In short, the study of history lets us objectively peel back the layers of our heroes enough to realize that each of them, like all of us, live(d) in glass houses.
Such knowledge proves that you don’t have to be perfect to affect change. One of my favorite quotes comes from a former Morehouse classmate of Martin Luther King Jr., named Charles Willie. He knew firsthand about many of Dr. King’s weaknesses and wrote: “By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise.”
So it isn’t a question of whether or not someone has earned an unflattering label, it comes down to whether or not you’re willing to assign them one. When I accept how many unflattering labels fit all the men and women I respect most — both today and throughout history — I’m able to see the pointlessness and hypocrisy of labels. And I try to remind myself how fragile my own house is whenever I prepare to lob a stone into the home of anyone I disagree with. Of course, I still label bad behavior as such, but history reminds me to separate the sin from the sinner.
Every Democrat, Republican and independent voter today deserves to be judged on their own merits, their own reasons for supporting each candidate, and their own individual values.
Somewhere between two and six years from now, Donald Trump will have left the White House. In his wake, he’ll leave behind a new brand of politics, a culture of labeling, and a name that will be both celebrated and loathed for generations to come. And everyone who once voted for him will be left somewhere in between.
I’ll be there, too. Still trying to separate the man from the policies he championed, still trying to untangle who he really was from the labels assigned to him, and still wondering if a certain family member will ever speak to me again.
Daryl Austin is a writer based in Utah. He has been published at The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Examiner and HuffPost.
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