One problem with political discourse these days is the participation of many truly nice people in those discussions. They are horrified by those of us who characterize today’s GOP as a racist mob. They (quite properly) note that such characterizations are far too broad-brush, and they insist that a continued effort to engage Republicans in civil conversation will often yield results.
Unfortunately, they are far too kind.
I will grant that stereotyping entire groups of people is both dangerous and inaccurate, but I also recall Maya Angelou’s advice to believe people when they show you who they are. So I was intrigued by a report from Talking Points Memo on a series of focus groups with Trump loyalists.(Note, this is a “members only” article that may not be readable if you aren’t a “member.” A link to the study itself is here.)
Democracy Corps conducted a series of focus groups with Trump supporters and various other GOP conservatives. They evidently had considerable difficulty recruiting volunteers– it took a long time to recruit people to constitute representative groups because, as a Democracy Corp representative noted, Trump voters seemed particularly distrustful of outsiders.
Once they were in a Zoom room with all Trump voters, however, they apparently let it all hang out. Here are the “takeaways.”
The Trump loyalists and Trump-aligned were angry, but also despondent, feeling powerless and uncertain they will become more involved in politics;
Trump’s base saw Biden, as a white man, as not threatening, controlled by others, unlike Obama who represented everything Tea Party-Republicans were determined to fight;
Even Trump’s base is curious about the extent to which they benefit from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Biden’s signature program, compared to Obamacare that they viewed as a new entitlement for Blacks and immigrants that must be stopped;
The Trump loyalists and the Trump aligned are animated about government taking away their freedom and a cancel culture that leaves no place for white Americans and the fear they’re losing “their” country to non-whites;
They were angered most of all by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa that were responsible for a full year of violence in Democratic cities that put white people on the defensive – and was ignored by the media;
The Trump loyalists and those who are aligned rooted for the anti-lockdown protestors in Michigan and saw the violence and disruption of the legislature as justified. Some pulled back when the guns threatened innocent civilians, and more when their methods seemed to be losing support for the Trump movement;
A handful of the Trump loyalists supported the January 6th insurrectionists, but most quickly concluded it was really Antifa or an inside job to make Trump supporters look bad. They normalized the insurrection, suggesting it was no different than the violence carried out by BLM and Antifa;
They worry now that it is the government that has taken the initiative on the use of force, increasing their sense of powerlessness;
It is difficult, if not impossible, to look at these findings and not see how deeply racism motivates support for Trump and his GOP. Nice people don’t want to recognize the extent to which White Nationalism affects and distorts American political life–and the extent to which bigotry and racial grievance has assumed control of one of the country’s major political parties.
I don’t want to admit it either–but some 74 million people voted for that President and that party. I don’t know how we combat hatred, but I do know that we can’t address a problem we refuse to see.