Anger is a powerful tool. If nothing else, this election proved that fact. Trump ran a hateful, angry campaign, and it paid off very well for him. The impulse to spew all that hate right back into his orange, pudgy little face is alarmingly strong. Succumbing to this temptation is satisfying too. The only thing that feels better than punching a pillow when you’re pissed off is punching the person who crossed you.
That logic applies here as well. Marching up to the Trump supporter in your life and informing them of how much you hate them or mercilessly slut-shaming Melania Trump momentarily quenches that deeply human thirst for confrontation and retribution that stems from feeling screwed over. It is this same thirst that propelled Donald Trump to the White house.
Trump is anger and hatred personified. If you’ve ever seen him speak, you might have noticed that he often talks without really saying anything. He speaks in circles and uses ambiguous language when referring to vague ideas. If you don’t believe me, look at a transcript of one of his speeches (just about any of them will do), and you’ll find that his public addresses almost always lack substance. I’ve heard liberals, before and after election night, question how anyone could be fooled by such hollow rhetoric.
That’s just it though; when it comes to the Trump phenomena it’s not about words, it’s about anger. Trump used his supporters’ anger to promote hate. Making grand, sweeping statements about Trump supporters’ remarkable stupidity or less-than-perfect appearance follows the example Trump himself set. We should not be so careless with our anger. We cannot afford to waste it on calls for violence and assassination or unnecessary, unhelpful personal attacks on Trump’s family. And we certainly cannot afford to allow our anger to dissolve into hatred the way many Trump supporters have. There is too much at stake.
There are many progressives telling their peers to lose the anger. The election is over, I’ve heard many say, now it’s time to stop complaining and see what happens. I disagree. I believe that the anger felt by the left is justified and should not be silenced. We’ve seen the power that Trump has gained by tapping into the anger and disenfranchisement felt by many Americans. Why should ours be any less powerful?
There is a difference, however, between channeling justified outrage towards enacting positive change and devolving the conversation further. Trump has ushered in an era of social and political hostility, and opponents to his oppressive and hateful rhetoric have a duty to stand up for those under attack. He played with fire, and I believe that if we can organize our frustration into a stronger, more unified fight for what is right, he will eventually get burned. When we allow ourselves to fall victim to using the same hateful rhetoric that is so pervasive on the right, we lose our moral high ground. Why would we choose to channel our anger on personal, mean-spirited attacks when Trump and his supporters have given us an extensive list of actual concerns? I refuse to deal in hatred just because I’m pissed off. If progressives can manage to keep the anger and lose the hate, the validity of our cause will be strengthened.
Trump’s victory over Clinton can be interpreted as a grim message to minorities, to the people Trump threw under the bus on his way to victory. As member of the LGBT community, this was my initial reaction. Trump has said he opposes same sex marriage and would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges. More alarming than Trump, though, is Vice President elect Mike Pence. As Governor of Indiana, Pence defunded AIDS treatment and supported conversion therapy. I woke up the morning after election night and told my boyfriend of two years, “We might have to move if we want to get married.”
As a white LGBT male, I have far less to worry about than many others. The offensive rhetoric directed towards African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, environmentalists, disabled people, welfare recipients, and more was alarming during the election season. Now that Trump will soon be in office, the victims of his hateful rhetoric are rightfully pissed off. Regardless of how he translates that rhetoric into policy, the effects of his campaign’s rampant racism are already being seen across the country. If the aftermath of Trump is anything like the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the increase in hate crimes will not be going away anytime soon.
We cannot sit passively as Trump supporters promote hatred and intolerance. We cannot sit passively as women and Hispanics are harassed at school or at work. We must remain outraged and we must remain vocal, and above all, we must stay on the right side of history. Trump and his supporters represent some of the worst aspects of our culture. There is so much validity in our criticism and anger, but I fear it will be lost if our arguments dissipate into name calling, punch throwing, and the same absolutist hateful rhetoric that has come to define the times in which we live.