Like him or not, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential candidate nomination. To ask for his name to be cleansed from our campus or for Emory as an institution to disavow him is to insult the plurality of Americans who support him. Such actions will never help show that plurality that Trump is the wrong answer to their problems.
I am not a Trump supporter in any way. His racist comments are disgusting and shocking. The nativist sentiment he inspires is alarming. How far down he has dragged the level of discourse in American politics is disappointing. His lack of policy and his xenophobic fascist overtones are revolting. But I strongly sympathize with his supporters — a group of Americans who follow him not because he is racist or intolerant, but because they have seen their position in life decline steadily over many years and are desperate for radical change in our political system.
A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted a number of common factors among Trump supporters, all of which indicate that Trump supporters are not a well-represented group at Emory. Attending college is the biggest predictor of whether or not you support Trump. Most of his support comes from white men without a college degree earning less than $50,000 a year. Emory graduates are earning an average of $95,100 per year once they reach the middle of their careers. So attending and graduating from Emory immediately means you are safe from the economic and societal conditions that are heavily predictive of supporting Trump.
Because we do not see many of them, it is easy for us to condemn Trump supporters, but it is wrong to do so without seeking to understand them. They are a group that has truly suffered in recent years. A study from the Hamilton Project found that the full time employment rate for men without a bachelor’s degree has declined by eight percent since 1990, and their real wages have declined by 13 percent. The mortality rate for middle-aged white men has grown since 1980. In the past 20 years, Trump supporters have seen their economic opportunities dwindle and their lifespan shortened. From their perspective, politicians have done nothing to alleviate their troubles or fix their situation, so they have grown desperate and angry. In their desperation, they have turned to a candidate that looks nothing like a traditional politician, someone who has promised to bring a paradigm shift — a shift that working-class people desperately seek.
People in desperate circumstances can make mistakes in whom they support politically. When that happens, every effort should be made to show them why their choice is the wrong. They should not simply be told that they are wrong and need to shut up. It is dangerous not to take the political movement behind Trump seriously, and the students who protested Trump’s name being written in chalk did exactly that. The student protestors reacted with disgust and disappointment: some requested that the school disavow Trump, and some argued that merely seeing Trump’s name written on campus made them feel unsafe. The school has now indicated that whoever made the chalking will face either the school’s conduct process or legal charges, which means if you are a Trump supporter at Emory who voices your political opinion, you will literally be persecuted. The protesters and Emory’s pejorative attitude towards Trump supporters can only further alienate Trump supporters. Condemnation by an institution of higher learning only reinforces their notion that the political and economic elite of America do not care about their problems.
Now is a critical time to listen. It is not to a time to to take actions that will further divide Trump supporters from the rest of America. Erasing reminders that Trump exists doesn’t make him go away, but it does help alienate his constituency, and it demonstrates a lack of respect for the fundamental problems that led to his rise. Anti-Trump forces must first and foremost empathize with Trump supporters. Their issues are valid and noteworthy, and those issues must be addressed before Trump supporters can realize that Trump is a con-man who seeks to take advantage of them. Changing their views will take time and effort. But banning the voices and opinions of Trump supporters is a major step in the wrong direction. Disenfranchising people will never help change their minds.
Duncan Cock Foster is a College junior from Seattle, Washington.