There’s a social phenomenon going on today.
Donald Trump seems to be making foolish statements left and right, yet he is still surging in the polls. It seems that the more Donald Trump makes discriminatory statements against minority groups, the more his poll numbers rise.
A recent analysis by the New York Times of Donald Trump’s speeches, interviews, and news conferences revealed that his vocabulary usage stood in stark contrast with that of the typical politician. “The most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use… He has a particular habit of saying ‘you’ and ‘we’ as he inveighs against a dangerous ‘them’ or unnamed other…”
It isn’t just that Trump appeals to fear. It’s that he appeals to the desire for sameness. What is “other” or “different” is potentially risky and dangerous. And so what happens is whole groups of people who are classified as “other” are now lumped together. The existence of this ideology is why the Germans exterminated the Jews, why FDR put the Japanese in internment camps, and why cops disproportionately target blacks and Latinos.
But I think this social phenomenon is deeper than that.
I think that one of the reasons Trump is appealing is because he speaks to a narrative that is central to the human nature: people like to be surrounded by people who are similar to them.
That is a big problem. Additionally, this desire to uphold and cling to what is familiar while hating and denouncing what is different does not exist only among Trump followers. It permeates our whole culture. It’s prevalent in our college campuses, which have recently drawn criticism for being ideology shelters where coddled students are no longer challenged. And it’s prevalent in our social media platforms, which have been used to publicly shame anybody who expresses the slightest differences of opinion.
While Trump-haters are often quick to judge the sentiments going on among Trump’s supporters, I find it ironic that many of these haters are actually perpetrators of the same sins.
Recently, I saw a Buzzfeed article explaining how to quickly remove your Facebook friends who support Donald Trump, so that you can “cut that negativity out of your life!” But I want to suggest that going along with this is a very dangerous thing. This mentality appeals to the same narrative that so many Trump supporters have: the desire to surround oneself with like-minded individuals. And that is the core problem. This will only reinforce the ideologically isolationist stance that drives political polarization.
When encountered with people of different opinions, beliefs, values, and ideologies, the solution is not to place labels, to cut off contact, or to mock. It is to humbly listen, to ask questions, and to engage.