Silent majority reflects society’s failure to engage all voices

The crazies have really come out of hiding.

That’s what many commentators across the country (and across the world) might’ve been thinking as they watched state after state hand over Republican-primary victories to Donald Trump on Tuesday. For the past month, Americans have watched with disbelief as the Republican candidate, billionaire and distasteful egomaniac has skyrocketed in the polls. At the end of Super Tuesday, Trump won a grand total of 319 delegates, placing first in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

Trump’s stunning support has put the world at a loss. How is it possible that a man who has again and again proved himself to be an unapologetic bully and a terrible public speaker gained such traction across the United States? How can so many of our fellow countrymen support, in good conscience, an individual who has cracked fat jokes, mocked a disabled journalist, made vulgar and sexist remarks, urged his supporters to assault peaceful protesters and, just last week, made a bald-faced claim that he “knew nothing” about his vocal supporter, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke?

Said Trump in a CNN interview on Feb. 28, “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”

This was two days after he publicly disavowed Duke’s endorsement at a press conference on Feb. 26. In 2000, Trump also called Duke “a bigot, a racist, a problem,” and he expressed concern about Duke winning the “anger vote” from white voters in Duke’s previous run for Senate in 1991 (ironic, isn’t it?).

Here is a man who by all measures makes a terrible public leader: he flip-flops his political views, he makes ambiguous statements and he has no interest in public service or serving the people — rather, he proudly presents himself as an enemy to the people.

He is an unequivocal villain, yet his oversimplified generalizations, empty claims and obnoxious, bullying disposition galvanize millions. Some of those millions are our neighbors — people we might have called friends. This is terrifying.

So where do these Trump supporters come from? Have those of us privileged enough to grow up in relatively educated, urban environments taken our priorities and our frame of “common sense” for granted? Is there really a “silent majority” out there whose worldview and assumptions are at odds with our understanding of the world?

If so, how did the national dialogue manage to overlook such a large demographic until this election season? How have we, as Americans, managed to insulate a bloc of our fellow citizens from the standards of a civilized society?

A recent survey by The New York Times showed that many of Trump’s supporters ranked his tendency to “tells it like it is” as an important factor in swaying their vote. However, according to fact-checking service PolitiFact, 79 percent of Trump’s statements range from Mostly False to Pants on Fire.

Out of his statements, PolitiFact’s could not just choose one “Lie of the Year” and instead consolidated some of their favorite lies told by Trump: that Muslims cheered in New Jersey after 9/11, that the Mexican government has been dumping criminals across the U.S. border or that 81 percent of white people are killed by black people compared to 16 percent of white people being killed by other white people (in reality, these percentages are flipped). So no, Trump is not “telling it like it is.” He is far from it.

I refuse to believe that the core of this country is rotten. I do not believe that we are naturally inclined to be abrasive, dismissive and prejudiced. I believe most people possess reasonable judgment, though they may choose not to use it.

But somewhere along the way, between the newsfeeds, the dinner-table conversations and the ballot boxes, something broke. Somewhere along the way, people from certain backgrounds began to feel increasingly disconnected with the issues spotlighted by the media and by politicians. Sometime this past year, these pockets of dissatisfaction have chosen Trump to be their voice amid a crowd of unfamiliar ideas. The silent majority will not settle to be the invisible majority.

Sure, it may be unsettling to turn on a TV in the morning and see footage of people who look nothing like you and who have different backgrounds than you discussing issues that you cannot relate to. But where education and constructive dialogue may have intervened, this sense of alienation was instead abetted by pundits and extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. Fear has built the backbone of Trump’s campaign success. For that, we are somewhat at fault.

For too long, commentators, politicians and the moderate public have been treating Trump supporters as jokes; it’s all too easy to dismiss individuals whose viewpoints seem so extreme. But spurring Trumpsters will only confirm what has been fueling Trump’s whole campaign: that Trump is the only man who cares about their concerns in a world that is actively attacking their values. By refusing to at least attempt civil dialogue with these voters, we effectively isolate a dangerously large portion of the population.

Flame wars do nothing. Calling people idiots does nothing. Posting memes about Trump also does nothing. We have treated this as a joke for too long; as John Oliver quipped on “Last Week Tonight,” Trump is “America’s back mole.”

“It may have seemed harmless a year ago,” Oliver said. “But now that it has gotten frighteningly bigger, it is no longer wise to ignore it.”

For once, we must abandon our own pride and assumptions and reach out to those who find inspiration in Trump’s message. Without condescension or judgment, we must listen to their concerns, try to understand how Trump has appealed to their needs and then show them how other candidates could serve them much better. Present facts and figures instead of slurs, and show them that Trump is an unreliable candidate. Appeal to their moral higher ground (believe it or not, most people do have one) and show why some of their fears may be unfounded. Let them know that society has not “shut them out” and there are justifiable reasons why the rest of the world cannot take Trump seriously as a politician.

I, too, have faith in the character of the American people. But I also worry about the influence of limited, lopsided information. We need to give all voters the chance to make an educated decision, even if that means gritting our teeth and explaining things that we take for granted. At some point in our lives, whether we remember it or not, we learned the principles behind what we know to be common sense. We learned to respect our neighbors, listen to others, be rational, use logic and look at facts.

Jackie Yang is a sophomore majoring in English and neuroscience. Duly Noted runs the first Thursday of each month.

Featured image courtesy Flickr user Michael Vadon