Here’s a riddle for you: If you hate Trump voters because you think they’re hateful, are you really combating hate?
This isn’t just a hypothetical. In the wake of the 2016 election, I’ve been in room after room filled with my fellow progressives who say things like, “Those people who voted for Donald Trump are just so Islamophobic and racist and hateful — and I hate them!” Sentiments offered entirely without irony or even self-reflection but rather a strong whiff of superiority, as though hating them back is justified or some sort of moral high road.
Hate is not the solution to hate. Just like if you indeed believe that many Trump voters were motivated — consciously or unconsciously — by racial resentment of people of color, resenting them back isn’t the answer. In fact, it just makes things worse. Because part of the frustration many Trump supporters have expressed is that they feel marginalized and disdained in the wake of greater social progress and inclusion.
This is, of course, not necessarily the case — equality for all is by definition equality, though as the saying goes, “To those accustomed to privilege, equality seems like oppression.” But against this mirage of marginalization of whites, here comes the reality of progressives actually belittling and demeaning conservative whites — which gives credence to their otherwise false sense of reverse oppression. In other words, conservative whites feel persecuted, which is fundamentally baseless, but rather than confront that concern earnestly and compassionately, we insult conservative whites which makes them feel ... persecuted!
We didn’t get here by digging in our heels in self-righteousness and giving up on everyone who didn’t agree with us.
Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you’re fine with our country being irreversibly divided and with roughly half of the voting population resisting further progress by electing a hate-mongering demagogue. In which case you should continue attacking and alienating Trump supporters and enjoying whatever smug sense of superiority that gives you in the midst of your general anxiety that everything you believe in and thought our nation as a whole believed in is in jeopardy. Though if you wrap yourself in that cocoon of smugness like a full-body snuggie, you’re really hiding from your own accountability and responsibility to make things better.
If you want to make things better, stop hating Trump voters. After all, don’t you want them to change? Don’t you want them to abandon their loyalty to Trump, see how destructive he is and vote for a progressive candidate in two or 10 or 20 years? Too much is made of “sides” in politics today, but nonetheless, don’t you want “their side” to come join “our side”?
Well, I’ll tell you right now, no single person in politics has ever switched “sides” because the people on the other side made them feel like stupid, hateful monsters. There are no Trump voters out there right now scratching their heads and saying, “Hmmm, maybe I’ll become a progressive because they’re just so condescending to me.”
Sure, maybe the progressive policies and perspectives are smart — but no one is going to listen with an open mind and an open heart if you’re making them feel like crap. You know that saying, “I know where I’m not wanted”? As a progressive, are you acting like someone who wants people to change and wants people to join your causes? Or are you acting like you belong to a smug, elitist clique?
I’m not saying you should give up your core beliefs. Of course I’m not saying that. I’m saying that as progressives, we by definition believe in progress — and the world can only progress when people progress and change. Were it not for the ability of people to change their hearts and minds on issues, we’d still have chattel slavery and women unable to vote and gay people unable to marry.
We still have so much further to go as a nation — and as humanity — but look how far we have come. In fact, the things that we are so desperate to defend in the face of Trump’s attacks are indicative of the changes we have won and the recognition that such change is not inevitable. We didn’t get here by digging in our heels in self-righteousness and giving up on everyone who didn’t agree with us. We achieved change by changing the world — and people — around us, for the better.
And if that pragmatic argument isn’t enough, please know that a lot of Trump supporters think you’re the hateful, close-minded monsters. So just like you feel justified hating them because they hate you, they feel justified hating you because you hate them. And so we end up on this ugly merry-go-round of hate. Which only stops when one side decides to end it.
As the side that supposedly stands for equality and fairness and dignity for all, I’d like to see progressives be the ones to take the moral high road and not hate. If not now, when? If not us, who?
Sally Kohn is a CNN political commentator, activist and the author of The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity. She is also the host of the State of Resistance podcast.