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Comment: Why we need to engage with Trump supporters on issues of equality

Stephen Gray November 15, 2016
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Trump campaign hosting rally in anti-gay church to the surprise of no one

Donald Trump holds a rainbow flag given by a supporter during a 2016 campaign rally in Colorado. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Former PinkNews Editor writes on the need to engage with Trump and his supporters on issues of equality, and to separate those from economic arguments.

So America is sending Donald Trump to the White House, its 45th male president and the first to clash with the soft furnishings.

Like all minorities, the LGBTQ community now has to understand why this happened and what will happen next.

What follows is only my advice as a Brit who loves America, and who had as bad a night’s sleep on 23 June as on 8 November.

The economy (this’ll be quick because it’s simple). There are legitimate reasons for people’s economic problems; jobs move. You might agree that overregulation, NAFTA and the Chinese trade agreements have cost your town jobs and wage growth, seen and heard Trump promising to do something about it and cast your vote for that reason.

It’s hard to see it at a macro level, but people legitimately feel something intangible has been taken away from their community. They probably heard only one voice talking to people like them, and cast their vote for that reason.

Those points about jobs can be argued; that’s fair politics. That’s a reason to vote.

The massive failing of Republicans and Democrats was to stump up and lose to the candidate who put that argument across.

Because the only voice to catch that group’s attention was the one that was also saying hateful things about women, other races and other religions, as if the two must go hand-in-hand. Maybe because he believes them, maybe for the free media coverage.

Trump probably could’ve won on the economic message alone, but I don’t know what to tell you: it’s Donald Trump.

Here’s the fundamental thing people should understand under a Trump administration. Economic policies might have taken your potential, but respecting the equality of all citizens has never, can never and will never take anything away from you as a person or an American.

Reasserting America’s economic strength and the equal treatment of all its people are completely, fundamentally, conceptually unrelated.

Eroding people’s equal rights cannot make you better off.

That’s what we can, and must, argue.

To Trump voters: Make America economically great again. Push that in Washington, discuss it till the cows come home (literally, if you’re talking NAFTA). If you feel something has been taken away from you by trade deals of successive administrations, then get moving, get your democratically elected government to work, thrash it out. Try not to ruin the planet.

But unlike the economy, the free and equal treatment of all people has never taken anything away from you, your state or your country.

To make your voice heard, you stood in the echo of one that sold truths and lies. You need to repudiate the lies.

You can raise yourself up through regaining economic success that was taken away, but you’ll achieve nothing more by holding down citizens who never took from you.

To everyone else: There’s a spectrum of Trump voters. Yes, it ends with out-and-out racists, misogynists and homophobes. But it starts with people who feel they had to choose between their economy and your equal rights and ended up voting for their own interests. You don’t like it, I don’t like it, but these were decent people with a democratic right to put their interests before those of others. They weighed it up.

It’s your job now to keep the decent people way over there at the start of that spectrum (we’ve all been working on the extremists for a while now). Trump’s rhetoric is moving people towards hate wholly unnecessarily. We have to shift that tide.

And we’re not going to stop that by delegitimising their vote, by calling them deplorable.

We’ll stop it by drawing a line at equality.

You voted Trump because he’ll renegotiate trade deals and invigorate the economy? Fair enough if you buy it; Trump was the only one saying what you felt about jobs. It’s your right to prioritise your interests, even if it means voting for a candidate with an awful record on equality. I don’t like it, but I respect your right to do it.

You voted Trump because America needs a traditional identity to succeed socially and economically? Hold my drink. Economy and equality have nothing in common but their first and last letters. Russia and China are economically successful with terrible records on equality. Germany, the UK and France are economically successful with relatively good records on equality. Where do you want to see the USA heading?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that economy and equality are linked or that peace and prosperity can only be maintained by holding down the ‘other’.

If there are institutional economic problems that are frustrating the dreams of great numbers of the population then they should be addressed by your government. But the global human experience tells you they aren’t caused by your fellow Americans, by women, African-Americans, Muslims, Hispanics or the LGBTQ population, and they won’t be solved by treating those groups badly.

A lot of people are going to say those minorities’ rights are taking something away from the American identity, that America can only regain strength by clawing those rights down. A look around the world tells you that isn’t true.

If you accept that argument and you still work against the equal rights of minorities, what kind of person are you?

So don’t leave this till they come for us. Tackle the argument head-on. Convince the decent people, win them round, don’t delegitimise them. Donate to bodies like the ACLU and local community groups. Lobby your own elected representatives. Stand up safely against racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia when you see it. Report hate crime.

But before anything, sign a petition to change the wallpaper in the Oval Office before 20 January.

As with all comment, this doesn’t not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews

Stephen Gray was the editor of PinkNews. He tweets at @StephenJGray.

Related topics: Donald Trump, US

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