If you happen to be active on social media, you’ll know that Donald Trump is a racist, misogynistic bigot who relentlessly bullies minorities and poor people. My generation especially is quick to take to Facebook and Twitter, proffering their views on democratized platforms where everyone has an opinion on everything. The morally righteous criticism of Trump, however, extends far beyond overwhelmingly liberal young adults. On both sides of the aisle, public proclamations that Donald Trump is evil personified saturate every form of media. Even as a resident of the zip code with the highest concentration of individual Trump donors in the nation, I see and hear all around me the denouncement of his candidacy as having gone “too far.”
What critics may not realize, though, is that Trump is the embodiment of a value system that was present in our country before he ran. A careful evaluation of Trump’s proposed policies reveals that his positions do not differ much from those of the other Republican candidates; he is simply using stronger rhetoric and making his intentions more clear. From turning away refugees to further militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump’s ideas closely mirror the longtime sentiments of many Americans, whether they want to admit it or not.
The outrage against Trump may sometimes even detract from the larger institutional issues responsible for his rise. Reagan was the original ‘Teflon’ president, with a number of scandals and controversies that never quite seemed to stick. Trump is a far more dangerous permutation of a ‘Teflon’ candidate — not only do his failings not stick, but they actually make him a more popular candidate. No press is bad press for Trump, whose supporters usually become more fervent each time he outdoes himself with an even more outrageous claim than the last. The New York Times reported that Trump has actually received nearly $2 billion in free media attention, and the Nieman Lab found that a candidate’s popularity is almost always equal to the amount of media attention they get, regardless of whether it is negative or positive.
By constantly posting about Trump’s insensitivity in kicking a baby out of a rally or denigrating women, people may be missing out on the bigger picture. Yes, Trump is morally bankrupt and unfit to lead a nation. However, in this vicious 24-hour news cycle, Trump’s admonishment of an infant has somehow received far more attention than the the United States’ killing of 73 civilians in airstrikes in Syria. Melania Trump’s plagiarized RNC speech sparked more conversation than the routine discrimination by airline companies against people who speak Arabic or appear to be Muslim, who have been kicked off flights for reasons as inane as simply wearing a headscarf or writing down a math equation. In the meantime, criticizing Trump has become somewhat of an endeavor of vanity, a fashionable pursuit in which to engage in order to convince one’s acquaintances that one is liberal, cosmopolitan, and/or politically informed.
The tragic irony is that while Trump’s outrageous behavior has encouraged bigots to be more public about their beliefs, the executive office holds little power when it comes to making real change in this country. Special-interest groups, corporations, local governments, and the media have historically driven policy and influenced its implementation on the ground. The devil is in the details, but the average American voter has neither the palate nor the patience for the nuances of politics. It’s always been glamorous to jump on the bandwagon for big elections, but it is far more effective to fight for smaller political victories one by one.
Public criticism about Trump’s latest immature comment might make you feel good inside, like you’re doing a service for the citizens of this country, but it means little if you do not act on that sentiment in any way. This applies to both the right and the left. Voting Democrat in November is not enough. From drone strikes to deportations, the Democratic Party has its own history of infringing upon human rights. Just because Trump and the Republican Party are the “worse option,” Democrats should not fall into a lull of complacency. Democrats must keep working to internally strengthen the party by focusing on what they can do right, as opposed to what the Republicans will do wrong. The Clinton-Kaine campaign has miles to go in this regard, as they undersell their own experience and qualifications by going the “Never Trump” route.
At the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama responded to the crowd booing at the mention of Donald Trump by saying, “Don’t boo. Vote.” The President made an important point — one that seems to escape many who speak out about Trump. For those who are rightly enraged by a candidate with Trump’s disposition coming so close to the office of President, I urge you to take your actions further than Facebook. In most situations, advocacy is a fantastic way to effect change. In this election, however, media attention seems only to strengthen “the Donald.”
So rather than railing against Trump to no one in particular on your social media account, confront your friends and coworkers directly when you hear them make discriminatory statements, although you may feel uncomfortable speaking out. Contact your Senators about issues important to you. Hold your politicians to a higher standard, and do not accept their criticism of Trump as legitimate until they withdraw their endorsements and stop supporting his problematic policy proposals. Use your voice not only on your newsfeed or on November 8, but at the ballot box in local and state elections.
Remember that Donald Trump is only feeding into a sentiment that has long existed in America, and we must fight the problem of intolerance at its roots rather than pouring all our energy into eradicating one of its inevitable consequences. If we lose sight of the bigger picture, we may win the battle against Trump, but we will still have lost the war.