One of the most upsetting aspects of Trump’s victory is that it has delighted and energized various varieties of bigot, repulsive people like David Duke. For now, at least, they feel empowered, believing that the president-elect is on their side. Trump certainly bears some responsibility for that impression: he did not convincingly disown them, and occasionally signaled to them (e.g. by his series of tweets about Jon Stewart’s birth name, Leibowitz). Did he do so because he is indeed a racist, an anti-Semite, and a homophobe – or because he was willing to take votes anywhere he could get them? Neither is admirable, but there’s a big difference. If the latter is true, how did the Trump-the-ardent-bigot meme get started and gain its initial momentum?
I’d deal with the second question first, but that would look to some as if I’m evading a crucial issue. It is, however, that second question that led me to write this post – so I hope you’ll either read to the end or skip to the end.
First, as to the question of whether Trump is a virulent bigot: let’s see now. He has, and is close to, an Orthodox Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. He has consistently supported Israel. He has employed black people in positions of authority with no apparent reluctance. He made a point of welcoming gay Republicans at the GOP convention. And he’s a longtime New Yorker who regularly hangs out with other New Yorkers of all stripes.
He throws around ethnic stereotypes with the carelessness that characterizes so much of his speech. But he doesn’t act like a bigot.
He is, of course, the ultimate narcissist. So it’s reasonable to assume that he thinks the very best thing to be is a tall, hefty, cisgender straight man. But he doesn’t surround himself largely or exclusively with Trump clones.
There’s been less discussion of whether Trump is what some would call an ableist, someone who is prejudiced against the disabled; but his mockery of a reporter with a congenital disability has been widely condemned. Based on still photographs, a great many people believe Trump was imitating the man’s disability. Video tells a somewhat different story. The reporter has a muscular contracture of one arm, but has no uncontrolled motion. Trump flailed his arms around. That could be explained as an inaccurate attempt at imitation, but Trump has made the same flailing motions on other occasions when mocking a supposedly flustered opponent. It’s a childish and crude way of commenting on an opponent’s discomfiture – but I wouldn't call it ableism.
On the arguably related issue of whether Trump is a sexist, he certainly seems to assess women, routinely, by their physical appeal as rated by him. Obnoxious and infuriating as that is, it doesn’t wipe out of existence his track record of hiring women for major jobs, not only in traditionally feminine jobs and starting well before it was common.
His alleged history of sexually abusing women, corroborated (though not necessarily proven) by his own boasts, is appalling – but it’s not inseparable from and doesn’t necessarily show a belief that women are or should be second-class citizens. And the Trump-as-bigot-and-sexist meme was in full cry long before the leaked Access Hollywood tape and the accusations that followed.
So how did the idea of Trump as a homophobic racist become so pervasive that young people, liberals, gay people, black people, and homophobic racists believe it?
Here’s a hint: which political demographic typically resorts to laundry-list accusations, so that anyone accused of, say, sexism must be a racist and a homophobe as well? It isn’t the right, or the nebulously defined alt-right. It’s leftists, Democrats and otherwise. And they have been raining these labels down on Trump from the moment he jumped into the race. Now we’re living with the consequences.
I hope, but would love to be more confident, that he’ll go out of his way, and soon, to take the wind out of the racists’ sails.