Newspaper article International New York Times

Are Trump Fans Really Afraid?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Are Trump Fans Really Afraid?

Article excerpt

Glance at your worst relative's Facebook page. No one really holds back.

Rhinestones twinkling around the perimeter of her shades, cornsilk curls undaunted by the Pensacola sun, Elizabeth Kemper, a supporter of Donald J. Trump, is all certainty. She is fed up. "You know, this country is so dang political correct," she tells a CNN reporter. "I'm afraid to say what I really feel, you know?"

On her shirt, a silhouette of Mr. Trump's head nestles in the protective crook of the state of Florida, his face turned stalwartly eastward, away from Mexico, his Mordor.

Ms. Kemper is blazing, passionate, incredulous. "I think this country better go back to some of those values. Some of the values my parents grew up with, my grandparents grew up with," she says. "Whatever was wrong, they could point it out and tell you."

The notion that Mr. Trump voices ideas that his supporters are "afraid" to express, vital truths lost to the scourge of political correctness, has been a rhetorical through-line of his campaign. Mr. Trump says exactly what he thinks, his fans gush -- about immigrants, about Muslims, about women -- a bygone pleasure now denied most Americans.

It's an odd construction. Once you say, "He says what I'm afraid to say," and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you've said what you're afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place? The phrase is a dodge, a way to acknowledge that you're aware it's a little naughty to be a misogynist xenophobe in 2016, while letting like-minded people know, with a conspiratorial wink, that you're only pretending to care. It's a wild grab for plausible deniability -- how can I be a white supremacist when I'm just your nice grandpa? -- an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it's worse to be called racist than to be racist.

Trump fans are flattering themselves if they think that, say, declining to shout slurs at black people or sexually harass female co-workers is some form of noble restraint. Not only is that a pathetically low bar, many do not seem to be clearing it. Video of a Trump rally in Kentucky on Super Tuesday shows a student named Shiya Nwanguma being shoved and jostled. She reported being called a racial epithet as well as an abusive term for the female anatomy. Video from a North Carolina rally on Wednesday shows a white Trump supporter punching a black protester in the face. One glance at your worst relative's Facebook page, one toe dipped into the toxic sludge- fire that is pro-Trump Twitter, and it's abundantly obvious that no one is holding much back.

It's tempting to declare that the Internet isn't real life, that online hate isn't a credible barometer for offline behavior. But human beings built the Internet, we populate it, we set its tone, and collectively we've designated it a major engine of discourse. …

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