We should be terrified by Trump’s popularity, right? It must be a sign that things are getting worse and our country is getting more racist and hateful. After all, polls have shown that racial anxiety is the greatest driver of support for Trump. We are spiraling down into chaos. Right?
I don’t think so.
In fact, the surge of support for Donald Trump gives me hope for our future.
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Let’s be clear. Trump’s stances and behavior are dangerous, bigoted, and demeaning. They prey on our worst and lowest impulses. His policies are not only offensive but impractical and nonsensical. Proposals to build a wall on the Mexico border and ban Muslims are as hateful as they are sure to exacerbate – not solve – our core challenges.
Trump doesn’t even attempt to confront the complexity of our reality. Instead, he projects a false reality where his simplistic ideas and predetermined solutions make sense.
Yet, Trump’s rising prominence and support in this election cycle fills me with hope. It makes me even more certain that we are on the cusp of profound, systemic change in our society.
We often say “the night is darkest before the dawn.” I believe this is as true in societal transformation and evolution as anything else. Things get worse before they get better.
Racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism are not new realities in America. They have been with us since our Founding Fathers and before. They were just as prevalent in Obama’s presidency as they were in those of the Bushes, Nixon, Roosevelt, Lincoln, and all the others before. Racism is a founding principle of America. It has been engrained in our psyche, consciously and unconsciously, since we began this country.
Racism isn’t getting worse. It is getting surfaced. We are growing more conscious of how it informs every aspect of our society – whether explicitly or implicitly.
So the growing support for Trump’s ideas is not that they are becoming more popular. I believe support for them is growing because those who hold them most dearly now feel more threatened – and therefore getting louder and more activated – than they ever have in our history. They sense that the advantages they’ve enjoyed historically are now more tenuous than ever.
They sense that we are on the cusp of profound change.
Let’s remember that just as Trump’s popularity has risen, so have the influence of socialists like Bernie Sanders and Kshama Sawant, Black Lives Matter, and any concepts that start with “systemic,” “institutional,” or “implicit.”
Yes, part of our country is gripped in fear and hate. But the other half is quickly stepping into an entirely new worldview and vision of our future. Their beliefs about how and why our world operates the way it does – and how it should operate instead – are evolving.
In the 2016 primaries, Bernie Sanders got more votes from people under 30 than Clinton and Trump combined (Washington Post).
According to a 2016 poll, 64% of Americans under 30 support Black Lives Matter.
According to another 2016 poll, 75% of American between the ages of 18 and 34 support government action to fight climate change.
We are growing more and more aware of the root causes of problems in our society. And we’re becoming more aware of what needs to happen to address them. We are surfacing many of the beliefs and assumptions that have been unconscious for too long. We are questioning the systems and mental models designed to empower the white and wealthy now more than ever.
This terrifies people who have been benefiting from these unspoken assumptions without realizing it. They see their beliefs and ways of being eroding and eroding quickly.
And they are getting more and more angry in response.
That’s why Trump is popular.
People are loudly supporting him because their privilege has never been challenged to the extent it is being challenged right now. They fear a future where whiteness and maleness aren’t given special access to opportunity. They fear a future where we don’t assume that the rich have “earned” it and the poor are just lazy.
This is the darkness before the dawn. I can’t say it won’t get worse still. But I can say that this is how change happens – with tension, fear, and uncertainty.
We are on the cusp of profound, foundational change. We are seeing our society change before our eyes.
Did you really expect these belief systems to go down quietly?