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The curious case of the campus Trump supporter

For the past few weeks, day in and day out, there has been a man waging a singularbattle in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by FitzRandolph Gate or the Alexander Street entrance to the towpath. Armed with a “Make America Great Again” sign and a Starbucks Frappuccino, he attempts to convert students and community members to his cause. He is steadfast in his convictions and firmly believes what he is doing is right. He is subject to all manner of hostility and vitriol from students and members of the community, but he continues his one-man protest anyway. This is a very real, flesh-and-blood person. Yet, based on the way he is discussed on this campus, he might as well be a mystical unicorn. For example, The Tab published an article titled “There was a Trump supporter campaigning outside FitzRandolph today,” as if to suggest that having a Trump supporter on campus should be utterly bizarre. And that attitude is indicative of larger issues in political culture on our campus and beyond this election season.

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I’m not at all writing this column in defense of Trump’s policies (I write this column asan avowed Clinton supporter and believe that many of Trump’s policy proposals are repugnant), but there is something to be said about the peculiar way our campushandles interactions across partisan divides. There’s been a tectonic shift in political culture on our campus and beyond. As demonstrated by a number of Facebook and Twitter posts about students approaching the Trump campaigner, those on the left are commended for approaching, debating, or even just conversing with the Trump supporter, which in any other election cycle would probably not be the case. People were equally lauded for posting about hostile reactions with the man or taking pictures in silly poses with him. The Trump supporter is being treated as an unusual, perhaps even deluded, irrational man, in a decidedly dehumanizing manner.

This sentiment isn’t limited to Princeton’s campus. Rather than attack the candidate and his policies specifically, there’s been an attempt among leftist commentators to psychoanalyze and vilify the supporters and their motivations for supporting Trump. Writers at Salon, for instance, have been highly critical of Trump supporters, going so far as to write “We must shame dumb Trump fans: The white working class are not victims.” Now that’s a deplorable attack line.

The starting assumption is that those supporting Trump are automatically wrong and bigoted, without giving any room for debate or consideration of their views. Sure, many far-right, offensive groups support Trump, but they are not his entire base of support. Just a few days ago, a guest contributor to The Daily Princetonian published a column disparaging the Trump campaign and its well of support from “minions” and an “obligingly docile American mob.” Commentators on the left have constructed a straw man on the other end of the political spectrum. In their view, the Trump campaign is exploiting monsters and idiots unfit for political participation. I recognize that we live in the sheltered world of the Orange Bubble, but we do need to remember that the great majority of this country doesn’t live in such an ivory tower.

It’s dangerously myopic to ignore the part of the country that supports Trump and blithely disregard those people’s political opinions. There’s a lack of understanding and compassion on both sides, but I’m writing today about the understanding gap on the left. I remember that in a recent meeting of one of the student groups I participate in, the leader of the organization asked everyone in the room of fifteen or so people if they personally knew a Trump supporter, and in this ostensibly ideologically diverse liberal arts college setting, perhaps a quarter of the room raised their hands. How are we to act in the “in the nation’s service” if we’re unable to bridge partisan divides and tackle the real issues facing this country? Instead of outright condemning the other side of the political spectrum at first glance, we should work toward greater political understanding. A good starting point for that would involve treating the Trump campaigner as more than a mere caricature.

Nicholas Wu isa Wilson School Majorfrom Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. He can be reached at nmwu@princeton.edu.

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