Editor’s note: The following column first appeared in The Hill newspaper and on TheHill.com.
This column is tough to write. I know that, out of context, I might be accused of wanting to pull punches on GOP nominee Donald Trump and on many of his extreme, hateful supporters.
The opposite is the case. Two points about Trump and some of his most extreme supporters cannot be denied.
First are Trump’s own words, which have conveyed racial, religious and sexist bigotry. He described Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals” and a federal judge as untrustworthy because his parents were of Mexican heritage. Even Republican Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) described Trump’s comments about the judge as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
The words Trump has used about women, including what he said on the “Access Hollywood” tape, show disrespect and worse — including descriptions of his own past actions that constitute criminal sexual assault. Those words cannot be excused as “locker-room talk.” Decent men don’t talk like that in locker rooms or anywhere else.
Second are the words and actions of many of Trump’s most extreme supporters at rallies and online in vicious blog posts and tweets.
These hateful Trump extremists’ comments reflect the same bigoted words used by their candidate.
From violent attacks at rallies to cries of “lock her up” at rallies egged on by Trump himself, these extremist Trump supporters are frightening and there is nothing wrong with describing them for who and what they are: haters and bigots. I still believe they are fortunately still a small minority on the fringes of our politics.
However, I am becoming nervous that some of us Democrats and Hillary Clinton supporters are allowing ourselves to fall into the trap of what I shall call “label creep” — where we increasingly allow accurate descriptions of these radical, hateful Trump supporters to creep into descriptions of anyone who supports Trump.
This label-creep phenomenon opens us up to the antithesis of the progressive views and values that has made us proud to be Democrats — specifically, tolerance for political expression and opinions that are different from our own and most importantly, avoiding generalizations and stereotyping.
I am hearing more and more instances of the public shaming of anyone who is a Trump supporter or donor, regardless of whether these individuals disagree and repudiate Trump’s bigoted words and the hate speech and conduct of his most extreme supporters.
I hear about thoughtful, non-bigoted people who are for Trump and who have become fearful of wearing a Trump button in public or admitting to their political preferences to friends, at dinner parties or at work.
For example, I have a friend who is a prominent business leader who is being pressured, as if he has committed a crime, by the media and others to justify his support of Trump considering the prevailing pro-Clinton opinion in the business sector in which he has gained fame. The fact that he strongly disagrees with Trump’s bigoted words doesn’t seem to matter.
If that isn’t bad enough, his friends are being asked to justify how they can continue to remain friends with him.
I worry about this. It reminds me of a dark time in American history and my dad’s warnings during that time.
When I was about 9 years old, I remember watching on TV someone named Joseph McCarthy — who looked and sounded like a bully to me — without understanding much of what he was saying. I remember when McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin, threatened a young man on TV because of a political club the young man had belonged to years before when he was in law school.
I felt frightened.
My dad saw the look on my face and assured me that most Americans were not like McCarthy. We were a tolerant people, he said. We won’t accept attacking others personally and ruining their reputations because of differences on politics.
I hope some of us on the Democratic pro-Clinton side are not part of an effort to shame all Trump supporters. Instead, we should be following our candidate’s inspiring words — indeed, the theme of her entire campaign.
Hillary Clinton has reminded us again and again that she wants to be president of all Americans, including Republicans, conservatives and Trump supporters. She asks us to be tolerant and respectful of others. Only then can we be “stronger together” in an America that Clinton wants to lead if she wins on Nov. 8.