By Maliyah Lanier
“He spoke for the working man.”
“Hillary could have won if she appealed to the everyday American.”
“He was the only candidate that advocated for the blue-collar worker.”
During my first ever experience in political interviewing, I was faced with the task of being introduced to the unimaginable. Since the 2016 presidential election, the stereotypical image of a Trump supporter has fit simple characteristics that are often accompanied by irresponsible pre-judgment. Racism, misogyny and xenophobia are associated with individuals who support Trump. To me, as a 17-year-old African American, and an aspiring political journalist from inner-city Philadelphia, these assumptions seemed logical. Until last week, when I learned that being a Trump voter and being completely irrational were not synonymous.
While roaming the streets of Princeton, New Jersey, a mostly liberal community, I asked strangers their political stance on President Trump. I led with two questions: “What do you like about Trump?” and “What do you hate about Trump?” Most of the responses included reasonable dislike for the president, recalling some of his more destructive policies such as the travel ban and the separation of immigrant families at the US-Mexico border. When I asked what people liked about the president, I mostly received answers like “nothing” and a few jokes, until I proceeded to interview a family sitting at a table outside a restaurant.
A white woman, dressed casually with short blonde hair, greeted me with welcoming eyes—excited because she herself had studied journalism in college. She sat with her 93-year-old father and kindly included him in the conversation. Claudia George, a 59-year-old from West Virginia, was the nicest person I met that evening. When asked about her political party, she proudly presented herself as an independent. Because of her warm, welcoming manner, I wasn’t expecting the answers she gave to my questions. She explained that she had “struggled with her vote” and that her moral identity ultimately determined her decision. Trump was her only option. He had been the only candidate, she said, that advocated for working-class America. While this reason isn’t uncommon within the pro-Trump community, her position didn’t offend me or threaten me like I expected.
When asked about the Trump administration’s recent immigration policies, she stated, “I’m not for families being separated. I am a human being.” When discussing immigrants, she explained, “Many of them are hard working.” When discussing education, she exclaimed, “Build more schools, not walls.” My first encounter with a Trump supporter wasn’t expected. Nor was it distasteful.
As politics has become a conversation in hell and Trump has become the poster child of prejudice, the idea of productive conversation has been lost. Conversation free of logical fallacies and dismissal seemed impossible to me. We indulge ourselves in false premises as we go into defensive mode while trying to make people understand the struggles we face. Therefore, we become lost in justification and the slightest disagreement causes extreme uproar. While there is no excuse for the constant discrimination and ignorance displayed by President Trump, we should be open to listening to his supporters. Everyone’s story is different.