The Othering of Donald Trump and His Supporters

The 2016 presidential election was extraordinary in many respects. One was the way in which the Republican candidate and his supporters were disparaged in the establishment press. Although it is a truism that politics can often be rough (as in the sayings, 'It ain't beanbag" and "It’s a contact sport') and any apparent civility in the rhetoric is often just a mask in front of bareknuckle tactics, many observers have noted that the 2016 election became especially rough.

Further, the attacks on candidate Donald Trump and his supporters came not only from political opponents- which would be expected-but also from those who identify themselves as conservatives, Republicans, or both. Under ordinary circumstances they would be expected to either be supportive of the party s candidate (whether enthusiastically or half-heartedly), or be mostly silent about their distaste for the candidate. That was not the case in this election; some of Trump s fiercest critics, both in the primary and in the general election campaign, were individuals and organizations one would expect to be at least nominally on his side.

In this chapter, I examine some instances of attacks on Trump and his supporters which go beyond the customary rough-and-tumble of American politics. These examples were chosen both from the campaign and also from the first eight months of the Trump administration. Through this analysis I identify particular features that indicate the attacks involve an ‘othering’ process.

What was non-routine was rhetoric so harsh as to dismiss the humanity ofa candidate and supporters and to suggest they were illegitimate participants in a democratic political process. Behaviors long considered to be violations of law or professional ethics are starting to be justified (falsely, in my view) as virtuously confronting the Other. Whatever the motivation or rationale, the othering of Donald Trump and his supporters seems to me to be a corrosive development in the last election and it shows no sign of abating in the near future.