“Let’s Talk About Trump” started off as a way for attendees to vent frustrations about Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
Then it went just a bit further.
The philosophical affair, held at the Winter Park Community Center, was intended to have panelists espouse beliefs on how to navigate a society polarized by politics. They were supposed to learn how to reconcile differences in such a tumultuous election.
Hosted by Dave Plotkin of the local political consulting group You Should Run, the event Wednesday night was an interactive affair, that called on audience members to, as the evening wore on, shift the conversation to new places.
One theme of the night was the impact of Trump’s comments on the minority population of Mexican illegal and Muslim immigrants. Trump was decried as an “insidious monster … a narcissist, madman and provocative, racist, cancerous bully” by Alex Barrio, a You Should Run partner who is also a candidate for the Florida House.
Others commented on the actions others have taken, prompted by Trump’s words. Laila Abdelaziz, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke of the spike in crimes against Muslims in America.
“Since Trump’s announcement that he was running for President, hate-related incidents against Muslims have doubled in Florida,” she said. “Faith institutions have been vandalized. Muslim-American women have been shot at. Children have been bullied in schools by their peers as well as teachers. We should be upset and frustrated.”
Environmental Action Policy and Organizing Director Anthony Rogers-Wright said Trump supporters were often willingly allowing themselves to be manipulated, despite having the choice and opportunity to research Trump’s claims online or through other means.
“I do believe there’s a choice to allow yourself to be manipulated,” he said. “Republicans are always talking about accountability. You allow yourself to be manipulated. When he says ‘Make America Great Again,’ he means ‘Make America White Again.’”
Chandra Kethi-Reddy, co-founder of UCF philosophy club Greater America, took on a more compassionate tone, trying to look into exactly what motivated and inspired Trump’s legions of supporters.
“They seem themselves as victims,” he said. “They think the world is falling apart around them. We went from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy. This is a global phenomenon; it’s happened in Italy, France and other parts of Europe. They see their survival as based on their income. We’ll see a rise of right-wing populism and xenophobia in future elections. That’s what we have to look forward to. We need education to combat that.”
Immigration attorney Henry Lim said he believed many viewed Barack Obama’s election in 2008 mistakenly as “the end of racism,” simply because of Obama’s race alone, when in reality, Lim said his election was “the stick that knocked the hornets out of the nest.”
The hornets he was alluding to were Trump’s supporters. He claimed he had spoken to or heard about supporters who thought the 13th amendment was a bad idea and who opposed the release of Japanese prisoners from internment camps during World War II.
Former Orlando Weekly editor Erin Sullivan said the media was complicit in Trump’s rise, focusing on “every stupid thing he says” rather than looking deeper into who he is as a person and what he’s done in the past.
Sullivan also commented on how to talk to people with different beliefs. She said just throwing facts and statistics at someone with an opposite view to one’s own won’t convince them, instead just strengthening their beliefs.
“You should find a way to understand their frustration,” she said. “Then communicate the concern with them. If you give them an audience, they’ll be receptive, instead of going ‘what are you talking about, this makes no sense.’ That won’t sway them. That will only strengthen their conviction.”
Some commented on the parallels between supporters of Trump and those of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – if only in their mutual frustration with the usual establishment politics. The difference, according to Barrio, was that he feared Trump supporters would gravitate to the Tea Party and continue in government office.
“I fear the Bernie supporters will not stick around,” he said. “Where were they in the 2010 election? The 2014 election?”
Gina Duncan, Chair of Equality Florida’s Transgender Inclusion Initiative, said there was one rather paradoxical positive, however.
“We wouldn’t have this conversation if it wasn’t for Trump,” she said. “Maybe it’s a good thing we’re bringing out these issues, about race and the LGBT movement, in a positive, nonviolent way.”