Hey, Trump Supporters: Tolerance of Intolerance Isn’t a Thing
Yes, I’m a liberal. But please don’t assume that means I’m supposed to be ‘tolerant.’
“I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant!”
“Liberals aren’t as tolerant as they think!”
“For people who claim to be SO tolerant, you liberals sure are showing a lot of intolerance!”
Throughout 2016, statements like these became the calling cards of Trump supporters. They were issued in response to liberals publicly naming Trumpian-like campaign behaviors that shook us to our cores. But then again, this wasn’t a typical political season with typical debates, the kind where we listen quietly and tolerate viewpoints with which we disagree. Trump’s campaign was not about political differences; it wasn’t even about political ideology to begin with. The rhetoric coming from his mouth was more call to action than anything else — actions that had the potential of harming already marginalized groups of people.
For liberals, Democrats, and progressives, what this whole election cycle was really about was the revealing of a nation’s heart and soul. As time wore on, it felt like it was turning into issues of basic human decency. What it ultimately exposed was deep moral divides, and most of us were rightfully horrified to see what was really there simmering beneath the surface. Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t just damaging on its own; it was also emboldening closet racists and homophobes by pumping their confidence, and inviting them to step into the light with a microphone.
In return for being unwilling to tolerate misogyny, racism, homophobia, and transphobia, Trump supporters branded liberals as “snowflakes.” In exchange for us calling out Trump’s blatantly sexist and xenophobic language, their mantra consistently showed up: “The liberals are only tolerant of people who think like them.” It became the Republican rallying cry.
As for their more recent calls to “civility,” it’s astonishing how quickly Trump supporters seem to have forgotten that incivility was already set as the official language of our bully-in-chief. Intentional or not, the leader of a nation sets the tone for public discourse, and Trump undeniably chose coarseness, bad manners, and disrespect.
Being chastised and stamped “intolerant” for speaking out against the actual intolerance of hateful bigots — bigots who picked on marginalized groups who in no way had any persuasion over the lifestyles of those who condemned them — ultimately helped me realize:
Tolerance of intolerance isn’t a thing.
For the best answer as to why not, I’d highly recommend starting with Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance, or, for an easier-to-digest version, read Parker Molloy’s excellent article, “Deconstructing the tolerance paradox: why Conservatives’ go-to-line is garbage.”
Basically, if we are expected to have blanket tolerance, then we become completely apathetic and stand for nothing. However, if people (especially liberals) were to tolerate the intolerance of Trump (where intolerance here represents language, actions, and policies that harm others — especially the oppressed, minority, or marginalized groups of people), then we’d be giving a stamp of approval for those intolerant things to exist — the very things we inherently do not approve of.
But I also started to wonder, when did liberals get described as ‘tolerant’ anyway? Who thought ‘tolerant’ was a good word to capture the essence of today’s liberals?
To me, tolerance implies a sense of not liking or agreeing with someone or something about them, but being willing to put up with it anyway. I actually like the people for whom I advocate. I certainly don’t feel like I’m putting up with them, or coexisting to keep the peace. I am actively choosing to engage, attempting to give a voice to those who don’t have their voices amplified through the privilege of a large platform.
I don’t, however, feel any obligation to put up with, or tolerate the type of Trumpist hate speech that denigrates those same people I feel compelled to understand and fight for (like trans kids, who generally don’t get a voice in society at all). If that makes me “intolerant,” then sign me up.
In common vernacular, we tend to use “tolerance” in the context of things that should be tolerated, like race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. Discrimination should not be tolerated. It should be resisted and fought against every single time.
Let’s say you’re a white, evangelical Christian, and you support Trump. The issue of gay marriage? Doesn’t harm you personally in any way. Enacting laws that make gay marriage illegal because you don’t approve of it? That harms lots of people. That would be an easy example of something liberals do not have to tolerate.
Still, it seemed like the word tolerant never officially came up until Trump supporters wanted to use it against us liberals, and then I heard it all the time. The first time was when a Trump supporter seemed practically lying in wait to pull the word out of his back pocket, to repudiate my defense of political correctness, and other “PC people” he referred to, in a derogatory manner, as “social justice warriors.”
“Oh, I see how it works,” he said with snark. “Your liberal BS is only tolerant of people who think just like you, huh?”
I answered, “yes, I’m a liberal. But please don’t assume that means I’m supposed to be tolerant.”
On that note, liberals are not a lot of things, but mainly it comes down to the fact that we’re not bound by the authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms that tend to lead the conservative mindset. As for tolerant? Liberals actually don’t tolerate several things, like hate speech against protected classes of people, as I mentioned earlier. Trump supporters always challenge us on this one:
“What about black people who call white people racist names? That’s racism, too, y’know. How come they get a free pass, but we can’t say anything to them without being called ‘racist’?”
First off, no. “Protected classes” don’t include us white folks. Because the Founding Fathers built white dominance into our laws, and systemic racism into the fabric of our society, white folks already are a protected class in America. White Americans have long been the comfortable majority. But more importantly, why would anyone want to hurl racist insults, as if that’s some hard fought for, earned privilege? Why would anyone want to be anti-P.C.?
Political correctness makes use of a socially acceptable kind of intolerance, which is being intolerant of offensive hate speech and discriminatory practices against already marginalized or minority groups. Being P.C. also means being against the act of punching down through attacks on the poor, disabled, and elderly, to name a few. These are not practices that anyone should support.
Trump supporters would most likely answer, “It’s just the principle of the matter; it’s a double-standard, not fair.” Still, the question remains: why would you want to use racist insults? Is that really the priority we need to be weighing on the scales of equity?
But sure, we can indulge. White Christian woman, I’ll use you as an example (only because I’m also a white Christian woman — just not the organized religion type). Indeed, you very well may get your feelings hurt if you’re on the receiving end of nasty hate speech for simply revealing you’re a Christian. As an American you have the right to practice whatever religion you choose, without persecution.
But, as a general rule of thumb, your life — as a Christian in America — is not going to be in danger as a result of that hate speech. Your experience is very unlike the experience of, say, a black trans woman in America, whose life is compromised if publicly outed as a trans woman during some transphobic asshole’s hate sermon.
Her life is in danger. Your feelings are hurt. Apples to oranges, not even in the same class.
Being a liberal is less about this notion of tolerance, and more about having a moral and philosophical framework that seeks to protect individuals (especially the oppressed) from being harmed by other individuals (especially those who hold the power). Liberals believe in the value of social and political change in order to achieve progress. We believe that our government should play a role in the amelioration of social inequities (like those involving race, gender, or class, to name a few), and specifically, that the government’s duty is to remove obstacles (like poverty, disease, discrimination, and ignorance) that prevent individuals from fully realizing their freedom and potential.
While being liberal may include tolerance of change in general, socially and politically this means change that moves society forward, in the direction of advancement, or progress — not backwards, or back to the way we “used to do things” before we learned those things denied basic human rights to an entire race of people. We also tend to see ideals like being politically correct, or being “social justice warriors” as good things.
Conversely, today’s Trump supporters lament any semblance of political correctness in American culture. They bemoan the idea as if being (and holding others accountable to be) politically correct takes something away from their own rights to free speech. They whine about no longer being able to feel comfortable openly sharing their true feelings without being labeled “racist,” or “transphobic,” for example.
They tend to take an overall “anti-PC” fighting stance, as if liberals are waging war on them, when all we’re really doing is asking them to at least limit their assholery to the confines of their private homes, if they’re unwilling to let go of it altogether.
While we are a democratic society that relies on the safeguards of free and open discussion and there is no First Amendment exception for “hate speech,” it is still undeniably hateful and offensive to use racist slurs against people of color, or transphobic slurs towards transgender people. As an American society, we have collectively agreed on this — that certain kinds of speech are offensive and thus, intolerable. This is the foundation of political correctness. This is not a bad thing.
There is nothing admirable about using or wanting to use racist or homophobic hate speech, despite the fact that our President uses it. (Can’t believe we actually now have to say things like this). That said, if someone wants to use hate speech, they are free to do so under our cherished First Amendment protection.
However, they should also expect being called on the carpet as part of this whole process. That’s just how it works. One doesn’t get to spout hate speech against protected groups (punching down) and still be “a good person.” A person doesn’t get to be openly transphobic while also being free and clear of any guilt or responsibility, especially when the number one reason fueling the violent murders of black trans women is the transphobia of others.
While Trump supporters tend to stand against protections of minorities, immigrants, and Muslims; women’s bodily autonomy, and women’s issues in general; civil rights for LGBTQ+ people, the poor, and the marginalized; and the rights of people of color to speak out or protest, liberals stand for protections of those same groups. Liberals are therefore intolerant of Trump and his enabling supporters, because they punch down on already oppressed, marginalized, or minority groups, and those groups still do not have equal protection in our culture.
Trump supporters don’t view it that way. They voted Trump because they got sick of feeling like liberals have essentially won the culture war. They think liberals already have too much power, that they control everything from mainstream media and Hollywood, to public schools, colleges, and universities. They feel there’s a war on everything conservative, from Christmas to Christians. They’re misguided. There’s no war to abolish those things, but there is a call to simply recognize they already have majority privileged status, and are not in need of protection.
Take The Activist Mommy, for example. A self-identified “Christian” with a Facebook following of over 610,000 people, she uses her public platform to spread even more hate towards the already marginalized and misunderstood transgender community, and she does so with willful ignorance.
While sitting behind the wheel of her minivan (which is outfitted to hold her 10 children), she records and broadcasts herself delivering diatribes full of venom. She targets, criticizes, berates, and laughs at all the usual suspects — political correctness, women’s marches, any news outlet that’s not Fox, transgender people, LGBTQ+ rights, any religion that’s not Christian, and an array of other things. She’s especially fond of calling LGBTQ+ people “sinful” “disgusting,” and “perverts.”
I have to mention here that with 10 kids, odds are increasingly in her favor that she has at least one gay kid, and/or at least one trans or gnc kid. They’ll spend their lives in the closet, and that’s actually pretty sad.
The Activist Mommy stokes Trump’s base by playing into their shared persecution complex when she, in fact, is not being persecuted. Like when she was given a short-lived ban on Facebook (which Facebook allegedy later called an “error”), she said it was evidence that Facebook’s process for banning, suspending, and deleting posts was punitive against “Christians and conservatives.”
One could easily argue that even if the ban was done as a punitive measure, it was done due to her misuse of Facebook as a platform to spread willfully ignorant, abusive and damaging hate speech, which has absolutely nothing to do with one’s religious or political affiliations.
Even considering the large numbers of people who have reported her in violation of Facebook’s community guidelines for hate speech, she’s still unequivocally allowed a platform where over 610,000 people can hear her tirades against LGBTQ+ people, and can personally witness her incitements. At one point, she was regularly inviting her vast audience of followers to join her at Pride festivals across the country for the purpose of “triggering” Pride attendees.
She claims biblical reasons for condemning the LGBTQ+ community, and implicates their growing numbers as proof of Christianity under attack and in need of protection. Yet, if she took her family to NYC, Disney, or DC — anywhere, really — during the Christmas season, she’d see her shared Christian (albeit pagan) traditions being represented all around her in every storefront window. She’s not persecuted, and she’s not the besieged minority.
Trump supporters and trolls like The Activist Mommy seem to believe that by giving other people the rights they’ve always had themselves, it means that they somehow lose their rights, or have something taken away from them. Crying “intolerance!” at people like liberals who rightfully call out immoral behavior is the embodiment of unchecked privilege.
Trump supporters made an intentional decision in 2016. They now must accept the consequences, meaning, they now must live with the discomfort of a self-inflicted wound. Listening to them cry “persecution” or “intolerance” like Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who, by the way, was asked to leave in private, calmly, after enjoying the cheese plates, and was excused from paying the bill) is frustrating, to say the least. It is watching a person of unchecked privilege, who is purposely choosing to live within even more unchecked privilege, all while bellyaching about how persecuted they are.
Sorry, but folks like Trump supporters don’t get to tell liberals — or anyone else — to tolerate their brand of intolerance.