Since 2015, I’ve listened closely to Trump supporters’ feelings and motivations. I’ve drawn insights from every one of my panelists on the appeal of Donald Trump as a disruptor, how they believed he was “a fighter” for them, how they believed his success in business would translate into lifting the US economy. I hoped my voter panels would help our viewers understand all sides. I hoped the panels could model civil discourse and how to hear each other. But a week after the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, I’m rethinking my position.
The cries from right-wing politicians telling us we need to hear the feelings of Trump supporters are wearing thin, as is the idea that the mob at the Capitol was somehow “silenced” or “censored” for too long. In the hour before the deadly insurrection last Wednesday, President Trump told his supporters, “Make your voices heard.” Later, after they’d trashed the seat of American democracy, he told them he loved them and that they were “very special.”
So, let us look at some of the “very special” people the President wants all of us to listen to — like the guy dressed up in the badger pelt, horns and face paint. Authorities say he’s a prominent QAnon crackpot and longtime Trump supporter. He was taken into custody on Saturday, charged with violent entry into the Capitol. I’m hard pressed to see what this malign Minotaur has to teach the rest of us.
Or how about the 60-year-old man from Arkansas, kicking his feet up in the office of the Speaker of the House? He left a “nasty note” for Nancy Pelosi and stole some of her mail. I guess he didn’t know that’s a federal crime. I’m not sure we should take any pointers from him either.
Then there’s this guy from Florida who decided to help himself to the Speaker’s lectern, smiling for the cameras as he absconded with it. He was arrested on Friday, charged with theft of government property. Before coming to CNN, I spent five years as a crime reporter, and it was an enduring truism that the dumbest criminals took photos of themselves with the stolen stuff.
The mob that descended on the Capitol had their chance to have a say last Wednesday. Hundreds of journalists with cameras were positioned along the protest route to capture the rioters’ feelings and anger. But instead of speaking out peacefully, the crowd turned to violence: They broke windows, scaled walls, carried a Confederate flag into the Capitol Rotunda, defecated in the halls of the Capitol, killed a police officer, savagely beat another one with a pole holding an American flag and crushed yet another officer in a door while he screamed for help.
By the way, there are also three networks and dozens of online sites devoted almost exclusively to amplifying President Trump’s nonsense.
I’m glad I sought out Trump voters to help me understand their perspective throughout this administration. Their insights informed my reporting every single day. I wish I could say that listening to his die-hard supporters had helped them, but I don’t see a lot of healing or catharsis in the Trump crowd. Being heard didn’t seem to alleviate the grievances of so many of them, if poll responses are an indication. Rather, many only grew more dug into their faulty beliefs.
Yes, many Trump voters on our panels expressed deep and sincere regret at supporting Trump in 2016. Some of them say they wish they could take back their vote so as to prevent all the division and lying that’s come since. But what can we make of Trump’s most ardent current supporters? Today I see only more passion for him among this group — and more rage at Democrats, the press, the so-called “Deep State,” Vice President Mike Pence and everyone else who they think has done Donald Trump wrong.
So now, at the end of Trump’s term and after the deadly Capitol insurrection, I think the time for listening to present-day Trump supporters is over. There is nothing that anyone in this destructive and delusional group can teach the rest of us about being open-minded and tolerant.
Yes, I still believe in civil discourse and hearing all rational sides — not the crazy, violent side, which is what my CNN colleagues got at the Capitol when their questions were met with threats from the mob last Wednesday. I think at this point the smartest thing the rest of us could do is no longer give warped Trump supporters a platform and no longer lend them our ears. It’s time to turn off their microphones.