There is no question that billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump, the man who has not only threatened to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, but also supports ever more widespread gun carrying and sees terrorist threat in refugees, warrants criticism. However, certain comments on Trump’s supporters, albeit coming from a small minority, have the ring of classism about them. Classism refers to prejudices based upon a person’s social class, and this article will mostly focus on prejudice surrounding educational level, an integral part of a person’s social status. It should be noted, however, that even if some comments are classist, it does not eradicate the fact that Trump supporters endorse policies such as the examples above, providing a fairly convincing argument for their racism, Islamophobia and their dangerous support of gun ownership. However, what the use of classist humour does do is deflect attention from the real issues – it turns support for Trump into an arguably inappropriate joke. On Super Tuesday, Trump won the Republican vote in seven out of twelve states, and seems on track to win the Republican nomination. So, with his support no longer very funny to the Republican’s opponents, the notable lack of classist jibes is more understandable.
Trump’s supporters cut across demographics, part of what makes him so remarkable, but as is widely reported, generally they are whiter, poorer, older, less-educated and traditionally less likely to turn out to vote. These people are the American working class, with a lower level of education than, for example, even the lower middle class, who likely have a college education. This is why education-related comments, based on some statistical evidence, have a whiff of classism about them.
An example of the kind of joke that is made at Trump voters’ expense by the aforementioned minority is the skit by Jimmy Kimmel entitled ‘Poorly Educated Americans for Trump’. The video, based on Trump’s comment at a recent rally (“I love the poorly educated!”) focusses more on the misspellings of the ‘poorly educated Americans’ than why it would be unintelligent to vote for Trump. Therefore, the effect is one of the creator not mocking Trump so much as congratulating themselves on their superior intellect in comparison to the politician’s supporters. In fact, given that the more serious analyses of Trump’s success so far assert that Trump’s crossing of ideological boundaries within the Republican Party is down to widespread anger at Washington, and other candidates’ perceived involvement in this, the best method of defence is surely not mocking anyone who supports this ‘alternative’. Surely all it does is cast the creator as part of the institution? It is in a small way classist, and detracts from important issues.
In fact, although it is not hard to find headlines expressing similar sentiment to Kimmel if one actively searches for them, again focussing on the Trump voters’ relative ignorance, they are still scarce overall. Furthermore, even these articles leave most of their bite in the headline, the content itself breaking down statistics in terms of demographics, and reflecting on the chances of Donald Trump in the race for the White House. Despite a lot of dislike for Trump, journalists seem to be, on the whole, kind towards his voters. There is interest, but not snobbery.
Naturally, serious journalistic analysis is bound to be above petty name calling, but the complete lack of it, even when actively searching for terms like ‘stupid’alongside ‘Donald Trump supporters’ online is surprising, and worrying. Even comment sections are notably easy on the voters themselves. All of this suggests a deeper worry about the politician’s chance at success. As Kimmel proves, ignorance is an easy target for a joke and classism an easy trap to fall into. However, by avoiding this, one avoids overshadowing the real issues. It also suggests a desire to open up the possibility for changing minds – because it very much helps win an argument if one treats the opposing party with some respect.