Donald Trump probably wasn’t anticipating the amount of backlash he’s received since announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.
In the two weeks since Trump declared he’s officially running, one snippet of his announcement speech has been isolated by critics:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best; they’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
In response to that quote, Univision cut ties with Trump’s Miss Universe pageant. NBC cut ties with its "Apprentice" star altogether. Entertainer Flo Rida pulled out of the Miss USA pageant, and Macy’s stopped carrying Trump’s clothing line.
Trump’s comments were undoubtedly misguided. It’s incredibly insensitive to refer to an entire population of immigrants as “rapists,” especially when lacking any reasonable foundation to back those claims.
Trump’s vision of building a wall on the U.S. border and making Mexico pay for it is ignorant and nonsensical. His anti-immigrant rhetoric is not what the country needs as we continue to find our place in our constantly evolving, globalized society.
He's a bigot, and he deserves to know that the rest of the world doesn't agree with him.
The rash decisions of companies like Macy’s and NBC represent the increasingly common phenomenon of social media-driven shaming. One statement from Trump’s announcement speech has led to outrage among the populace, forcing companies and individuals to distance themselves from business relationships with Trump because their political views do not align.
We saw the same thing happen with former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and several other prominent people who have been forced to reckon with citizens angry over their bigotry or racism.
Trump's situation is a bit different, especially considering the strangeness of the overall statement (ending with "some, I assume, are good people").
It’s important to side with the cause of social justice, but the rapid nature in which people rally against people like Trump is an incredibly unstable way for society to operate. It’s also tough to argue against this type of social media activism, especially considering it has resulted in so many positive outcomes.
In a relatively short time span, for example, the nation essentially decided that the Confederate flag should come down. Trending topics like #BlackLivesMatter have transformed and propelled the nation’s conversation about race and other issues.
Yet, as Jon Ronson described in his book "So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed," social media activists can quickly turn into an angry mob that directs attacks at individuals. A few words — like Trump’s statement about immigrants — can ruin a life if enough people will that to happen.
It’s popular to hate Trump right now. Ironically, the presidential candidate is doing surprisingly well in the polls. A recent CNN poll places former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the top of the GOP pack with 19 percent of the vote and Trump trailing in second with 12 percent of the vote.
Trump is also fighting back, standing behind his claims about immigrants and launching a $500 million lawsuit against Univision. If there’s anyone who can be immune to the social media activism that has destroyed the lives of many powerful individuals, it’s Trump.
The repeated instances of people or companies speaking out against Trump shows how he will continue to be tested.
The danger of the situation with Trump has little to do with his actual views. As mentioned, his comments about Mexican immigrants were terrible.
The problem is the way in which society is dealing with Trump based on a few sentences he uttered in an hour-long announcement speech. It’s not like these views materialized out of nowhere. He has held these views for years, and NBC and Univision had willingly maintained a business relationship with Trump until ties to him became unpopular.
The subject of the type of immigration Trump described is the entire point of Ann Coulter’s new book, "Adios America," yet she hasn’t received anywhere near the same amount of backlash.
Trump is being targeted because that’s what the social media mob does — moves from one person to the next when it suits the public opinion.
If this type of targeting ultimately serves the purpose of removing power from bigots and furthering social justice, then perhaps it’s worth it. But we need to start thinking more carefully about the impact of our actions on social media and in the news, and whether our targets are truly deserving of the backlash they receive.
A mob can achieve great things, but it can just as easily make mistakes.
Image Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr