Don’t assess an entire group based on its most extreme representatives.
The principle, in brief, is this: Avoid stereotypes.
This should be adopted as a universal “best practice” in how we view and assess others, yet too often it is applied selectively.
For example, U.S. progressives have rightly asserted this principle with regard to terrorist groups that use a distorted view of Islam as justification for their actions.
Yet, following the election of Donald Trump, I have observed many U.S. progressives pointing to extremists among his supporters as representative of anyone who voted for him.
The term “whitelash” emerged in the wake of the election – an assertion that racism motivated white voters who cast a ballot for Trump.
Similar assertions have been made that sexism and xenophobia were key factors for supporters of the president-elect.
Commentators making such claims have largely dismissed the suggestion that persons who voted for Trump could have been motivated by other factors, such as economic policy. They have painted an entire group – anyone who voted for Trump – with the same brush.
Writing in the progressive publication, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwall offered a different perspective: Trump’s election, like the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote, was a pushback against elites who have ignored the working poor.
Following the election, there have been abhorrent actions taken by self-identified supporters of the president-elect.
Two examples include a Missouri church that had its banner promoting a Spanish-language service vandalized with “Trump Nation Whites Only” written across it, and “Heil Trump” next to a swastika being painted on an Indiana church.
Trump violated the principle I’m advocating on numerous occasions during the election, using rhetoric during the campaign that was equally repugnant and contributed to the post-election rancor.
Thankfully, the president-elect’s post-election tone has been in stark contrast to his campaign persona.
He praised Secretary Clinton and expressed a desire “to bind the wounds of division” in his acceptance speech.
When asked about the harassment of minorities by self-identified Trump supporters in a “60 Minutes” interview, he said, “I am so saddened to hear that. … And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it – if it helps, I will say this, and I will say [this] right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.'”
Should the president-elect do more to assure the nation and the international community that he does not condone any hateful acts (particularly those by his self-identified followers)? Certainly.
Should he apologize specifically and clearly for his role in caustic, morally offensive rhetoric that violated the principle I’m advocating? Absolutely.
Words and deeds of racism, sexism and other “-isms” should be condemned – as they have been by religious and political leaders across the ideological spectrum both during and after the election.
Yet, goodwill people of faith must be careful in how they speak out.
We can condemn hateful words and actions and call for the president-elect to be more vocal in speaking out against such behavior without asserting that actions by self-proclaimed Trump supporters represent all who cast a ballot for him.
Here is a 140-character principle that I suggested last week on Twitter: “Condemn hate groups using election results as support of their views; don’t point to worst Trump supporters as reflecting all his supporters.”
Adapted to a broader principle: “Condemn people’s harmful actions and hurtful words; don’t conclude that they accurately reflect their entire family, religion or community.”
We would be wise to be consistent in applying this perspective and encouraging everyone to do so.
Otherwise, we might find ourselves inaccurately and unjustly identified with the worst representatives of a given group with which we affiliate.