By Karrigan Monk
Arts and Features Editor
The Democratic Party was sure they were about to elect the first female president. The Republican nominee was a businessman who had yet to run for any lesser office.
Nearly every major pre-election poll came to the same outcome: Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States. When Nov. 8 arrived, it became clear these polls were wrong.
Ashley Moraguez, UNC Asheville assistant professor of political science, said the polling procedures for elections are flawed.
“The Democrats thought they had a comfortable lead because of polling results and that may have affected their strategy,” Moraguez said. “In the end, however, it looks like the polls systematically missed important segments of the population. They focused on likely voters and did not count on inactive voters being motivated to vote in this election.”
The inactive voters Moraguez talks about are those who do not typically vote in elections, but were moved by Trump’s campaign to make their voices heard.
“I think his major campaign strategy was to run against Washington, to run as an outsider,” Moraguez said. “He had no prior political experience and could credibly say he wasn’t part of the swamp in Washington. Even though he ran for the Republican nomination, he was still able to run as an outsider within the party.”
According to Pew Research Center, the inactive voters Trump most heavily influenced were white males without college educations.
While many of these voters may not have the same troubling views Trump infamously declares himself to have, an increase in problematic behaviors and hate speech seems to be spreading across the nation and Lt. Joe Silberman of the Asheville Police Department has a theory as to why.
“We have a role model in a president that’s comfortable supporting people that say some stuff, and even he himself saying some stuff, that it’s making people who have these opinions more comfortable coming out with them,” Silberman said.
Silberman refers to those who cling onto Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comments and who march in Charlottesville, Virginia, with tiki torches in an effort to preserve Confederate monuments.
“Trump, as an individual, did not organize or lead the protests or violence in Charlottesville but that does not mean that he is not culpable for what happened there,” Moraguez said. “I think Trump’s campaign rhetoric, the policies he has supported and even some of the individuals he has chosen to put into this administration have sent signals to certain segments of that population that radicalism, discriminatory viewpoints and even hate speech is acceptable.”
Moraguez said it does not matter if Trump has never gone on record saying he shares these ideas, as he makes it clear he is OK with this rhetoric by not speaking out on it. When he does speak against it, Moraguez said it is often too late to make a difference.
With a political climate that seems to breed hate, it appears natural for it to seep into every corner of the nation. However, Silberman doubts this trend will continue in Asheville.
“The climate of Asheville doesn’t really support a hate group being able to flourish here. I think the closest we’ve got is there’s been some religious rhetoric that went on a couple years back,” Silberman said. “It wasn’t really like a Charlottesville thing and even back then we were prepared for there to be a battle and for us to be in the middle.”
Silberman said in Asheville there are generally more counter-protesters than protesters. Moraguez calls these citizen protests a sign of a healthy democracy.
“In the current period, I am not convinced we are seeing signs of a healthy democracy,” Moraguez said. “The political climate is very polarized and there is very little cooperation or civil discourse between the two parties. I think that Trump, whether directly or indirectly, has normalized certain behaviors and viewpoints that are problematic and discriminatory and have no place in our political discourse in 2017.”
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said while she was more worried initially about whether or not local projects would continue to have federal funding, she has since become more concerned about hate speech.
“Me, individually, and the council as a whole have had to make statements and adopt resolutions making it clear that we’re not supportive of hate speech, that we condemn it,” Manheimer said. “That continues to flare up periodically and we didn’t have to do that before Trump was elected.”
Still, Silberman is not convinced Trump’s rhetoric and policy have made their way to Asheville.
According to a document provided by Silberman, Asheville Police reported five hate crimes in 2017, an increase from the two in 2016. Silberman cautioned jumping to conclusions on these numbers as in 2015, seven hate crimes were reported.
Despite these statistics, the notions of hate crimes and what qualifies is a complicated issue, especially in North Carolina.
“We have to report to the state. It has to do with a federal mandate. I think the state wants it every year at least. The feds really want us to report it every three months. We report it every month,” Silberman explained. “That being said, we have never charged a hate crime because it’s not a crime in North Carolina. Hate crime is a federal law.”
The Asheville Police Department cannot charge anyone with a hate crime without first consulting the federal government. Silberman said the most they can charge anyone with is ethnic intimidation.
According to North Carolina state law, ethnic intimidation is defined as, “If a person shall, because of race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin, assault another person, or damage or deface the property of another person, or threaten to do any such act, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
Silberman said the Asheville Police Department reports these crimes to the federal government when local officers recognize something as being a significant problem. He said they will present the best case they can, but sometimes the FBI will still not take the case.
“It’s not a simple process and the burden of truth is extraordinary,” Silberman said. “They won’t take cases unless they know on the front end that they can win.”
Ethnic intimidation is the closest thing Asheville police can come to identifying a hate crime. Even with these strict barriers, Silberman said the department casts a broad net to identify as many problems as possible. In the past seven years, this net has only caught a total of 45 hate crimes. Despite not seeing an increase in hate crimes, Silberman is still cautious against riots.
“I think Charlottesville could happen in Asheville and that’s reasonable thinking. To say that it could happen anywhere is true,” Silberman said. “We have two Confederate monuments that different people feel very strongly against and when I say different people, I’m not saying there’s two sides to this. You could split them, but different people feel differently about it for different reasons and things could easily spin out of control.”
Silberman maintained should any riot happen in Asheville, the police department would be ready to deal with it. He said for every rally they find out about, they create an operations plan outlining what to do in cases ranging from heat exhaustion to a full-on riot. For Silberman, the goal is to keep everyone safe.
Moraguez said Trump does not seem to share this goal and often incites more harmful action to follow.
“I think that Trump did himself a disservice in how he responded to the violence in Charlottesville and that he is deserving of the criticism and backlash that he has gotten as a result of it,” Moraguez said. “In not condemning white nationalism, racism and discrimination unequivocally, he is further deepening the wounds in our democracy and polarizing our political environment. The president should serve as a unifier in times of crisis, not as a divider.”
Manheimer said she and the city council continue to focus on equity and have even gone so far as to hire an equity manager. She said that while she does not know whether the increase in hate speech is because people are more comfortable with their opinions or because more people are now thinking this way, she is committed to making sure Asheville remains a safe place for everyone.
“That is likely the most problematic feature of the Trump presidency,” Moraguez said. “Normalizing hate and discrimination.”