I’ve seen a lot of vitriol in the past couple of days, criticizing the “morons” who got Donald Trump elected. Expressing shame at being an American. There have been pleas to stay and fight rather than move to Canada. A lot of people feel a real change in their perception of personal safety. Most people in my liberal bubble are upset. I’m upset.
We thought this couldn’t happen, because we didn’t understand Trump supporters. We were ready (some of us grudgingly) to accept Hillary as a competent status quo president. More of what we’re used to isn’t the revolution we need, but at least it is familiar. Nate Silver gave us confidence that that would be the outcome. But we didn’t understand Trump supporters.
When Obama was elected it was based on populations with traditionally low voter turnout showing up to vote. The same thing happened for Trump, it just wasn’t the same people. White people in poor rural areas in states with struggling energy or manufacturing industries elected Trump. The invisible non-urban working poor. I’m from Idaho. I know these people, and they are not morons (well, not all)–they are humans who make the best decisions they can based on what they believe about the world.
If we want to come together as a nation we have to understand Trump supporters. We can’t write them off as idiots or racists. We can’t stand across the street from them with competing pro-choice and pro-life signs and expect to understand them. We can’t get into dogmatic Facebook comment flame wars and expect to understand them.
Go to St. Maries Idaho. Downtown there is a bar called Reasors. Most days, you will find my aunt there shooting the shit with a bunch of retired lumberjacks. I bet some of them voted for Trump. These are not horrible people. I’ve had more than a couple beers with them, and can attest to many in that town who have warm hearts and open minds. And they probably voted for Trump.
The statistic most shocking to me in this election is that 53% of white women voted for Trump. That’s over half. These white women saw their values reflected in an incoherent racist misogynist more so than a fairly conservative white woman. Hillary symbolizes things that are for them worse than racism and misogyny (those they get straight from the tap): DC politics and elitism. This is why Bernie could have done better in some of these places. Sure, he’s a politician, but he’s not a Clinton and probably doesn’t even use email, much less set up suspicious servers.
We need to understand Trump supporters, because they are half of this country. Not small pockets of poor white people, but the whole middle of the country. They need the same things everyone does: food air water love sunshine safety. They don’t feel safe. We need them to feel safe. We need to understand them so that we can speak to them, not as liberal elites but as fellow humans.
If we understood Trump supporters, perhaps we could help them understand that they are working against their own interests. Republicans have never helped the working poor, and Democrats haven’t done much either. Yes, we need a third party or a more progressive Democratic party to push through the kinds of change that will really help the working poor. We need a leader who will fight the corporate capitalism that fuels poverty. We definitely didn’t get one.