I’m not a Trump voter. But I could have been.
And other thoughts on the 2016 Presidential election, in no particular order.
And other thoughts on the 2016 Presidential election, in no particular order.
If you’re reading this and we know each other, there’s a very good chance that we met some time after my freshman year of college. So there’s an equally good chance that you met me some time after my view of the world started to transition from extremely conservative to somewhat more progressive. I was vehemently anti-Obama: I absolutely hated his guts; I couldn’t believe what he was doing to our country — to my country.
I grew up on Cape Cod, MA. It’s a great summer vacation spot, I’m told. Maybe I didn’t appreciate it because I saw Cape Cod year-round, and how the local economy more or less shut down every winter when the tourists left. I saw how most of the career opportunities were in Boston or elsewhere, and that my friends and their families who chose to stay on the Cape were largely limited in their options.
I also saw how the “dangerous” neighborhoods were in downtown Hyannis, the closest thing Cape Cod has to a city. Those neighborhoods also happened to be majority black and hispanic, which I’m sure was a complete coincidence. I saw how recent immigrants were willing to do the entry-level service jobs that primarily drove the Cape Cod economy, but those immigrants didn’t live in my neighborhood. I had exactly one close non-white friend until I was 18.
Not only was I an economic conservative, I was incredibly socially conservative as well. Looking back, I wouldn’t exactly say that I passively adopted these ideas due to my environment, but the homogeneity of my hometown certainly didn’t challenge my perceptions of what “normal” was.
Is this anything like growing up in the rust or Bible belt? Maybe not — in fact, probably not — but it certainly gives me empathy for the average Trump voter. Realistically, I have to admit to myself that if Trump had been running in 2008, I probably would have seen him as an extremely flawed candidate but one who was vastly preferable to a Clinton.
Okay, but I’m not that person anymore. It’s pretty amazing how meeting people who are Not Like You can shatter your theories about how the world works and what’s important. Police abuse is easy to dismiss when it’s never happened to you; it’s a lot harder to dismiss when a good friend with a stellar academic track record tells you that he gets stopped and frisked in his home neighborhood, or when a coworker you respect gets called “boy” by a police officer.
One thing I find interesting is that by and large, population density is highly correlated with voting Republican or Democrat. High population density means more opportunity to interact with people who aren’t like you and find out that they aren’t scary.
I’ve been privileged to have the means and opportunities to get outside of my bubble. But man, did I get complacent over the last 8 years. I’ll admit I was pretty surprised to see Hillary lose the election, which means I’ve replaced one filter bubble with a different one. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that I went from not being able to fathom why anyone would be a Democrat, to not being able to fathom why anyone would be a Republican. No, the irony isn’t lost on me.
(One of) the issues with Trump is that, yes, he is explicitly supported by the alt-right/neo-Nazi/KKK groups that unfortunately still exist in America. It’s a real issue, with real impact on the lives of people I care about. At the same time, I don’t think that 50 million Americans support Trump because of that fact, I think they just place a different weight on the importance of that fact. They can’t place racial hatred in their personal experience — just as I can’t truly place it in mine, having never been discriminated against based on the color of my skin — and they don’t have close friendships with people who can help them understand that experience.
A Trump presidency both lends encouragement to bigots and simultaneously wasn’t decided by bigotry, and it’s possible for both of those things to be true at the same time.
When avid Trump supporters started using slogans like “Hillary for Jail 2016”, “Trump that bitch”, “Lock her up”, “Killary”, etc., it didn’t change my assessment of her one iota. If anything, I felt a sense of defensiveness, like “yeah Hillary might be bad, but she’s not that bad.”
With all the shaming of Trump supporters we’ve seen this election cycle, is it any wonder that people were reticent about admitting that they supported him, even anonymously to pollsters? I’m embarrassed to admit that, with a few exceptions, I refused to ask anyone why they were voting for Trump when I found out that they supported him. That was unproductive. It represents so many lost opportunities to talk about the issues, rather than belittling and talking past each other.
Ultimately, Hillary’s message boiled down to “let’s continue on the path that we’re already on,” and Trump’s message boiled down to “there’s a lot that’s wrong with our country, and you’re not getting a fair deal.” For millions of people, the path we’re on isn’t working. There’s a lot we can point to as to why that’s the case — the dominance of the financial sector driving shareholder value above all else, the jobless recovery, the increasing lack of socioeconomic mobility, and so forth — but ultimately, Bernie and Trump were two different sides of the same coin. I don’t mean that in terms of their personal values or character, just that they both understood that the system isn’t working for most Americans.
I think Glenn Greenwald best encapsulated my sentiment here:
When a political party is demolished, the principle responsibility belongs to one entity: the party that got crushed. It’s the job of the party and the candidate, and nobody else, to persuade the citizenry to support them and find ways to do that. Last night, the Democrats failed, resoundingly, to do that, and any autopsy or liberal think piece or pro-Clinton pundit commentary that does not start and finish with their own behavior is one that is inherently worthless.
Put simply, Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption. It’s astonishing that those of us who tried frantically to warn Democrats that nominating Hillary Clinton was a huge and scary gamble — that all empirical evidence showed that she could lose to anyone and Bernie Sanders would be a much stronger candidate, especially in this climate — are now the ones being blamed: by the very same people who insisted on ignoring all that data and nominating her anyway.
So where do we go from here? Ultimately, I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I need to do everything I can to stand alongside the women, Muslims, LGBTQ, Hispanics, African-Americans, and vulnerable populations that woke up today to discover that they’re living in a much more dangerous place than they thought they were yesterday.
Simultaneously, I need to start doing something I should have done months ago, and that’s reaching out to people I know who voted for Trump. I’ll admit I don’t understand it, but I want to. The toxic scumbags who are enthusiastically using this opportunity to advance the idea of white supremacism can go fuck themselves, but to demonize half the country for not voting for Hillary just doesn’t seem like a productive way to build a coalition of people who just want the average American to have a better life.
To my progressive friends, please don’t interpret this as me dismissing the incredibly valid concerns about racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. My heart breaks over the number of people I know who feel less welcome in America today than they did yesterday.
Ultimately, I yearn for the day when we stop seeing our fellow Americans as Others, whether that Other is a Trump voter or a new green card holder. That process starts with empathy. That process starts with how I choose to behave towards people I disagree with. And that process needs to start today.