How Could You????

The majority of colonists in America either favored staying with King George or at least didn’t support the rebellion. The Revolutionaries who wanted independence were a minority. Status quo has a powerful inertial force.

I think of this as I try to understand how anyone — any one person not related to him — could possibly vote for Donald Trump. (Yes I realize people with the opposite view wonder the same thing about voting for Hillary Clinton. That’s the great divide right there.) I think it’s the economy, stupid, and the way things were. And the fact that we’ve let so many politicians get away with so much bullshit for so many years that we can no longer tell the difference between standard-issue political bullshit that comes from someone with at least some idea of how the real world works and the totally empty policy-free crap that comes from an Olympic-level bullshitter with no knowledge of a world beyond his own mirror.

I’m truly trying not to be reactionary. It’s easy to say many, or most (or half, Hillary?) Trump voters are ignorant or racist or xenophobes. It’s easy to dismiss them from many angles. But there are so many of them. Forty percent of voters polled. That’s a lot of people and they can’t all be ignorant racist xenophobes. Everyone I know is appalled by Trump. But, really, everyone? I bet many people I know are considering pulling the lever for Trump tomorrow, or already have. And just not talking about it, at least with liberal me.

Why would anyone vote for Trump? Many don’t like Obama policies, such as Obamacare, which has been presented to them by conservatives and their media lackeys as poison. Many don’t like Hillary Clinton, don’t trust her, don’t think she’s ethical. I’m among those. But I already voted for her because we agree on almost all policy and issues. And because she has actual knowledge of the world. A lot of veterans and active military support Trump, many because they don’t like how America is being pushed around by foemen not worthy of our steel.

img_5174I’ve been reading three memoirs from the South that help explain Trump voters. Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance (he’s been on every interview show there is lately), Dimestore, by Lee Smith, and Finding Grace, by Donna VanLiere. All three talk about small towns withering in the South and about what people who stay are like and what people who get out are like. A common theme is that, as the world and the economy change and jobs disappear, some people change with the flow and some stand pat and drown.  Many who are overwhelmed by change lack agency — they feel as if the world is doing something to them, and as if they have no role to play in adapting or changing. And many of them are mad. At the world. At “them.” Whoever “them” is. In Vance’s book, a guy who lost his job by drinking too much blames his bosses. Vance says having someone to provide kids growing up with stability (for him, grandparents) and a view of larger possibilities can make all the difference between becoming someone who feels angry and helpless and someone who feels he or she can rise higher than their immediate surroundings.

I’ve also recently reread All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, and read It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, and Lindbergh, by A. Scott Berg. As the books meander through demagoguery and America First-ism, they all shed some light on the world of Trump. There are clear bad guys in these tales. Bankers, European war leaders, subversives. There’s a “them” to blame. Different for everyone, but someone for everyone.

I recently talked to a Brit I admire who lives in the US,  and I asked if he would have voted for Brexit if he still lived in England. “Absolutely” was his immediate response. And he began talking about immigrants and losing the culture of England. The England he grew up with is changing.

And I think that’s the key. How things used to be. Even if they weren’t all that good, they were what we knew. What we grew up with. It was how the world was. And was supposed to be. Too bad if the way things were was mostly good for straight white men.

Trump promises to turn back the clock. Make things better. Just like that. Flick of a switch. Take us back. Make steel jobs reappear. Make criminals disappear. He identifies the bad guys — them — and says he can fix what they’ve wrecked. Overtly he names the bad guys as immigrants and Muslims. People not like us. Covertly he identifies the bad guys as blacks and hispanics and women and the poor. People not like us.

There are many who feel the pull of Trump’s reactionary make-believe and know he can’t really just snap his fingers on day one and fix it. They know his plans don’t exist. But they buy into Trump’s siren song hoping that some of what’s gone awry can be righted by this guy who at least names the problems. Yes, there are also many who hear Trump’s fantasies and are too ignorant or too irresponsible to pay enough attention to see that Trump’s a charlatan. These people aren’t doing their duty as citizens — and, I believe, are the most likely to be racists and xenophobes and be the kind of people Vance says blame others for their problems. (Much of that blame is reasonable:  companies that move jobs overseas — to meet our demand for cheap stuff — have indeed acted upon their employees in ways that are no fault of the workers. The issue is what do you do with yourself — and what does your upbringing and experience tell you is possible to do — after the job disappears.)

Many news articles lately have shown that the people most likely to fall for Trump are white people with the worst economic prospects. (Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans who’ve been suffering economically for generations aren’t jumping on his bandwagon, because they’re paying attention.) These white folks who’ve lost jobs as the economy and world change hear Trump shout out loudly that there’s someone to blame, someone to beat on, and he’s someone who’ll do it.

The most compassionate viewpoint about Trump voters I’ve heard came from Van Jones, a black social entrepreneur, activist and commentator on CNN. In The New York Times some weeks back he said “When I listen to Trump voters I hear Black Lives Matter people.” Both groups feel ignored, left behind, marginalized, feel like the system is rigged against them.

So, as Trump loses tomorrow, god willing and the creek don’t rise, let’s not scorn those who voted for him. Many are good people who feel they’ve been screwed. And America and her new president need to give them an ear and some hope. Yes, we can.

— Bruce Benidt







10 thoughts on “How Could You????

  1. Bruce, I appreciate the compassionate analysis. However, the fact is that those who have felt threatened or imperiled by change have not simply cried out for help regarding that threat, they have willingly turned to racist, xenophobic and misogynist instincts from within [perhaps some are fed to them and they unwittingly ingest]. They are fact-resistant, so this limits capacity for reflection after the heightened tensions of the election are over. All of the living former Presidents [who actually know something about the responsibilities of the job] state that Drumpf is unqualified. Most foreign leaders and the overwhelming consensus of economists and diplomatic professionals all tell us that Drumpf represents a clear and present danger. Can the continued support of a candidate so roundly assessed as lacking, by liberals and conservatives with knowledge and expertise, be explained as emotional and ignorant angst? The White supremacist groups and American Nazi Party that back Drumpf are not just ignorant and misguided poor folk who are beleagured and don’t know where to turn. Drumpf supporters repeat and laugh about his glorification of sexual assault and rape culture are not harmless. No, they have true darkness at their core. And it is difficult to give those who stand with or vote for that set of values and ethic a free pass out of pity or sympathy. Reconciliation will be nnecessary, I agree. But I cannot minimize the task ahead, particularly when [as you note] 40% of the populace wishes that the US society could regress at least 60 years, and so many lack the education [including the Presidential candidate] to understand the Constitution and the structure and functions of representative democracy. I marched at the 50th anniversary remembrance of Selma, and I lived through the Civil Right Movement. So I am very aware of how painful it will be to retread that ground.

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    Sure, I get it,
    But even for those of the predisposition you describe in order to support Trump how can one overlook, by virtue or everything coming out of his mouth, his proliferation of lawsuits, the irrational tweets, the chronic lies, the demeaning, entitled behavior, the malignant narcissism, the total ignorance of public service and global politics, we could on…. that his character is utterly detestable and contrary to the most basic, humane values Our President!!

    That 40 plus percent is inexplicable to me.

  3. My father grew up in rural Mississippi with an absentee father and an indifferent mother who gave up her four pre-teen children to an orphanage when they became inconvenient to her lifestyle. My mother was the ninth of nine kids growing up in East St. Louis; her father was a locomotive engineer and her mother once chopped off one of her kid’s fingertips for trying to snatch a potato she was peeling. By the time my mother was 30, her father was dead of a stroke, two of her brothers were dead from bar fights and one of her sisters had drunk herself to death. East St. Louis, which had lost the stockyards and then the railroads, was rapidly unraveling into a war zone. By the time my grandmother was moved out of her house, it was the only house on her block that hadn’t been burned to the ground.

    I mention all this to establish my credentials as a hereditary member of the group who seems most susceptible to Trump’s siren call. People who have not benefitted from the last twenty years of technology. Who have not been helped by globalization. Who have lost relatives to drugs and alcoholism. Who have seen their communities hollowed out even while the 1% have gone on to live like gods on Mt. Olympus. Who are often the product of failing schools. Who cannot see a future for their children much less hope to help them.

    If you’re a part of that cohort, you are a fertile field for a con man like Donald Trump who tells you that your problems are caused by people who aren’t like you, who tells you that the 1% is profiting off your misery (which is often true; take a look at the industries that exist to extract the last possible penny from the poor) and that your problems could be easily fixed if only there was a leader who was not beholden to the establishment and unafraid to speak the truth. Bring back your jobs? So quick, so easy. Make America safe? Do it on day one. Fix the VA? Put a phone line in the White House and I’ll do it myself. Keep the oil, build the wall, cut taxes, renegotiate the trade deals, strengthen the military. Done, done and done. So easy.

    Most of these folks aren’t – I think – any more racist or xenophobic than the rest of us, but when you don’t have much to lose, can you really blame them for wanting to hang on to what they have? When no one else seems to be even pretending to help you, is it terribly surprising that you can be conned by someone like Trump who plays on their vulnerabilities?

    When Donald Trump was scamming Russian mafiosos, investment bankers and those who confuse the color gold with quality, his behavior was objectionable and vulgar. His con of the American voters who most need real help – and the collateral damage he has done to our democracy – is obscene and traitorous. He’ll wake up on Wednesday and start looking for ways to monetize his increased visibility; the rest of us will be left with the challenge of fixing the problems that existed before he entered the race and that he made worse.

  4. Thanks so much Bruce for the insights. Some of my friends and family are voting Trump and I haven’t known what the heck to think of it. I thought we were all smarter than that. I agree about Hilary. I’m a Bernie fan. But still… I mean… ummm… yeah, what you said.

  5. Gary Pettis says:

    Well, Bruce, your post titled “How Could You????” was well written, but reading it made me squeamish. I did and do know a bunch of Clinton and Sanders supporters, as Mankato is a progressive community, and I have yet to call any of them names or pin derogatory labels upon them. They are good, country-loving people, and I can sympathize with their concerns about our two-party system, as well as the quality of candidates who gained the nominations of their parties. I voted for Trump and can confidently say that I am not dumb, not a racist, not a xenophobe and not harboring feelings that the world has left me in the cold, marginalized or abandoned by “a system.” I think it was you who spoke in a class that the media (as it was then in the early 80’s) evolves or morphs into a different shape during and after every presidential election cycle. From my standpoint, the media was extremely biased during the Clinton/Trump matchup, as the lines between reporting, opinion giving and entertainment were blurred. As humans, we gravitate toward the voices and words that we relate to the most. In our modern, around-the-clock, instant-news-access-world, this gravitation is measured by factoring in ratings, indirect competition, and revenue from advertising dollars. Let’s hope that this business of bias matures into something better next time around. In the meantime, let the stereotypes, the name calling, and the unrealistic disagreements fly, fueled by the folks whose job it is to give us unbiased information and just the facts when we are tracking news as important as a presidential election.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      I’m a total novice political observer but in becoming a news junkie for about the last eight months, along with just about everything else in this surreal saga I find incomprehensible the criticism of liberal media bias.

      If anything reporting for too long gave Trump a free pass, not more forcefully challenging the litany of lies and deceptions he was spewing, becoming instead a conveyor belt for them.

      Is reporting on his proclamations and behaviors without distortion, but providing analysis and opinion bias? My God, Trump’s the one who said and did it, not the media reporting it! Banish the messenger?

    2. Gary –

      This is way late to the party but can you tell me why you voted for Trump? You told me all the reasons that didn’t apply – you’re not dumb, not a racist, not a xenophobe and not harboring feelings that the world has left you in the cold, marginalized or abandoned by “a system” – but I’m curious to know what did win your vote?



  6. Jake Kelly says:

    Thank you for a well thought out response to Bruce’s post. For most of my life, I’ve voted Democratic ( my first presidential vote was for Humphrey in ’68) but the way the party has evolved over the past several years has given me pause. It seems to me they treat their followers as if they are ten years old and don’t want them to grow up and think for themselves. Look at how college students are coddled and pampered. Read Betsy Hodges’ paplum about the election on her Facebook page. I didn’t vote for Trump but I can understand why you did and I respect you for it. With all due respect to Bruce and his collegues, I am reminded of Pauline Kael’s comment after the Nixon/McGovern race in ’72. She couldn’t understand how Nixon won. Everyone she knew voted for McGovern. One last thought: I doubt you would find too many conservatives closing down a freeway to protest a lawful election.

  7. Dennis Lang says:

    Then again, while personally still suffering from Tuesday and the entirety of the last election year, a very respected friend, politically conservative but not Trump voter, offered his optimistic view while on round three at Happy Hour.

    He was saying the quality most required in a President is leadership: the ability to build organizations, motivate, stir passion and commitment while surrounding oneself with competence. Maybe this is the quality Trump has demonstrated in his career. (And didn’t he used to be a liberal Democrat?)

    Just saying…..

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