What if your best friend voted for Donald Trump?
Who are the Trump voters? And what if one of them is your best friend?
In the wake of Election Day, our divided country has been horrified by more than 200 acts of violence perpetrated in the name of President-elect Donald Trump. His election has opened the floodgates to hateful acts of every kind: against racial minorities, Muslims, LGBT people, and “The Other.”
We watch in revulsion; our fear grows. Are we really a country of 60 million haters? Though Clinton won the popular vote, Trump had an electoral college landslide. As we witnessed the electoral Red Sea stretching from coast to coast, that red became a metaphor for the hatred that has been brewing these last 18 months.
So — who are these hateful Trump voters? Their actions should frighten us all.
Slowly, though, the media is admitting that they’ve missed an equally important story about the Trump voter. By disrespecting Middle America as “the flyover zone,” they — and we — have dismissed these folks entirely.
“Education is the key!” posted one woman on Facebook. “Let’s all move to a red state, become public school teachers, and educate these people!”
That’s one approach. But here’s another. My best friend voted — reluctantly — for Trump. But Mary abhors the hateful acts of other Trump supporters. Maybe we should go to a red state (or county, or small town,) and let someone like her educate us.
Let me repeat as strongly as possible: Trump voters — and anyone else — who commit hate crimes and other acts of violence are a disgrace to our country. They should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Trump is shameful for not trying to stop them.
But my lifelong friend isn’t committing or condoning acts of hatred or violence. What makes her tick? We’ve shared girlhood secrets, gone to school reunions together, and been there for each other while raising our kids and burying our parents. How could we think so differently?
I believe there are two groups of Trump voters. There are the haters we’re seeing in the news, 24/7. And there is a much larger group — the peaceful people like Mary — who have grown tired of the cultural condescension foisted upon them. Their vote was a protest against being reviled — in our culture and, more important, in our economy.
Voters like Mary often have no college degree, and live in small towns in the middle of nowhere. They live paycheck to paycheck, with no job security, no savings, no raises in years — and that’s in good times. In bad times, they live in fear that the shop will close, the job will be shipped overseas, and then what?
Some elites say, “These people should have seen this coming; they should have been prepared when their industries started dying.” How so? How does a 50-year-old couple in a Central Pennsylvania town of 2,000 people find the training programs, time, and money to learn new skills — while paying their mortgage and raising their families?
What if the cultural elites had the same constraints? How about telling a Philadelphia corporate lawyer: “We won’t be needing you in Center City anymore, but there’s a great opportunity in our Des Moines office. By the way, it’s not corporate law, it’s criminal defense — good luck!”
Or let’s tell an English professor, “Sorry, enrollment is down at West Chester University, but we can transfer you to the Slippery Rock campus. There’s an opening in Biochemistry, so you’ll need a new degree.”
As the once great Bill Clinton used to say, “That dog won’t hunt.” When your income has been flat for 15 years; your bills for health care, taxes, and everything else have been soaring; and you’re worried about the plant closing, what happens to your worldview?
It has taken me a long time to understand Mary. But in Middle America, to vote against Trump for his hatemongering is a luxury. Because you probably don’t know a single Muslim or Jew or person of color; if your son is gay, he hasn’t told you; and, in a community of increasing morbid obesity, your wife doesn’t care about being a “10.” What you do know is that, when the coal mine closes down, (which a Clinton Administration promises,) you will lose your job, you may never find another one, you will get a few months of unemployment benefits, you will survive for a few more weeks by burning through your life savings, and then … it is over.
And where is the Democratic leadership — the last hope of the working class? They’re vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard and getting $250K for speeches on Wall Street — earning more in 20 minutes than your family has earned in the last four years. (n.b., To Middle America, “vacation” is never a verb. It is a noun describing an increasingly unaffordable luxury.)
Michael Moore has wisely said that the Trump voter wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail at our political system — but that the voting box should not be used as an anger management tool. I agree.
And though I disagree with my friend, she’s not throwing Molotov cocktails. She’s fighting to survive. For the future of this country, let’s get to know the Marys in our own communities, instead of assuming they’re all hatemongers.
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