Reporter's Notebook

Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?
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Atlantic readers from across the political spectrum discuss the results of the U.S. presidential election and what it means for the country. (The Atlantic’s overall stance on Donald Trump remains firm.) To join in, especially if you’re a Trump voter, please send us a note:

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A woman gestures as she takes part in a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in New York on November 9. Kena Betancur / AFP / Getty

A Trump voter describes his worldview in great detail. Despite his blunt quote above, his note is more nuanced and perhaps more relatable than you think:

I am Southern. I am white. I am a male. I was raised Roman Catholic and now go to a Methodist church regularly with my wife and kids. I value the 2nd Amendment but do not own a gun. Every male in my family, save me, is currently serving or has served in the U.S. military. I stand at the pledge of allegiance, and stand and sing with the anthem. I live near streets named after Stonewall Jackson and Strom Thurmond and know Tillman Hall was named after a racist populist who carried a pitchfork. Until recently, I attended field trips with my kids to our state capitol where the Confederate flag still flew, and I am genuinely glad we finally took it down.

I have a Masters degree. My kids go to public school with kids of all races, colors, and creeds. Our neighborhood has immigrant families, mixed-race families, minorities, and same-sex couples. Our sports teams are multi-cultural, diverse, and play beautifully together, on and off the field. I have neither the time, energy, or room in my heart for hatred, bigotry, or racism.

I work hard and sacrifice for my family. I expect everyone to do the same and believe most do. I am romantic enough to still believe that America was created and intended to be a meritocracy. I am intelligent enough to understand the realty that not every one starts off in life from the same spot and not all of us will reach the attain the same levels of success—however you define it.

I also know that living right now, right here, is the greatest advantage any man, women, or child in the history of humankind has ever had. I understand a ruling class exists in our country and contrary to what many believe, my white skin does not provide me access to it. I started off with advantages others didn’t—many of which were afforded me by my parents sacrifices, judgment, and toil. They stayed away from drugs. The waited until marriage to have children. They moved to chase a better life, took night classes at local community colleges to earn credentials. They passed on new cars for used ones, sewed to repair clothes, declined cable television, ate in, not out—and saved every day and every night. They taught me right from wrong, first impressions matter, there is no substitute for hard work and no limits on achievement.

I love working people who answer the alarm clock. I love parents who make sure their kids will have it better than they do. I respect people too busy paying the light bill to keep up with “the news.”

I do not hate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender, or faith in any way shape or form. I like liberals, conservatives, and independents. I do not hate Obama or Hillary; I do not know them. I did not deny Clinton my vote because she lacks a penis.

I appreciate the incredible difficulties that surround an unwanted pregnancy, marvel at foster parents and adoption, but detest even the thought of abortion. But I have read a history book or two, so I get the lessons of prohibition.  I know we can’t just “turn the switch off” on abortion and I know a red herring when I see one. Abortion isn’t going away because we elected a Republican. It just isn’t.       

I know the Clintons do not really care about me. I know Trump could not care less. I know Morning Joe will look the same tomorrow and the day after, and Fox News will put even more colorful graphics and pretty anchors on next week. I know Rush is a buffoon, and Al Sharpton is too. I know some schools are better than others, some students are too, and not everyone is destined to Jay Z or Jordan or Bill Gates.

I know life has meaning beyond $ and I can be happy with what I have—and most importantly, ok with what I don’t. I can dream big and one day maybe design a better duck call that gets me my own TV show or make a loom for kids to make rubber band bracelets that makes me a fortune. America fosters those dreams.

I voted for the wrecking ball—and I feel better about it now than I did in the booth.  

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

So far we have heard from readers—here and here—who empathize with the grievances of Trump voters but who couldn’t support the demagogue themselves. Now let’s here from a Trump voter, Alan. At first he was a very reluctant to back the “deplorable” Trump but ultimately did so because of the following reasons: the “bigot” stigma is tossed around too freely by leftist whites; too many liberal commentators are too smug; he fears that cisgender men will exploit trans-inclusive bathrooms; and, perhaps most of all, he’s outraged and worried about the new campus PC.

Here’s Alan detailing those views (the bracketed notes are mine):

Ben is the first writer to, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. I started out as a Never Trumper and actually still deplore the man. But on Tuesday I voted for him.

My wife is Mexican-American, my children ½ white ½ Hispanic. I have nieces who are ½ African-American. I hate bigotry and take it very, very, seriously. So when I hear Charlie Rangel say “bigots no longer use racial slurs; they talk about balanced budgets and the line item veto,” it infuriates me. [CB: I couldn’t find a quote similar to that, but Rangel is known for his divisive rhetoric. Update: Alan points to this alleged quote from Rangel from 1994 that he said he paraphrased, but I wouldn’t trust the source, since the alleged quote isn’t really found elsewhere.] Accusations of racism are being thrown about as political weapons (mostly by white liberals) in a way that belittles the seriousness of bigotry.

I don’t like the economic policies of Barack Obama, but if I disagree with him and anyone on the left hears me I will immediately be branded a bigot. I also believe that at a time when the economy is soft with little-to-no job growth [latest jobs report here], it’s a bad time to have high immigration; it drives down wages for all Americans: White, Black, Asian, or Hispanic.

As brilliant and scathing as Alec Baldwin was with his portrayal of Donald Trump this year, SNL’s “Black Jeopardy” sketch was ultimately the real standout—for its humor and its humanity:

At the onset of our dialogue with Clinton votes and Trump votes—or at least voters who understand where some Trump voters are coming from—reader Ben diagnosed what he sees as a shortcoming of the left right now: an over-willingness to stigmatize people as bigots for what may just be misplaced or simply misunderstood views, rather than active hatred. (One of the examples Ben cited was the successful effort to get Brendan Eich fired as CEO of Mozilla because he donated to the admittedly awful Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California for a time.) This reader agrees with Ben:

He has diagnosed a significant reason people voted for Mr. Trump. I’m a conservative who did not end up voting for him, but like Ben, I thought about it a lot. The left has adopted bully tactics through their control of the media and the universities. Rather than deal with the right’s arguments, they use creative name-calling: racist, xenophobic, homophobic, hicks. I can tell you for a fact, neither myself nor any of my conservative friends and family are any of those things, and yet we’re called that frequently. What in the world?

Mrs. Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment and Mr. Podesta’s e-mails that threw Catholics and Evangelicals under the bus are perfect examples of this moral snobbishness. The problem is, we won’t change our minds because you force us to celebrate homosexual unions or call us names in front of the entire nation. If you on the left want to change our minds, you need to understand us, and vice versa. Our country will keep splitting, the less we listen respectfully to each other.

People are angry. Unfortunately, the only Republican candidate who showed anger to match was Mr. Trump.

And unfortunately that anger morphed into a lot of ugly rhetoric and demagogic stances. Was that inevitable, or could such anger be channeled into something more constructive? Hopefully the actual mantle of responsibility in office will temper Trump—though a compromising Trump could actually inflame Trumpism, because his supporters will witness how even Trump won’t be able to enact extreme measures like building a wall across Mexico and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants.

Circling back to Ben’s argument, this next reader has a line that popped out in particular: “We cannot fight systemic issues by punishing individuals.” His closing line is also strong, and his overall argument is really nuanced:

My name is Dan, and I’ve been following your coverage of the campaign closely this year, especially the Trump Time Capsule series. I greatly appreciate the discussion The Atlantic has been hosting through reader emails and the insights they have produced. Your recent emails from Ben and Adam—about the backlash against the left’s “bullying” contrasted with the historic and continuing oppression and marginalization of minority groups—struck a chord.

I’ve heard many angry people lamenting that Trump was elected because straight white people could not bear the loss of their privilege. It wasn’t until I read Ben’s email that I realized that the bullying coming from the left is exactly what the erosion of straight white male privilege looks like.

Fallows is traveling again, this time in Wyoming, and he’s also busy working on a new piece for the magazine, so he passed along several “powerful” emails from a reader named Vasav who served in the U.S. military and is the son of Indian immigrants. His first note is from a few weeks ago:

Yes, let’s not demonize Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables.” And no, we shouldn’t give in to their demands that sacrifice our basic, democratic tenets. But a widening income gap and a lack of opportunity, a political class more and more removed from the average voter, and the never-ending wars that seem to be the fate of winning the Cold War and our politicians try to ignore come election time—those are all legitimate gripes that I actually find myself nodding along when Trump talks about them. I would never vote for him or his solutions to these problems. But rather than completely ignore Trumpers, as tempting as it is, they have legitimate gripes that ought to be heard. Their mouthpiece is an oaf and a threat to democracy, women, minorities, and a world order I believe is beneficial to our country and freedom around the world. But their gripes are real, and the price of not listening at all may be more dire than any of us could have imagined.

Yesterday, following the stunning news of Trump’s win, Vasav followed up:

There is one exceptionally annoying narrative that has started to come down, about how rural voters were “making themselves heard” with Trump. The last couple of emails I wrote to you talked about why there is some validity to the claim that middle America is ignored by coastal elites. And to put it in personal perspective, I am a man of color and child of immigrants who was born on one coast, got college degrees, and traveled to work in one of the bougiest parts of the world on the other coast. It is ridiculous for me to tell a poor kid living in a trailer who has no real path to college in today’s America that he’s benefiting from white privilege.

But the flip side is, considering their candidate lost the popular vote, considering in 2012 more votes were cast for Democratic congressmen, and yet despite that the party that has lost raw vote totals controls the totality of two branches of government—well, it’s ridiculous for anyone to say they haven’t been heard. Republicans have disproportionately controlled the government since 2000. The deck is stacked in their favor. And rural Americans have chosen Tea Party candidates and now Donald Trump as their standard bearer.

Everything I said before remains true: There’s a gap that needs to be bridged. I hope Donald Trump can do it. But it should be noted that bridge needs to flow in both directions. It’s not just about listening to the concerns of blue-collar whites; it’s about listening to the concerns of coastal people of color who are now wondering whether middle America will let us stay in this country.

Supporters of President-elect Donald Trump hold signs at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on November 7, 2016. Trump won the state with 51 percent of the vote. Chris Keane / Reuters

A long-time reader, Ben, tries to understand what drove so many Americans to elect Donald Trump yesterday:

So to get it out of the way: I didn’t vote for Trump. So I don’t like the results any better than you and your magazine do. But I did consider supporting Trump here and there, so I think I probably have a slightly better-than-average answer to “how could this have happened?” And I really think it’s kind of simple: Some people voted for Trump, but way more people voted for “stop calling me names and being a bully.”

I think the left was right on gay marriage, at least in the sense of “it should be legal if the government is going to have their hands in it.” But immediately after it became an inevitability, it also became a club: If your pizza place/cake baking business/photography business doesn’t want to be part of it, you get vilified and threatened. If the fringier parts of the left had its way, Brendan Eich’s ouster would have been duplicated a thousand times.

I think the left is right that black people are still treated like a subclass and don’t get anywhere near a fair shake. But traveling down the right road, there were plenty of pit stops that signaled that free speech was an acceptable sacrifice. There was a more-than-general smattering of clues that private opinions would be dug out at any cost and used to get you fired from your job.

The far left took a gamble that calling half the country racist, backwoods, bigoted hicks wouldn’t unite them under literally any alternate flag. It said, “If you aren’t 100 percent with us, you are 100 percent evil” without considering that inevitably this would result in absolutely no motivation for anyone on the right to shift even a little to the left. Give people the impression that you will hate them the same or nearly so for voting Jeb Bush as compared to voting for Trump, and where is the motivation to be socially acceptable with Jeb?

The far left took the gamble, and the moderate left backed them up with a range of active support and silence. And somebody popped up who said whatever he wanted. People called him a racist bigot idiot who wouldn’t fit in in San Francisco, and it bounced off. So he’s a racist and a bigot for real. You think people wouldn't envy his bulletproof vest?

If the left had been responsible with its dominance of culture, media, and social mores, this would have been an easy win for them—more than that, Trump would have never been possible. I would have liked that. At the same time, it’s hard to feel guilty when I see a lot of people who just got done saying “We will destroy everything you believe in and make it impossible to be anything but us” for years and now finding out it backfired.

A bully can be right and still be a bully. The bullied can be wrong and still fight back. I hope this lesson is understood and remembered.

Disagree with Ben? Or, are you an American who voted for Donald Trump and would like to share your thoughts right now? Please send us a note and we’ll post: Update from reader Adam, who has a strong dissent against Ben:

I’m a San Francisco native (so yea, a bleeding heart liberal) completing a masters program in Kansas, where I’ve encountered plenty of Trump support, and specifically the sorts of embittered White culture Ben describes. While I’ve met plenty of people on the social right-wing who feel bullied as Ben describes, I do disagree that they have any right to their victimhood—specifically on gay rights and the harassment of business owners who refused service to gay customers.