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:

Show 19 Newer Notes

‘Does the America I’ve Fought For Still Want Me Around?’

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.