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: email@example.com.
A photo posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on
A previous reader note from Jon (“Confessions of a Liberal Urban Elitist”) expressed resentment toward rural Trump voters who accuse him of snobbery for choosing to live in a big city on the East Coast and leading a “Don Draper” life in advertising. Another self-described “liberal elite,” Alison, responds:
Jon’s note rings all too true for me, in many aspects. I am viscerally opposed to classification of young liberals like myself as “privileged.” I grew up in a very rural town in southern Alabama. My family—a lovable bunch of traditional conservative Christian Republicans—still lives in rural America. Now in my 30s, I am finishing a medical degree from a university in rural Ohio. My journey has taken me through poverty, unemployment, mental illness, and some generally awful times. While I cannot deny that I was born lucky to have the natural ability to understand science, capitalizing on that was not a privilege. It was tremendous work.
Melissa can also relate:
I have shared the thoughts of Jon during some of my darker moments since the election. I grew up in a mid-sized city (that went for Clinton, narrowly). My father was a drug addict and Mom worked hard to support us as a single mother. I didn’t have a lot of advantages, but I am smart. I graduated from college and worked in a clerical job instead of anything more.
The election of President Obama actually motivated me to go back and get my law degree and a masters in public policy at the same time. Suddenly I was working in government. I wrote legislation and did a stint on the policy staff for the governor.
I am one of those elites. Elite doesn’t mean born with a silver spoon. I’ve had a tough childhood, maybe tougher than some of those complaining about people like me. My relatives in more rural areas (aunts and uncles and cousins) seem proud of me. They tell their kids to stay in school so they can be like cousin Melissa. When they have legal problems, they will give me a call.
Yet, they are also the ones posting about how we need to drain the swamp and get the elites out of government. They voted for a man with no experience to the highest office in the land. They seem to not understand why someone would need some specialization to know how to govern. It makes me feel like my life’s work is useless to them.
I’ve come to realize that at least some of the anger they have is about the fact that working-class people have been told for decades that they are the backbone of America. We need them to sacrifice their health and safety on the factory floor or in the mines. They are the important ones, in the American narrative, not those guys in the city behind desks.
The fact is, they were never that important. Oh, we needed workers, but we didn’t need to make blue-collar work sound like a religious calling. We did it because when you tell people that their work is important, they will do it for less money. This is a simple fact.
It’s the same reason we say teachers have important jobs. Not that teaching isn’t important, but the deification of teaching is mostly grounded in keeping wages down. Yes, you are doing the most important work … which is why we can’t pay you. But please, keep coming to the office because your job is very important.
The market should set wages for these jobs, but the political ritual of naming some groups as “important” can knock a good 10 grand off the prevailing wage. People will go into work because they want to feel important. They will accept less money with the idea the suffering is necessary. There’s a reason why nurses are called the backbone of the medical world instead of doctors, and it’s all about preventing certain employees from demanding their worth.
Really, rural America bought the lie about being very important. And now that there aren’t enough jobs there to keep up the lie, they feel deceived. They want to think they are important again. Instead of realizing that they had been lied to by politicians for decades, they decided to throw in with the politician lying to them now.
If you’d like to respond to that blunt assessment from Melissa, drop us a note and we’ll include. In the meantime, regarding her point about nursing, I emailed Melissa’s note to my mother—a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and whose sister has been an ICU/ER nurse and nurse practitioner for nearly three decades—and she offered this on-the-go reply:
Nurses are the ones who actually take care of patients. They are the guardians against inappropriate or unsafe orders from physicians; the ones who actually observe changes in patient conditions; the ones who interpret to patients what the doctor says; the ones who are there to watch the family dynamics and who the patient advocates are. Nurses are the ones who really know how the patients are doing, not just what their numbers say. An experienced nurse can know when a patient is about to crash and often save lives, because they are with the patients all day long—not for a five-minute visit, maybe once a day, by a physician.
And boy, do I agree with [Melissa]; we have deified blue-collar workers. Since we have not made the entry level to nursing a bachelor degree, we continue to treat all of them as blue-collar workers. Since it can be a very physically demanding job, we need strong people as well. (Hence her backbone metaphor.) But we don’t have enough men in nursing. It is still considered women’s work. Same with professional child care; we pay them so little but they have such an important role—raising new humans. It is so back assward.
Let me know if this is what you are looking for. Gotta go to earthquake training.
She lives in Portland, Oregon, and just finished 24 total hours of certification training to lead a neighborhood response team when The Big One hits. Speaking of earthquakes, and the urban-rural divide of Jon’s note, don’t miss Ron Brownstein’s latest piece:
The earthquake that elected Donald Trump has left the United States approaching 2020 with a political landscape reminiscent of 1920. Not since then has the cultural chasm between urban and non-urban America shaped the struggle over the country’s direction as much as today. Of all the overlapping generational, racial, and educational divides that explained Trump’s stunning upset over Hillary Clinton last week, none proved more powerful than the distance between the Democrats’ continued dominance of the largest metropolitan areas, and the stampede toward the GOP almost everywhere else.
His piece includes this graph—“Of the Country’s 100 Largest Counties, These 25 Provided the Greatest Democratic Margin of Victory”:
Update from Sam, a reader who grew up in rural white America, left it, is back now, but who’s torn about staying:
I totally get where Jon is coming from. Like him I read the Cracked article, and the essays from Michael Moore, and there’s a lot of wisdom there about the urban-rural/professional-working class divide. Another great analysis was in the Harvard Business Review and I mostly agreed with that article also.
I was born in Middletown, OH, of Hillbilly Elegy fame. I grew up in Franklin, a smaller town next door, and lived in even smaller, more rural towns in Ohio and Indiana as I got older. As an adult I have lived in more diverse, densely populated areas but now live in an inner-ring suburb and work in an Indiana hospital getting people signed up for Medicaid. The economic and cultural neglect of these areas is real. The paper plant my father worked at for 30 years closed, taking all its employees’ pensions with it into bankruptcy, just one of many such stories.
Small farms are disappearing and most of the jobs are low-paid temp work in a warehouse if you have a vehicle, a fast food gig or nothing if you don’t. Like the author of the Harvard Business Review pointed out, paying somebody whose parents had social standing $15 an hour to work in McDonald’s is not going to make them feel better about their place in the world. The opiate epidemic has absolutely ravaged this area. Meth is a rural problem, but it doesn’t kill you instantly. Heroin does, and nobody is cooking it in their trailer; it comes from outside the community.
These issues don’t get the political attention they deserve, and while the people I help are better off than many of the inner-city poor, they also don’t have the public transportation and high concentration of social service agencies the inner city has to help people, and many of the community institutions that served that function are in decline. So yes, I get why people voted for Trump. I was shocked at first, but given time to reflect, I understand where they’re coming from.
And yet ...
When I was in the 7th grade I witnessed a gay black boy in my class get viciously bullied. Two older white boys were looming over him and calling him all the things a gay black boy can be called. I truly believe that if I hadn’t happened upon this scene, he would have been beaten. His family moved away shortly afterward. I’m 33 years old, so this was not so long ago, and if those white boys are voters now, well I think I know who they voted for.
When I was 15 I became an atheist. All those people saying how bad our politically correct culture is, and how people feel silenced? Well you better believe I felt silenced as an atheist in small town America. I was told I was being disrespectful on occasions just for stating my beliefs. Not insulting religion or the religious, just saying I didn’t believe in it myself was considered offensive.
In high school, emotionally sensitive boys were bullied. Non-athletic boys were bullied. A quarterback tried to rape a girl at one school, was transferred to another school, to continue being a quarterback. Once I overheard another school athlete brag to one of his friends about how he’d forced his girlfriend to have anal sex. I had to sit next to him at graduation.
I’ve been casually asked if I’m a Feminazi, like that’s the actual description for my beliefs instead of a hateful slur. When my husband was trying to become a history teacher, he was at a bar in his hometown once and got called “college boy” like it was an insult. Some of these bullies I know became cops.
So excuse me if I feel a little damned superior sometimes. I loved living in a diverse area where I had undocumented Hispanic immigrant neighbors who offered me tequila and carne asada on the weekends. I loved having a Thai restaurant down the street and seeing Muslim African children at the playground with their veiled mothers chatting nearby. And yes, I love reading the news, and learning about the world, and helping people get government assistance.
Now that I’ve returned to the rural white America of my youth, I miss diversity. And I can’t forget the traumas of being different, of being curious and progressive, and worldly in this place.
Most of the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis are decent, good people, and it’s wrong to paint them with a broad brush. I’ve certainly rolled my eyes at the elitism and ignorance of urban professionals who don’t have the first clue about what life here is like. You can’t just erase the struggles of conservative, small-town Americans. Those struggles are real. But I don’t want to be erased either.
I grew up here, but I don’t feel like I belong here. There are millions and millions of people like me who aren’t being mentioned in the think pieces about the denizens of Red State America. The author of that Cracked article talked about how even though he grew up in a rural town, he’s now urban and therefore liberal. Well what about those of us who are still rural, yet liberal? The advice now for Millennials is to colonize conservative areas, reverse the political segregation that is dividing this country.
Well guess what, I can’t wait to be able to afford a home in the city again. I want Indian food and public transportation and cocktail parties. If I could have those things here, maybe I would stay. If I felt like my lifestyle and preferences weren’t sneered at, maybe I would stay. If I didn’t have to have awkward conversations with people who are racist on a regular basis, maybe I would stay.
I want good things for the good people around me. But I often feel like they don’t want me. And why should I go where I’m not wanted?
Cultural bigotry is a two-way street. It’s wrong when prissy elite professionals do it, and it’s wrong when coarse blue-collar workers do it. The liberal elites may own popular culture, but the conservatives owned my childhood. They have good cause to resent being treated with disdain, and so do I.
Here’s one more reader, Jacob, regarding his “liberal views forged in Appalachia”:
I can related to Jon in some ways. I’ve seen the Trump voter in my childhood hometown in which I spent 18 years and still visit due to my parents living there. More than 75 percent of my home county voted Trump in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. It was never a surprise to me that a town like mine would be scared enough to vote for the most unstable presidential candidate most can remember. In many ways I understand exactly why they did. In fact, despite my liberal views, minority status, and opposition to Trump, I understand them.
Rural NC saw significant change as I was growing up. It wasn’t much—a Latino grocery store here, a few more Mexican immigrants in the elementary classrooms over there. Being in an agricultural town, our community depended on the labor of illegal immigrants that most individuals in our 95 percent white town refused to do. Even when the manufacturing jobs left the community, we were happy to take unemployment and blame the new faces in town.
Being Latino myself, I was lucky that I had a white mother. My mother being a teacher, and having a slightly fairer complexion I was spared from most (but not all) taunts of “go back to Mexico” that many of my Latino friends had to endure. My father was never so lucky: Death threat, and verbal abuse persist in his factory job to this day. “You can’t work in the factory like me” echo like the first words I every truly understood as a child.
I did work hard. I graduated top 5 in my class, received a full scholarship to a private liberal arts college—where again I felt like a minority, only this time it was poor, Latino, and with a lack of exposure to different cultures. I’d never interacted with African Americans, Asians, Muslims, Jews, or anyone else who wasn’t white, Baptist, and suspicious of foreigners.
You see, in my little hometown the people don’t go to college. If they do it’s often at for-profit colleges where they rack up loans and start life multiple steps back. They don’t trust outsiders, because quite frankly they had little access to them until the ’90s, and they had even less knowledge of what existed beyond “sinful” Asheville, NC. These are people who do work hard but fail to see how the industries and jobs they known their whole lives will soon no longer exist.
These people more than anything are terrified of losing what they have only ever known. Trump to them will help keep their community safe, keep their community from change, keep their community Christian—and they might even get rich and have more jobs (or so they believe). Most times I wish the people in my hometown could do a cultural exchange program, to see that all blacks aren’t dangerous, that Muslims have family values just like they do, and that those illegal immigrants they see are working damn hard and against odds to hopefully have success for themselves and their children.
I write this as I sit on a bus late from work in Silicon Valley back to “the city.” I’m still working hard each day. The difference is now with Trump, I’m willing to work a little bit harder. I’ll be more active in politics and continue voting for those I know can make the world better for ALL of us.
I could see exactly what they’re talking about in my own life. I grew up right on the edge of New York City’s sphere of influence, in Sussex County, New Jersey, just about where the suburbs end and the farms of greater Pennsylvania begin. I was raised in an Evangelical church where Republicanism was preached from the pulpit as God’s Word handed down from on high. And you might’ve found me among the right-wing ranks had I not attended a little private school further East, closer to where my parents worked—a school much more ethnically diverse than my public school, and much, much closer to New York City.
Just to further fuel the allegations of urban snobbery, I was completely ashamed of where I grew up. The kids at school made fun of me for living in the boonies. I pestered my parents to move east. I didn’t want a quaint life on a pretty, little lake. I wanted to be where stuff was happening, where I could walk to convenience stores and play street basketball games, preferably with black people. That’s what was cool when I was a kid and that’s where I wanted to be.
So on the one hand, I think that this explanation of a collective middle finger to The City and all it represents makes total, complete, and perfect sense. People in the country have struggled along while their jobs have disappeared and their communities have been forgotten—all the while being written off and looked down upon by those in Washington and cities around America. I get it. It’s tough.
But the other part of me wants to respond with a middle finger of my own. And I’m afraid it feeds right into the narrative of urban snobbery and elitism we’ve been hearing about.
I want to reply angrily to rural Trump voters: “Well I hope it feels good. And I hope it still feels good four years from now, when you’re still as economically depressed, neglected and looked down upon as you are today, and meanwhile millions of undocumented workers, Syrian refugees, Ukrainians, NATO allies, and poor people from other countries who had better jobs thanks to free trade agreements have suffered through the first term of President Donald Trump. I hope that big Fuck You you delivered last Tuesday still makes you feel great. Like, you really stuck it to us.”
Then, with condescending sarcasm, I want to remind them, as they moan about machines and foreigners taking their good, secure jobs that pay decent living wages, that the American Dream is open to all people. And that if they just buckled down and worked harder, stayed out of trouble and laid off the meth, I’m sure as heck they’d get ahead and succeed, just like I have.
This is my snobbery in full effect. Let’s just get it out there, as I continue to spew ...
These are the people who preach Capitalism and the value of Competition in the marketplace. And to them I want to open my arms and say, “COME. COMPETE.” Come to The City and compete with us—the doers and makers of this society. We make the movies you watch, the shows you stream, the video games you play, the Internet you surf.
And I get that maybe they’re resentful, but I’ve got some resentments of my own. See, I left my nothing town full of nobodies. I moved to Boston, got a job at an ad agency and worked my way up to creative director, making a six-figure salary and shooting commercials like a real-life Don Draper. It’s a pretty cool job by most people’s standards. And I didn’t get it because my parents knew somebody in the industry, or because I went to some elite college. I didn’t have an “In.” I just had talent and desire and I worked at it and it eventually worked out.
And working hard in my career isn’t where it all began. Before that I worked hard in school. And you know what? Most of the other kids I knew who worked hard in school are here in The City making stuff and making money. And maybe when we were working hard in school, you were making fun of us. And maybe it feels a little bit good to stick it to you.
I practice what you preach. I worked hard and I succeeded. If I espoused conservatism, I’d be what they call a Self-Made Man, a big success story. But because I’d like my success to help buoy others who haven’t had the same chances, I’m called an Elitist.
There’s a lot of generalizations here, of course. But a map of the United States divided into two colors is perhaps the greatest generalization of all. And I’m sure some will be offended by my words. This is not a scientific article, or even an op-ed designed to offer a defensible position, but merely a memoir combined with a rant under the guise of a confession.
But I wonder if some of it rings true for some of the folks reading this. And I wonder if a resentful person living in the country might see things from my point of view.
Personally I can relate to some of what Jon is saying. As an Army brat, I grew up all over the U.S. and a little abroad, but mostly in Kansas, where my dad retired to the countryside about 10 miles outside a town of just 5,000 people. My high school in that small town was a big step backwards for me academically (no A.P. classes, for one), having come from a well-funded public school in the Maryland suburbs. Socially the Kansas school was really isolating, because most of the students—who grew up together in a tight-knit community—didn’t relate to me much and didn’t really want to, especially given my awkward introversion at 14. I became miserable and resentful—mostly toward myself—and went to live with my mother, stationed in Georgia, for the second half of high school.
After college, I went straight to New York City—the extreme opposite of that Kansas town—and I’ve lived there and DC ever since. Those big cities definitely have their flaws, and the smug attitude and myopic political views of many New Yorkers get insufferable at times, but overall, there’s no other place I would have wanted to spend the past decade. The biggest reason? The vast diversity of people living there—diversity in all forms, but namely the array of places from which they came, across the U.S. and abroad. They came to the big city in their twenties to pursue a passion, work hard for an opportunity, and enjoy an endless stream of culture that extends well past Netflix. The people I most enjoy in NYC and DC aren’t from NYC and DC; they’re the ones who got out of their sleepy towns and dreary suburbs, at least for a while.
If you’ve lived in a small town your whole life, on the other hand, and you’d like to tell your story or vent your resentments to Jon, please drop us a note. Update from Susan:
Yes, Jon, we get it. But your choice to leave and become Don Draper does not invalidate the issues at hand. I tried your route. I got my fancy degrees and worked in the big city for a while. God bless all of you who can do it. I sure couldn’t. I couldn’t drive by the poverty and see the violence on the news while listening to my coworkers complain that their neighbors refuse to control their dandelions. I tried reading Malcolm X and signing up for Big Sisters, but in the end, I could not figure out a way to make a meaningful difference there, and I couldn’t live with the cognitive dissonance of a suburban existence.
So I moved back to northern Appalachia, on the opposite side of PA from you. This is Trump country. People want to work. They want to raise their kids, and in reality, most people can do that. Where it falls apart is with three main issues:
Higher education. If your kid wants to go to college, and you are barely scraping by in a low cost-of-living place, there is no way to help him. This cost inflation is obscene, and it is entirely government caused.
Health care. If you own or want to start a small business, ACA has become a boulder around the neck. Five years ago my insurance premium was $382. The quote for 2017 is over $1100. Again, it’s pretty easy to draw a straight line from the law to the premium.
Retirement. No one really, truly wants to go back to working in the mill. But you could earn a living wage, and when you retired, you would have a decent pension. Those days are gone. This one gets blamed on free trade.
The reason you get called a snobby elitist is that we shouldn’t have to choose between an intolerable existence in the city, or poverty in God’s Country. We don’t want your six figures. We just want to live and for our kids to have some options when it’s their turn to make these choices.
Update from Paul:
Susan’s frustrations are valid but her comments are about the causes are not. I’m not aware of any evidence that supports the idea that the rising cost of college is caused by the government, that the ACA is what is driving private healthcare insurance costs up (in fact there’s some evidence to suggest that the ACA is slowing the otherwise normal rate of price increases), or that the government (Republican or Democratic) is responsible for the collapse of privately funded defined-benefit pensions.
All of these are real problems, but none of them can be easily solved by direct government action. I definitely agree that free trade killed a lot of older manufacturing companies in businesses with high labor costs and lower value add. The solution isn’t getting rid of free trade, which makes everyone poorer, it’s much more generous help for those displaced as a result.
If we want to reach common ground on our problems, it would help to have a more evidence-based discussion about the root causes. This does not mean we'd reach complete agreement on all the root causes (ACA in particular is still too new to really deeply understand how it is affecting health care inflation rate), but I think it would certainly help.
Here’s some help from Reason’s Robby Soave regarding Susan’s contention that the federal government has caused college to become so expensive:
Long have liberals vowed to make higher education more affordable by offering ever more generous loan subsidies, and long have conservatives and libertarians argued that federal aid merely gives colleges license to drive up the price. A study by the New York Federal Reserve offers some new evidence that the latter group is correct. According to the study’s authors:
We find that institutions more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, with a sizable pass-through effect on tuition of about 65 percent. We also find that Pell Grant aid and the unsubsidized federal loan program have pass-through effects on tuition, although these are economically and statistically not as strong.
The argument goes like this: Since government aid programs make it easier for students to pay the sticker price of admission, no matter how high that price rises, universities have every incentive to respond by charging more. The universities have little to worry about—they get paid up front, regardless of how difficult it is for the students to repay the government (or the government’s actual creditors: the U.S. taxpayer).
Here’s one more reader response, from Philip, who challenges both Jon and Susan:
I don’t usually like to write in, especially in a thread that I figure will probably have more of me (urban, liberal, Clinton voter) than of the people like Susan who are writing in with their more pro-Trump opinions. But I have issues with both the self-proclaimed liberal urban elitist and his respondent, so I might as well take the plunge.
To Jon, I ask, as Susan does, why he assumes they want to come to the city. I think it’s entirely fair that they don’t. People should have an opportunity for a good life wherever they want to live, not just by coming to the city to “compete.” And saying they’re all on meth (even if you acknowledge the condescending sarcasm) is really no better than Donald Trump calling Mexicans rapists. Both are hyperbole; neither is particularly helpful. They have legitimate concerns, and we should address them. We should have even if Hillary had won. They matter.
But that brings me to Susan. She points to three issues: health care (especially costs); higher education (especially costs); and retirement (and the lack of pensions nowadays). My question is where in the world she gets the idea that voting Republican will help on any of those points.
OK, I see that she thinks the ACA is responsible for rising health care costs. I have two big issues with that. One is that health care costs have been going up far longer than the ACA has been around, and they’ve gone up less with ACA than without it. The other is that most of the mechanisms for reducing costs for individuals under the ACA have been gummed up by precisely those Republican politicians she just empowered (more on this in a moment). Medicaid expansion for the poorest? Blocked by Republican governors, who then sued to not have to do it. Subsidies for those making too little to afford the exchanges without them? Not funded by a Republican Congress, which is suing to prevent the administration from paying the money out of general funds. Which of these two parties is trying to help with the cost of insurance? And of course, that’s without mentioning all the people (many in that same part of the country she lives in) who now have health insurance who couldn’t get it before.
On higher education: Susan is totally right that higher education costs are ridiculous. But what Republican policy does she think will help with that? Perhaps it’s true that the way the government currently runs educational grants inflates the price of college; I think it is too! But there are ways to help a kid going to college if you’re barely making minimum wage (itself an idea that Republicans tend to oppose of course ): all those dang grants. And of course, if you go to some colleges—elite and liberal and urban, mostly—they’re cheap or free for those making very little money.
On retirement: Those pensions aren’t coming back. But you know what’s still there? Social Security—which the Republicans tried to privatize the very last time they had the presidency. I think she’s wrong to blame the lack of pensions on free trade (it’s probably more the fault of companies ceasing to prioritize corporate citizenship and the duty to their workers over the bottom line—something our new president-elect is somewhat of an expert on), but even if she does, the Republicans are the ones taking out the safety net beneath it. Speaker Ryan has already started to do this with his Medicare proposal—which, by the way, he’s packaging as part of the ACA repeal. So the same people who riled up their base because they claimed the ACA would endanger Medicare are now endangering it themselves to get rid of the ACA.
Basically, my problem with Susan’s perspective comes down to this: For the past eight years, the Republicans have spent every ounce of energy trying to stop Obama, and by extension the Democrats, from governing, and from actually doing anything for people like her. But her response is to empower them by voting the obstructionists into even more power. It’s like a team that needs a field goal looking at Lucy swiping the ball away from Charlie Brown before he can kick it and saying “you know, that Charlie Brown just can’t kick. Let’s put Lucy in charge. I’m sure she’ll put the ball through the uprights.”
So the liberal elitist, Jon, is wrong to imply we shouldn’t care about red-state and red-county voters. But the respondent, Susan, is claiming that the people who put us in this situation are the people we should trust to get us out.
Update from Susan, who gets the final word here, if you’re still following along:
This is fun! Thanks. A couple of clarifications, if it’s relevant. Here’s the graph showing how government caused tuition increases:
What happened in 2010? Bankruptcy law was changed so that student loans can never be discharged. [Update from reader Darren: “I think the bankruptcy law change that she’s talking about is the one in 2005, and not 2010 like she states. Not sure where you’d want to put such a minor correction, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to point that out to y’all.] This complements the Reason research showing that student loans drive college cost increases.
Also, you will notice I never said that Republicans would or could fix any of these problems. The problem is that neither Republicans nor Democrats work for any of us out here in flyover country. They work for Wall Street, and Big Pharma, and Monsanto, and Big Oil, and the military/industrial complex.
And I didn’t vote for Trump. (I went for Gary Johnson.) My personal opinion is that the problem is corruption and crony capitalism, and more laws favor those with more lawyers. As long as people think one of the parties or some politician is going to help “we the people,” then they’ve got you fooled.
I understand why people voted for Trump; they are hoping that maybe, just maybe, he won’t be a politician.
A familiar reader follows up. And his name is Pat:
Chris, I have to tell you, I am a little shocked that you posted my note [“‘I Voted for the Middle Finger, the Wrecking Ball’”] and even more shocked by the responses it elicited. I know there is no way for me to effectively respond to all of the incredible and heartfelt feedback from your readers. Below is my lame effort. I have no idea if it is what you want, but it is at least honest, although far too many words. Do with it what you will. Wow, your job must be hard. Happy Thanksgiving.
I am Southern. I am white. I am male. I voted for the wrecking ball and I wrote to Notes a rambling stream of consciousness email more for my own benefit than for anyone else to read, trying to figure out myself how Trump earned my vote—if he really did earn it?—and trying to explain that I don’t hate anyone or want to take away anyone else’s dreams of a better life in this great country.
I was amazed my note prompted as many questions and responses as it did. I never expected it to even be seen. I wish I could address all of them and am sorry that I lack the intellect and time to do so. I think it’s too bad these conversations happen too often over the internet and not in the local pub. I expect my response to echo in silence and definitely to lack the clarity your readers seek. But I read them all and I hear their concerns.
I understand I have a limited view of how this election looks to the African American med student who refuses to let anyone or anything rob his or her humanity and dignity. I hear you.
I will likely never fully understand the struggles an immigrant family may face trying make a life, a better life, in a new country as crazy and complex and diverse as ours. I hear you.
I can only imagine how difficult it is for the small business owner who put her little retirement savings into a dream and through toil and talent made it work, and now deals with the government saying she has to provide health insurance to her employees whom she loves and employs … or else. I hear you.
I know it isn’t easy being Muslim, or gay, or poor, or sick, or a woman, or a drop-out, or felon, or a college grad waiting tables in America. I hear you.
I know Trump said some crazy and mean-spirited shit. I hear you.
I know all of us wear both the scars and beauty marks of our history. We have saved the world but enslaved and murdered innocents. We have extended protections to the minority and pursued phantom threats with terrible consequences because people looked, thought, worshipped differently than our Founding Fathers did. We have been imperialistic and nativist, we have opposed authoritarianism, been the saving grace for immigrants, turned around at Plymouth Rock and said “Foreigner Go Home.” We continue to ask our young and able bodied of all races, creeds, colors, and genders to die for our freedom. We call each other names, put one another in boxes and label them: foreigner, redneck, racist, bleeding heart, gay, bible-thumper, conservative, liberal, progressive, extremist. We’re all guilty … and most of us are innocent.
Our country is a beautiful, living, breathing mess of wonderful and amazing people all believing in the same lofty ideals but disagreeing on the way to achieve all of them. Our country is an enormous promise, an unthinkable undertaking, a miraculous contradiction of individualism, collectivism, voluntarism—every –ism under the sun. What an incredible mess to be a part of it. Thank goodness for it.
I admit I vote based on my emotions as much if not more than I do my intellect at times. I admit my ballot and my worldview often clash and contradict one another. I admit I have never found a candidate who represented me fully and I probably couldn’t represent myself fully if I were ever to hold elected office. It is impossible to please everyone, unlikely to please even anyone fully, including yourself. Negotiation and compromise are part of every good romance, and so it goes with our democracy—a passionate and rocky love affair if there ever was one.
I admit I do not have all of the answers to all the responses to my note. What do I envision during and after a Trump administration? Maybe just a maverick bold (crazy?) enough to not stay put in his sandbox. What if he achieved something with both Elizabeth Warren and Paul Ryan? I think he is more likely to color outside the lines than Hillary would have, and most of us agree “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
So I rolled the dice with the wrecking ball, the middle finger, the guy insensitive enough to not care who he pisses off trying to get something done. He might be a disaster. If he is, I’ll own my vote and learn from it.
I’ll also admit my tyrants likely look different from someone else’s—hell, maybe everyone else’s. Mine are no longer monarchs from foreign lands or angry rich white males or left-leaning professors, or even special interests’ influence, predictable career politicians, media and political elites of all shapes and colors, or the ones with the safe zone/newspeak/microaggression fiascos that deny deliberative discourse, civil disagreement, and prohibit any gain of perspective by any party on either side of an issue. My tyrants expect something for nothing, offer excuses instead of solutions, and look to place blame instead of accept some responsibility.
Will Trump be a tyrant? Perhaps. He certainly has shown some of that. But haven’t we all? When it gets right down to it, haven’t we all been a little guilty of my kind of tyranny? I know I have and I see it every day.
My patriots, I fear, are too smart, too successful, too cynical, or too busy making it in America to run for office in this age of information and disinformation. Your patriots may be the kerchief-over-his-face-wearing, 18-year-old teenager protesting police brutality in Baltimore or the lawyer working pro bono to save the environment, but mine might be Trey Gowdy or the gay Latino woman managing an insurance office in El Paso and successfully raising three kids. So we vote from differing perspectives with different life experiences and differing ideas about how to move forward and whom to follow. Isn’t that what this is all about, living together peacefully knowing “elections have consequences” and agreeing to accept them?
I admit I voted for Obama in 2008 and against him in 2012. I did not vote straight ticket; I never have. I honestly went to vote more for my neighbor running for town council than I did for either presidential candidate. I guess I still live in a small little world.
For now, I think I choose to encourage. I encourage everyone to “eat the blue pill” from The Matrix. Just as I urged my conservative friends in 2008 to do so, see America the way it is and not the way the talking heads tell you to see it. See America for all of her beauty and promise and all of warts and failures. Have a little in faith in US—we the people.
Just as Obama is a patriot, wanting to make us better, so maybe is Trump, even if his map to get there looks different (because of all the crayons?). We are all in the struggle wanting the same things that we can all have. There is no zero-sum game on what we want: a safe, open, honest, thriving, fair place to call home, to raise kids in, to enjoy life in, to push the ball forward in before we die. We should all get out of our zip code, off of our computer, out from our bubble once in a while and have frank, direct, pleasant-if-heated conversations with someone else about their perspective and agree that there is no way—if we’re being honest—no way we can’t find some common ground. Let’s look for more reasons to agree than reasons not to.
Don’t take my middle finger personally; I really want everyone fighting the good fight to find more success, enjoy more freedom, feel more welcome. I really do. I just ultimately thought we needed a good smack on the ass.
I will have beers and wings with my best friend next week. He is a Bernie fanatic. We will argue all night, laugh all night, cuss and yell and get red faced and probably spit a little on each other accidentally in the heat of it all. And we’ll go home, stay buddies, agree to disagree on some of it and know it is a great thing to disagree with friends. Ours will be a staggering drunk walk much like this march of diverse democracy. We stumble ahead, fall forward, lean to the left, sway to the right, go backwards a few spaces, contract in one spot, expand in another. We bitch and moan and yell and scream at one another for one another. We get things wrong, we get things right. We remember old scars and make fresh wounds.
And somehow, when we wake up hungover and tired and wondering what the hell happened last night, we will all find ourselves in a better place in the morning and look forward to the next bar fight in 2020.
I encourage everyone: Go have coffee or drinks with a friend who sees the world differently than you do. Meet somewhere in the middle. Persuade, convince, argue and do it passionately. Don’t call them names, label them, or put them in a box. Listen more than you speak. Find an excuse to say “we” more and decline to say “you” as often. Let’s admit to our prejudices, hang-ups, fears, ambitions, and failings, own our thoughts, our words, our actions, and deal with the consequences. Now is our chance to make Trump and the whole lot of them do the same.
The wrecking ball was my choice. It may not have been the right one. Time will tell. I did not choose it out of hate. I might not even be able to defend all of it. I might end up of prouder than ever for it, though I might end up wishing I could take it back.
But I admit it. I own it. I accept the consequences. Can you hear me?
Update from Ernest, a reader who disagrees with Pat:
Oh, what a lovely picture. Let’s just hug this out after we pound a few cold ones in the bar. See, we’re really not too different, you and I.
Yes, I hear you.
I also hear the celebration of neo-Nazis and the KKK [link] at not only the election of our next president but his appointment of a self-described leader of the swamps of the alt-right to be his chief strategist. I hear them.
I hear the raging misogyny of Milo Yiannopoulos [link], who was hired and is employed by the president-elect’s chief strategist because he is a raging misogynist. I hear him.
I hear Myron Ebell, a global warming denier, being appointed as head of the EPA transition team. I understand from him that the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is really just political correctness run amok to increase governmental power [link]. I hear him.
“Our country is a beautiful, living, breathing mess of wonderful and amazing people all believing in the same lofty ideals but disagreeing on the way to achieve all of them.” Yeah, that’s what this is.
I hear you, Pat, I really do. But your listening seems mightily selective.
Maria keeps the disagreement going:
I wanted to respond specifically to this quote from Pat and then briefly to the comment on the whole.
My patriots, I fear, are too smart, too successful, too cynical, or too busy making it in America to run for office in this age of information and disinformation. Your patriots may be the kerchief-over-his-face-wearing, 18-year-old teenager protesting police brutality in Baltimore or the lawyer working pro bono to save the environment, but mine might be Trey Gowdy or the gay Latino woman managing an insurance office in El Paso and successfully raising three kids.
Pat is wrong to suggest that any law abiding, honest, and hard-working person is not “my patriot.” In fact, shouldn’t someone who protests police brutality also be his patriot if he is who he says he is: a proud hard-working American who wants the system to treat other hard-working Americans fairly? Isn’t police brutality the antithesis what he believes is fair?
I would also like to respond to his original note, where he states:
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 am for a safety net for people when they fall on hard times. I am not for government handouts as a way of life. I want everyone—of all kinds—pulling on the same side of the damn rope. Pitch in, make this a better place for everybody that obeys the law, pull yourself up by your bootstraps everyday and do some form of honest work. Come here legally, adopt our way of life, learn our language and preserve yours, respect our legal and social traditions and observe yours freely, engage in deliberative thought and debate without risk of being labelled a bigot or a hater because you disagree.
These things somehow suggest that people who did NOT vote for Trump are not themselves hard working people who get to work on time and care for their children, or are against pitching in, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, or doing honest work. I would never in a million years vote for a troglodyte like Trump, but I too wish that people who move to this country respect our laws and customs. I’m willing to bet that more than a fair-share of Trump’s voters are on some kind of government assistance (especially if they’re older—Medicare anyone?).
Pat, I think your arguments are a stale stereotype of what it means to be a “liberal” (I despise that word, but it’s the best I can come up with). So to sum up, I still cannot get the logic that starts with “I want change” to voting for Trump. You can already see the people he is using to fill cabinet positions are very well-entrenched into the Wall St. and Republican establishment. Arguably the only one who isn’t is Bannon, and he white nationalist.
If you really wanted change, who did you vote for for Senate? Or your representative? Were they incumbents? What about writing to the Republican and Democratic parties that govern the Commission for Presidential Debates to challenge their stance on allowing third parties onto the debate stage? Are you for campaign finance reform? Tell me Pat, are these other “disruptive” actions too difficult for you to consider?
I think it was just too easy for you to vote for Trump because all you had to do was go into a voting booth. I regret to inform you that you made a serious mistake, which is unfortunately going to injure someone else. I doubt it will affect you much, so you will probably never learn.
This reader note from Ron, a med student in Rhode Island, is incredibly moving and filled with grace:
I hope you are well, Mr. Bodenner. Thank you for running this reader series engaging with Trump voters. I have been alternately heartened and dismayed by others’ contributions, but the insight has been invaluable either way.
As a 20-something, Black-American male born and raised in the USA, recent days have seen me alternating between rage, sadness, and despair—and I suspect there is much more to come. I feel unwanted by a nation that raised me, despised by my home.
But as the paroxysms of rage and tears become less frequent, as the space for introspection and reflection becomes greater, I have had time to interrogate my soul about the man I want to be and the role I seek to play in the work to which I committed myself long before last Tuesday. And in that time, spent communing with the ones I love, I am grateful to God to have found at least the skeleton of a mindset, a plan, a path that I hope will sustain me through coming trials while allowing me to continue to be of the greatest service to the nation I love.
I truly believe we are a great nation that desperately strives to be good. I truly believe that our differences are not something to fear and our disagreements are not something to flee from. And I want to do all in my power to fight for “us” and “them.” As much as I have been disgusted by our president-elect’s rhetoric and behavior, as much as I condemn the conduct and indict the character of a great many of his voters, I would have to deny a large number of my life’s memories to pretend his constituents did not have legitimate grievances. This is not the way I wish we would address them. But when your message is littered with the dirty needles and pain pills that line the bottom of a seemingly bottomless chasm filled with the dreams you had for your descendants, it is somewhat understandable if it does not arrive wrapped in the prettiest package. And now that it has arrived, the worst decision we could make would be to ignore it once again.
As a Black man who seeks to do his part to lift his people, I want to fight against the bigotry and hatred that has our melting pot bubbling over. But as the boy that Lima, Ohio, raised, I have seen, at least in part, the pain and suffering of many of the white working class—the very same that many people would now call my natural enemy.
As the man who spent a summer carting patients around the local hospital and was moved to pursue medicine by witnessing the devastating effects of painful illness on my neighbors who “used their strength of bone and sinew to provide,” I refuse to accept that these people are now my foes. Our differences are real; our histories, our prejudices, and our nation’s successes and failures in addressing the former two prevent them from being anything but real. But a difference is not a defect, and I firmly believe if anyone thinks opposite, they are missing a large piece of the puzzle.
When a white person struggling to overcome debt and disability points at a brown person just barely wriggling out of the chains of oppression and honestly believes they are the source of their struggles, or vice versa, and both those people pin all their hopes on a competition between billionaire families in ivory towers, I think we are all missing something much deeper.
I will not ignore the prejudice and bigotry that my fellow citizens have showed over the course of this election cycle. I will not dismiss it as simple brainwashing or lack of education; again, I know these people. I have broken bread with these people. And I will not do them the disservice of disregarding their God-given mind and soul by pretending they are mere puppets of probability; they know better, and I bet more than one would admit as much in our quieter moments.
But I will also not give into the temptations of simple narratives that ignore the bigotry present among even those who most vocally decried it through this election and even before. I will not pretend that differences in culture or opportunity or vision for one’s future do not have an effect on one’s ability to hew their speech and actions to a standard set by elites hundreds of miles away, who are living a lifestyle completely alien to their own and making the bare minimum effort, if even that, to bridge the gap.
I will love. I will love in that difficult fashion, in that way that recognizes the complexities that make loving each other so rewarding are the same thing that makes it so damn hard.
Many times I have wished, subconsciously or otherwise, that I could reduce the other side to a single dimension, that I might fall more easily into the role of multifaceted protagonist against a sea of racist drones. But as many times as I wish I could do that, I know I never will. Not only is it unfair to my would-be opponents, I would be robbing myself of the greatest gift humanity bestows on me: the ability to love fully, deeply, even under great duress. Microaggressions, racial epithets, even outright discrimination will all hurt me, but they could never steal my humanity. Only I can do that, by closing myself off to humanity’s most potent ability.
To those to whom I have vented, raged, and even howled at over the past week, those words might appear like an outright lie. I have been gripped by anger at a level previously unknown to me since the election. But interrogating that anger and finding its origins is what has led me to this very path.
As a medical student, over the past year, I have had the great privilege of rotating through the plethora of specialties that fall under American healthcare. I have helped deliver babies and reached into open abdomens. I have laughed with healthy children in for a check-up and stared in the unblinking eyes of the recently deceased elderly. Through my patients, I have experienced the breadth of life in a short year, been privy to humanity’s hopes and anxieties, dreams and fears, perseverance leading to success and failure alike. I have experienced humanity in a way very few are allowed and I have been transformed by it. I have seen how we are all so unique and different in so many ways, except for all the ones that really matter.
Before medical school, I often wondered how God could love us. After this year, knowing that God sees all of this simultaneously, in all of us, always, I wonder how anyone, especially and including Him, could not. And the knowledge that I will continue to do so, continue to love unconditionally and work for the betterment of those who may or may not even acknowledge my humanity, hurts me and angers me deeply, even as it guides me to the path I know in my heart is right.
I know what happened last Tuesday was significant. I recognize this election has exposed the fragility of our union in a way that few other moments in American history have. Our divisions are clear and intimidating. But I refuse to accept this is the end of us; I remain resolute in my belief that there is a way forward for the United States of America. I know I may be wrong, but if there is even a chance, a single thread that can secure us to each other, it is worth fighting for. History may prove me a simple-minded, cowardly idiot, but I would rather die proven wrong than live knowing I never pursued even the smallest chance of unity.
I want to listen. If you are reading this message, you are the one for whom it is meant. I want to listen.
If you’re a Trump voter and would like to respond to Ron, please send him a note: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from Catherine: “Dear Ron: I am not a Trump supporter but what you said was magnificent. Keep walking!” Another reader:
Thank you for being loving person. Remember that love will alway triumph.
I too am a physician, a healer, but much older than you. After evaluating the two presidential candidates, I couldn’t vote for either. I wrote in my president. In my humble opinion, Hillary wasn’t the answer. She is a crook. I truly believe she simply said what people wanted to hear. She couldn’t care less about you or me or any minority. She only cares about herself and the Clinton Machine (now defunct, thank God).
I never liked Donald Trump. I always thought he was a narcissist and I still do. He is a egomaniacal, pompous man who from what we witnessed would crush anyone who gets in his way. My hope is that President-elect Trump’s desire to be the best will drive him to be the best president he can be and govern wisely and fairly.
I hear you, Ron, regarding the tensions in our Great Country. They are real. Coming together and uniting is the obvious fix. Doing that is the monumental task.
To rid the divide we must first rid ourselves of ego and pride. You see you cannot love unconditionally when filled with ego and pride because ego and pride leads to anger and hate. We all have to believe that no one person is better than the other and that we are all children of the Almighty God. Even though that is my heart’s desire, I am not sure we can do it on our own. We need the Good Lord’s help.
Ron, from your writing I can tell you are a caring loving man who accepted the privilege and honor of taking care of the sick. I pray you always feel the way you did when you wrote that letter. May God Bless.
Update from Ron:
It really does encourage me in no small measure to read these responses. And as for Anne Marie’s comment [sent privately via email and including the line, “Ron’s note was an inspiration in empathy and courage, beautifully expressed.”], I honestly do not know how to reply to such high praise except to say thank you and I am truly glad she enjoyed the piece. I also enjoyed reading Pat’s response, as well as those of Ernest and Maria.
Replying to Pat, I am glad to see him take ownership of his vote. My parents raised me with a strong sense of personal responsibility, one that I still work to cultivate within myself and look for in those with whom I expect to have significant interactions. So I respect that he recognizes the possible negative implications of his vote and takes full responsibility for them; that is no small thing.
I also want to say I agree wholeheartedly with his exhortations to have more conversations with those who disagree with us. I do not think I am making any sort of new radical statement when I say we need to do a better job of reaching across the aisle, having those difficult conversations, etc. I would just take it further by asking that we all make more of an effort to spend time with those unlike us during times when we aren’t having those difficult conversations. If our first or only interactions with those that disagree with us are when we’re arguing over the issue over which we disagree, we are all doing it wrong.
At the end of the day, I am willing to believe Pat actually believes exactly as he says he does. I am willing to take him at his word that his vote was not motivated by hatred. Personally, I think our disagreements are more due to differences in exposure and education than any intractable, intrinsic character defects on his part or mine. I know on issues like the ones this election has brought to the fore, it can be hard to differentiate the two, but we must if we hope to bequeath anything resembling a united nation to the ones that come after us. I am not advocating either side goes along to get along; I am asking we engage with each other fully and with a compassionate, forgiving nature before we write anyone off.
I agree with Maria when she says it was “too easy” for Pat to make his choice in that voting booth; his perspective, as he admits, is limited. So is mine. And there was a time when it was even more limited, by forces both outside and well within my control. And if I can be said to have improved at all, it is only through the compassion and efforts of so many others that took a chance on me when it was not clear I was a chance worth taking. And I’d be willing to bet this is true for the vast majority of us.
This whole discussion merits a longer response, but in the spirit of listening more than talking, I will stop here in an attempt to be brief.
Chris, if you opt not to update the response, would you mind sending my response to Pat in a private note? Since he made it clear that he had read my response, I would at least like him to know that I read his reply. I appreciate you hosting this conversation; I have found it personally very helpful. Look forward to reading more of this discussion thread.
A reader dissents over this Notes series trying to give a fair hearing to the views of Trump voters:
How many more of these fucking notes? I get it. “Get to know Trump voters” is generating clicks. But at least publish something real in response.
Reader Marco says, “It won’t fall because the U.S. government’s institutions are designed to prevent irrational outcomes to a good degree. Trust the system a little, if you learned anything from history.” Really? We had Japanese internment upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1940s [a reader previously made this point] and national-origin restrictions on Japanese people until the 1950s. We had state-sponsored terrorism of black people in the South through the 1960s. [This reader and others previously invoked the history of slavery and white supremacy.] What someone who actually reads history, and pays attention to it, knows is that the values of liberal democracy are not universally held and when lost, recovered only at great cost.
I don’t think these things will happen. I also don’t think there are 60 million racists. But I do think there are 60 million people who don’t really give a shit whether it does or doesn’t. If I’m wrong and they do give a shit, let them prove it with their own behavior and statements—not just tell people to “rely on the institutions” that they say they voted for Trump to destroy.
Another reader, James, lives in southern California and describes himself as a “White, middle-class, Christian, culturally-rural, ideologically-moderate Independent” who is sympathetic to the grievances of Trump supporters but couldn’t bring himself to vote for the guy. Now with Trump’s victory, James worries that the democratic norms and institutions of the U.S. won’t be able to withstand the dicey demagogue, and he fears that the country could veer down a painful path like that of Venezuela, Uruguay, and Peru during the late 20th century. Here’s James:
Fascinating discussion, and I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of the responses on both sides and the courage of Trump voters to explain their reasoning. But like reader Pamela, I’m afraid I still don’t get it. I share many of the same concerns that other readers have brought up, but I feel like I must be missing a step.
I am sympathetic to conservatives who felt that their voices were not being heard. I am a grad student, and I wish that conservatives were better-represented in my discipline, political science. I also wish that conservative students at my university felt safer in expressing viewpoints that differ from those of the majority on campus. I think that some individuals are over-zealous in their political correctness, though I would hardly attribute this to “liberalism” as a whole any more than I would attribute racism to “conservatism.” Most people I know—whether on the Left or the Right—want to live in a society like the one that Southern Guy described. I do, too.
But I struggle to see how electing a demagogue who has put identity politics at the heart of his campaign and who has just chosen a white nationalist as his chief strategist is going to get us to that pluralistic, tolerant society. If you really want to see an end to identity politics [as reader Alan says he does], why stoke the flames?
I am also sympathetic to voters who wanted to cast a protest vote. I myself cast a protest vote in this election, but my protest vote was for a third-party candidate who had zero chance of winning my state. If there were other options, why did you cast your protest vote for a competitive candidate, unless you also wanted him to win?
I am all for protest, but like any other political act, protests have consequences. In deciding to vote for a candidate other than Clinton or Trump, I thought very carefully about what I was doing. I considered whether the election in my state was close enough that enough voters voting the same way as me could tip the balance between Clinton and Trump. I decided that there was a near-zero probability of this happening, and in the end, Clinton won my state by a 30 point margin.
I also considered whether I was ok with legitimizing my third-party candidate’s policies or party. I decided that while I did not agree with everything my candidate said or believed, I had no problem legitimizing those positions.
Similarly, before I participated in my city’s (nonviolent) post-election protest this weekend, I spent several hours carefully considering whether I should be doing this. I do not take protests against democratically-elected leaders lightly. I considered the possibility that my protest would make President Trump take a more hardline stance than he otherwise would have taken. I considered the possibility that protesting on the streets would undercut the position of moderate Republicans in Congress who will be one of Trump’s few institutional constraints during these next four years. I also considered the possibility that the 60 million people who voted for Trump would take offense at my protest and misinterpret it as an attack against them.
But in the end, I decided that since the demonstration would happen in any case, it was better for all sides that it contain more White, middle-class, Christian, culturally-rural, ideologically-moderate Independents like me, so as to prevent the protest from being about “racial minorities versus Whites” or “Left versus Right.” I knew that my vote-choice and protest-choice entailed costs and risks that I would not fully internalize, but I calculated that the benefits for society outweighed the costs.
For those of you who voted for Trump out of protest, I would love to hear more about your calculation. You have said a lot about what you were voting against, but the other side of the equation is not completely clear to me yet. Did you think that Trump’s critics had exaggerated the harm that a Trump presidency might do to our country’s institutions? Did you think that Trump would abandon most of his policies and that nobody would get hurt? Or did you accept that some people might get hurt by his presidency, but conclude that it could do more good than harm for the country over all?
[If you’re a Trump voter and would like to address any of those questions, send a note to email@example.com.]
No liberal or moderate I know thinks that all or even most Trump voters are racist. But many of us do worry that you have disregarded the risks that come with a Trump presidency, especially the risks that are concentrated on minority groups that Trump has spoken out against. I doubt that this was really the case, and I think you could make your position more understandable by telling us more about what you thought a Trump presidency would actually look like. Ok, so you drain the swamp; what happens next?
And that brings me to reader Marco. I’m not crazy about political dynasties or corruption either, and I have tried to learn from history. I have studied historical cases of populist and outsider candidates coming to power in presidential democracies, and that is part of the reason why I am so worried. Democracies often fail from within, and democratically-elected leaders can dismantle democratic institutions, even in established democracies.
Venezuela was a decades-old, consolidated democracy at the time of its 1998 election, even though its political system was facing a crisis of legitimacy. Within a couple years of that election, the elected populist president had rewritten the constitution, cemented his control over most other state institutions, and severely weakened the political opposition.
Uruguay was a decades-old, consolidated democracy at the time of its 1971 election. Less than two years after that election, however, the elected “political outsider” president had expanded his emergency powers, arrested opposition leaders, and suspended the Congress.
Peru was not quite a consolidated democracy at the time of its 1990 election, but nor was it a new democracy. A few years after a dark horse candidate assumed the presidency, he had closed the Congress, eliminated the independent judiciary, and established a security state. Nor were any of these presidencies paragons of clean government.
I do not know that Trump will do any of these things, and I could come up with just as many examples of victorious populist candidates who turned out to have fairly quiet and “normal” presidencies. I can even come up with an example or two of populist presidents who really did make their country greater.
But I do not share your optimism that our political institutions will save us, especially when our supposedly strong, democratic norms failed to prevent such a candidate from being elected in the first place. We have only so many safeguards left.
A reader who describes himself as “brown, bearded, son of immigrants” voted for Trump because of what he perceived as an unfair pile-on from the mainstream media. (His note was joined by an African immigrant who relates to a lot of what Trump voters are thinking but who nevertheless fears and opposes their leader.)
Lindsey is another reader who is upset by what she sees as the media’s posture against Trump:
I’m a college-educated, female, lifelong Republican (who voted 3rd party this year), but I woke up the day after the election excited to see mea culpas from pop culture figures and mainstream media. “Finally,” I thought, “they are going to take responsibility for giving Trump a billion dollars of free exposure and for allowing Hillary to coast scrutiny-free through the primaries.”
Do you know what I found instead? A series of tone-deaf meltdowns and a barrage of more of the same insults that my people have heard so often that they have lost their meanings.
I kept a running list of all of the snotty headlines I saw from the “balanced” mainstream media sites on Wednesday, to help explain to my future children why Trump supporters did not CARE what mainstream says. (Kudos to the WSJ bucking the trend: “‘Deplorables’ Rise Up to Reshape America.”) Try to read the following headlines from the perspective of a child who is 15 years removed from this week’s kerfuffle:
“Obama has handed a surveillance state and war machine to a maniac”
Grief. Fear. Disturbing. Broken. Maniac. Disaster. Can you take a step back from nodding at those headlines to see their negative bias? If you can’t, here is a list of article topics I would have liked to see more of the day after the election, things I wish I could expect from responsible, fair-minded journalists:
Kellyanne Conway is the First Woman to Run a Victorious Presidential Campaign! Who is she? What else has she done?
Who was the previous immigrant First Lady?
Likely Donald Trump cabinet picks?
Likely Donald Trump Supreme Court picks?
Lame Duck Obama: What’s on the agenda?
The ultimate form of tolerance is hearing people say negative things about you and ignoring it. The ultimate form of confidence is hearing every celebrity and mainstream media outlet in the nation insult your values and still create enough cognitive dissonance to like them and buy their products. These are the two great virtues of the average Trump voter.
Disagree with Lindsey’s assessment here? Drop us a note and we’ll keep the debate going. Update from reader Bridgit:
While there are plenty of reasons to critique the media after this election, and I believe considered skepticism is an admirable quality, Lindsey’s commentary illustrates two problems facing this country. First, it is unfortunate that a college educated person cannot differentiate between opinion and news pieces. Of the eight headlines Lindsey supplies, only two are actual news, and the rest are commentary pieces.
Secondly, there is a complete lack of balance to her sources-the “mainstream” (read: “liberal”) media is far from the only guilty party here. There are plenty of excited, opinionated, uncritical headlines praising Trump from the “alternative” (read: “conservative”) media websites. I am hopeful Lindsey saved some Fox News headlines from Obama’s 2008 campaign and election to show her children? I clearly remember the cable network calling a fist bump between the Obamas a “terrorist fist jab.”
That’s nothing compared to the perpetual propaganda campaign by Sean Hannity on behalf of Trump this election cycle (even to the point where Fox News had to tell Hannity to stop appearing in more campaign ads for Trump). One estimate—all the way back in August—put the dollar amount of free airtime for Trump on behalf of Hannity at $31 million. (All of the donations to the Clinton campaign by journalists combineddidn’t even reach $400,000.) Here’s just one of Hannity’s propagandist efforts, from a “town hall” with Trump in Wisconsin—a traditionally solid blue state he ended up winning in the general election:
After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won’t report on Trump’s campaign as part of The Huffington Post’s political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.
By monkeying around with the numbers like this, Silver is making a mockery of the very forecasting industry that he popularized. [...] I get why Silver wants to hedge. It’s not easy to sit here and tell you that Clinton has a 98 percent chance of winning. Everything inside us screams out that life is too full of uncertainty, that being so sure is just a fantasy. But that’s what the numbers say. What is the point of all the data entry, all the math, all the modeling, if when the moment of truth comes we throw our hands up and say, hey, anything can happen. If that’s how we feel, let’s scrap the entire political forecasting industry.
Here’s Robert, a reader in Seattle, with another critique of the media, this time from the perspective of a Sanders supporter (“In both foresight and hindsight, Sanders would have been the candidate the country actually wanted most”—defeating Trump). Robert continues with the kind of impassioned and deft criticism of elites that demonstrates how much of a crossover election this really was:
The “liberal” media, as usual, being corporate-owned, is focusing on the trashy side of Trump support rather than take on the corporatist control of our government (and media) which both informed progressives and a large portion of Trump voters see as an existential threat.
Why is the analysis seeming to be summed up as, “Gee, there sure are a lot of racists in here”? Racism is a real and significant problem, but it is not THE fundamental problem. Clinton lost because she epitomizes corrupt corporatist control of government. While the elite control the parties and the government, they will use racism, sexism, homophobia, issues of religion and any and everything else available to divide the public.
We are reacting in an oppositional way because we are allowing the corporate media to focus our attention away from the problem. We should be reaching out to our conservatively oriented brothers and sisters who also understand that the working class should be ascendant and not in decline. Who understand that our democracy should represent the people and not the elite.
That is absolutely critical moving ahead. When people (read: angry, white, socially conservative, working-class people) are secure in their jobs and health and future, the negative ’isms tend to fall by the wayside. Those people want stronger Social Security, just like progressives. But their establishment Republican Party has always pushed strongly against that. These people are tired of the establishment. The GOP establishment will probably retain the upper hand and control the agenda in Congress. That will end up alienating the white working-class Trump voters yet again.
It is critical that people of good will set the agenda in the Democratic Party—or another one if control of the Democratic Party is irredeemably corporatist—to accommodate and empower the overwhelming anti-corporatist sentiment of the vast majority of the people. To put it succinctly, the Democratic Party has to eject corporatists, Blue Dogs, and third-way neocons and genuinely reflect working-class people’s (low and middle income) interests as the number-one priority, or they will continue to be humiliated, as they have been by losses to W and now even more pathetically to Trump.
Progressives need to wake up and clearly understand that a Trump victory is a huge opportunity. It means that there is awareness among conservative working-class whites that elite control is against their interests, same as informed progressives are aware. Those are our friends in finally throwing off the yoke of corporate rule. Let’s make our movement the rational and coherent and focused and aggressive one against corporate hegemony and for democracy, that they will see as a superior alternative to Trumpism, in spite of their misgivings about the liberal social stuff. Let’s frame the issue so it’s not about “big” government but “corrupt” government.
This is a huge opportunity, despite the pain and destruction we will have to endure under Republican rule. In four years we could see real solid progressives representing the vast working middle and poor class. Get to work.
Update from Lindsey:
Thanks for the edits and the publication, Chris. Your reader Bridgit raised a few good points in her critique of my letter, and I would like to rebut them:
Bridgit, I actually agree with you. Fox News delves into short-sighted, resentful opinion pieces about Obama too often and for that reason, I refuse to watch it ... just like I refuse to watch, say, The Rachel Maddow Show.
The title of this series is, “Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?,” and I hope you can look at the five story suggestions that I, as a conservative, would have liked to have read on Wednesday, November 9th and see not Fox News-level histrionics, but neutral-to-positive coverage that simply colored in some finer details of what may happen as we transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump administration. This, to me, is what balanced journalism looks like, but I find we are far from it, even among the finest papers in the country.
I selected mostly opinion pieces because those are what newspapers' Facebook sites pushed to my feed the day after the election. [CB: Here’s just one piece of many about the awfulness of Facebook.] In my lone anecdotal observation, the ratio of negatively to positively (or neutrally) tinged headlines from the mainstream media was around 7:1 that day. I believe I have the right to expect a more balanced selection of opinions and stories about a President-elect from renowned national journalism sources, even if solely out of respect for the office of the President itself and for the peaceful transition of power we in this country are blessed to experience every four years.
Now, I prefer the smart journalism of The Washington Post, The Atlantic, the Times, the WSJ, etc. for my news, but many of my conservative compatriots, however, are not as patient as I am. Unfortunately, seeing so much negativity does not teach them a lesson; it simply encourages them to look elsewhere for their information. I will continue to use my “clicks as cash” and reward only the journalism that I perceive gives me the fullest coverage of any given issue and allows me to draw my own political conclusions. I hope you will, too.
I read the Southern reader’s note with great curiosity and found his sentiments very familiar and heartening—until I realized that I still couldn’t comprehend where a vote for Trump, or a wrecking ball, or a middle finger, fit in. I reread it and had the same reaction. Towards the end, where he references “crazy is,” I was unable to follow him to Trump versus Clinton—it just didn’t jive with their policies. So, I am left wondering what his vision of the future is and how Trump fits that. It sounds like he leads a pretty decent life in a pretty decent place. Room for improvement, sure, but a wrecking ball? I still don’t get it.
This next reader is more forceful in his criticism of the Southern Trump voter:
Ok, this has been an interesting reader series, but time to push back. I don’t think all Trump voters, or even most Trump voters, are “racist” in some white supremacist sense. But I do think they are missing a pretty fundamental point. Southern Guy’s description of life paints a picture of a pretty nice world in which people of all colors and creeds have opportunities. I agree. I am a Clinton voter. I stand for the pledge, I decorate the graves of my veteran grandfathers on Memorial Day, and I fly the flag on the Fourth of July. We have a great country that has problems to fix (many of which are really hard issues arising from globalization), but it has also made enormous progress.
So then the question is, why take the “wrecking ball” to it? If these folks could look at their own positions from another perspective, they might realize why people suspect that racism motivated their decisions in whole or in part. It is because the results of wrecking things are a lot worse for nonwhites, women, and LGBT folks than they are straight white guys like Southern Guy and me.
I work with a Muslim guy with whom I travel out of the U.S. regularly. He’s an American citizen. The president-elect’s website said—in a press release (not a random question) which was not changed even when it was called out—that he would ban my colleague’s re-entry into the U.S. [CB: Though this morning, Trump surrogate Giuliani backed away from the Muslim ban, telling CNN it’s no longer operative.] If you don’t think that would be possible or legal, read Korematsu [the Supreme Court decision allowing for Japanese-American internment camps during WWII].
Did Trump mean all that? I don’t know. Would he get away with it? Probably not. But guess what? I don’t really have to worry about it; I get to come home either way. My Muslim colleague does have to worry. That is my privilege.
Another reader, Alex, expands on that idea of privilege—but not in the clichéd way that is bandied about too often, to diminish one’s accomplishments or end a discussion:
I am a Clinton voter. I imagine that your Trump voter and I have many different viewpoints, beliefs, and life experiences, but I also believe we would find many areas of agreement. I appreciate and do very much relate with his fairly nuanced views.
When faced with the choice of bigotry and authoritarianism, a major factor in making that decision is privilege. (Let’s remember that a large portion of Trump voters are actually college educated with higher incomes, not just poor rural whites who were left behind. [According to exit polling, 49 percent of college grads voted for Clinton, 45 percent for Trump—and he won the white college-educated vote, 49 percent to Clinton’s 45 percent.) Based on your reader’s note, he seems to be aware of these advantages and does touch on them—but then moves on.
And I don’t just mean the typical liberal attack of “white privilege.” Your reader is correct that it is used too freely and is not always a fair critique. I am speaking of generic privilege. He is a well-educated, middle-class white male. Part of the majority. Raised by two good parents. He is privileged. I do not say this in a derogatory sense. I myself am privileged in much the same way (educated Cuban male in a Hispanic-majority city, born and raised in Miami).
Being privileged, we both have the luxury of making a protest vote with limited consequences—in all honesty, a protest vote I might have entertained with different candidates on the ballot. But not everyone has that luxury. They are rightly worried of increased discrimination, hate, and distrust directed towards them by their fellow citizens and their government.
This next reader, Lauren, describes some of the people who are worried about increased hatred and discrimination in the wake of Trump’s election. She addresses the Southern Guy directly:
Thanks for flipping me the bird. Because while you may have thought you were flipping off some corrupt politicians, what you were really doing is flipping off people like me who were voting for the progress you deemed unworthy.
I’m not going to call you a racist, bigot, hate-filled misogynistic, or an uneducated redneck. There’s nothing in your piece that indicates you appear to be any of those things. But did you consider why those who hold those views have been emboldened by and found comfort with your candidate? Did it give you pause that Trump’s campaign chair was the CEO of Breitbart, a home to the Alt-Right, that often stokes the same gender and racial anxieties that are the lifeblood of white nationalists? Did it give you pause when Trump praised Alex Jones, a man that has denied Sandy Hook even happened causing incalculable pain to the parents that lost children that some now want to deny ever existed?
Before you set that wrecking ball in motion, did you consider that many might feel the consequences far more deeply and significantly than you will when the house comes crashing down?
You’re not the girls and women who woke up in the morning to realize 100 years after a hard fought right to vote was finally achieved, a woman will still not lead the country we love despite being eminently qualified and securing a majority of the votes—losing to a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. [See the new piece from my colleague Uri, “Why It’s So Hard for a Woman to Become President of the United States.”] In 2016, we still only have less than 20 percent representation in Congress, only 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and we still make [$0.79 to $0.95] on the dollar.
It’s nice that you appreciate that abortion isn’t going away just because we elected a Republican, but a woman’s legal right to a safe and legal abortion may. This may be something you can intellectually appreciate, but it won’t be you seeking an unsafe procedure or experience the fear of consequences of breaking the law. You will not be the woman who desperately wants a child only to be told that child has genetic abnormalities, and that instead of having a safe and legal medical procedure, you will be forced to maintain the pregnancy until you miscarry, deliver a stillborn or deliver a baby only to see that child die in hours, days or weeks. You won’t be the woman who has to wonder if her medical choice for contraception is going to be overridden by her employer’s religious beliefs.
You’re not the Dreamer who was brought here as a child who now fears deportation to a country you’ve never known. Crazy is thinking that those who live in the country undocumented are not already experiencing consequences. Crazy is refusing to recognize that they are continuously paying restitution either by not being protected by labor laws or paying into a Social Security scheme they will never benefit from. Crazy is thinking a wall on our Southern border is going to fix the problem of illegal immigration or terrorism—or that anyone is arguing for open borders in the first place.
You’re not the disabled child who woke up to realize that sometimes bullies win.
Another reader, Fleur, looks to the environment:
I am an independent and always listen to both sides. I agree with almost everything this man is saying and I appreciate the time it took him to say it so well. But it is not true “that coal still makes sense.” It does not make sense. I don’t know how scientists have failed to convince the American citizenry of the extraordinary danger we are in … but we have failed. I know about Big Oil etc, but too much of our citizenry does not see the danger and it is getting more horrific by the day. And as always, it is going to hurt the little guys worst of all.
Barry worries about the economy:
Obama was disappointing on many fronts, but largely the disappointing effects facing wrecking ball man were the product of Republican obstructionism and the Fox News Pravda, Tea Party News Network, whiners such as Wrecking Ball man, who expected the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, the result of the exact economic politics we have just reelected into power, to magically resolve itself back to 1955—all while half the nation was already jamming up the works with the same outlandishly hypocritical “I am not a racist” nonsense applauding inaction. I would believe characters like your reader had they likewise tossed out the Republican-led Congress and Senate on its ear … but no, not so.
Jonathan takes a conservative approach to the kind of radical change that a Trump wrecking ball could bring to institutions and the status quo:
First off, I wanted to applaud you on sanctioning and hosting the sorely needed discussion to find common ground between the Clinton and Trump, left and right camps. To my white, male, Christian friend with the wrecking ball, I want to first express what a shame it is that he feels he has to preface his perspective with a repeated insistence that he is not prejudiced, and that he actively eschews discrimination. In a pluralistic society such as ours, we owe one another the presumption that we are open-minded and tolerant until it is demonstrated otherwise, not the reverse.
I would agree with him that our political system and its attendant institutions have grown extraordinarily perverse, and that swift and decisive intervention is necessary. The trouble with adjusting, let alone overhauling, such a monolithic structure is that any such societal paradigm perpetuates itself by convincing its constituent members that there is no viable alternative. Failing that, it menaces extremely adverse consequences to anyone who tries to replace it, and does its utmost to ensure this is the case. We have every reason to believe that our system will make good on its threat to take us all with it.
To be sure, that unsettling possibility alone is not reason enough to shrink from confronting a social system, but my question to the Southern reader is what gives you or anyone else the right to indulge your desire to tear the system down at the expense of all those who will suffer immensely in its wake? I don’t mean that to rhetorically imply the absence of a rationale for this, but I ask this sincerely.
I’ll update with a response from the Southern reader if he’s game. Beverly anticipates his response:
Yes, I know that this is what you shudder to hear: the cry of guilty white liberals who must apologize for their own good fortune. However, a person who has the privilege of turning down Yale also has more responsibility than others for not only knowing, but also facing and interpreting, the history of the country in which he lives.
He must know, and admit, that people came from across the sea, and, by virtue of their imagined authority of nation, sovereign, and flag, had the privilege—yes, privilege, for it was not their right—of appropriating another people’s land for their own. The past is prologue. He must know, and admit, that fortunes which have been preserved to this very day, were acquired from the forced labors of enslaved people. The past is prologue. He must know the history of de-facto and de jure policies which artificially limit, and continue to limit, the lived spaces, employment, and educational prospects of so many Americans. After all, he admits to “reading a few history books.” I don’t know what he’s read, but perhaps he’d like for me to recommend a few more.
Here’s one more response from the wave of email that’s come into hello@, from Amanda:
I respect people’s reasons for voting Trump. I empathize with the concerns of many of them, and I thought the “Wrecking Ball” reader’s essay provided another view into people who made this decision. Then I got to these lines and had to respond:
Here’s the recipe for success and comfort in modern America: Stay in school, do your best, stay away from drugs, don’t have kids until you are no longer a kid, don’t break the law.
That's not the recipe for success at all. Talk to people in my generation. I’m 32, at the older age of the millennials. I went to a great, nationally ranked liberal arts college. My friends and I, we followed all your rules, and we do not have comfort and success in modern America.
My friends from school don’t own houses, most of us don’t have children, and we’re all struggling to manage paycheck to paycheck. We have master’s degrees, because employers didn’t think our bachelor’s were enough. We stayed in school and then some. I have a J.D. from an Ivy League law school. I make my public sector salary work—and let’s note that I work in the public sector because it provides me with reasonable hours. My chronic illnesses prevent me being able to work those high-paying law jobs everyone always talks about.
We stayed in school. We did our best. We have to put medical expenses on credit cards. I just had to have a tooth pulled because I could not afford the $1300 crown and root canal. I have a hole in my mouth.
We didn’t exactly stay away from drugs, but, well, we weren’t addicted to them either. We were lucky, in retrospect. We were privileged here. As for the law, I think the extent of our law-breaking is related to the casual drug use, but I haven’t surveyed everyone on this part.
You don’t have to worry about the kids part; we can’t afford them, and we’re doing everything we can to keep from having them. Your opposition to abortion presumes that the only people who need abortions are careless, are doing something wrong somehow.
I respect your views, but I want to point out that, with that line, you evidenced how you don’t understand what is happening in our economy and country. It is not just people mooching off of welfare, downtrodden coal miners, and people like you—who aren’t rich! But are incredibly privileged. People with this privilege often don’t recognize it and don’t want to recognize it. Your letter indicates your parents probably did well for themselves, enough for them to be comfortable and help you out to.
As Americans, we need to be frank and admit that working hard and doing your best are not enough in most cases if you do not come from a middle-class or better background. It’s not just blue-collar folks who are getting set back months, or years, by a broken-down car or a medical expense. We did everything (almost) to the letter. So why aren’t we seeing the results?
My parents could never afford to help me. I took out loans, I got scholarships, I did what I was “supposed” to do to get ahead. I am drowning in medical debt because of the health insurance situation in this country. I am doing the very best I can and it is not enough.
And I know that Donald Trump does not give a shit about any of this and doesn’t want to help people like me. After all, it must be that we didn’t work hard enough! If only I’d worked as hard as Trump and his kids.
That’s how reader Ray describes himself in the subject line of the note he sent to hello@. The question Ray closes with is the most compelling: Should you take a gamble with a volatile candidate or one who’s predictably corrupt?
I grew up on the West Coast, raised by Indian immigrants, went to a liberal university, and voted liberally on most stances until this election. I am currently working on a post-baccalaureate professional degree, so I am not uneducated. My vote for Trump is a protest vote—a protest that Sanders couldn’t provide.
I’m tired of our country being whored out to the highest bidder. I’m tired of people coming into this country illegally, taking away the justice due to those who have waited in line for years to get into this great country. I’m tired of politics as usual. I’m tired of micro-aggressions, safe spaces, and the general retreat on being confronted with opposing views. I’m tired of the sense of entitlement present in many of my peers. I’m tired of pretending that the U.S. is hunky-dory while seeing my friends sipping their mochas in LA, SF, and NYC, ignoring the plight of the “flyover” states. I’m tired of accepting that U.S. politics is an inevitable palace of corruption, with trim made of corporate donations, a carpet of immunity, and a chandelier of complacency. I’m tired of accepting politics as the broken system we see today.
As of very recently, I’m tired of liberal-minded individuals grouping Trump supporters as ignorant, racist, and/or sexist. I was one of those people casting the judgement before the campaigns began. However, after having changed my opinion—contrary to late night shows and other self-congratulatory political comedy—now I’m just uninformed and racist. When I was trying to spread the Wikileaks revelations about the corruption of Clinton, I was wearing a tinfoil hat and was “unrealistic” about the nature of politics. The cognitive dissonance of former Sanders supporters was so strong it just about knocked me off my chair.
The media response to Trump firmly solidified my position with Trump. The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post—all my beloved bastions of journalism—began a coordinated effort to turn their outlets into the the daily Trump takedown. They firmly stepped into the bubble of self-reassurance: It is not possible for contradictory views of the 2016 election to exist without being racist or ignorant. Instead, they continued to perpetuate identity politics and wedge issues.
Trump supporters couldn’t have legitimate views worthy of discussion, right? They obviously had to be bigots.
If you feel that 50 million of your countrymen are racists and ignorant voters, I feel sorry for you. I implore those people to come on down from their towering high horse and talk to the simpletons, racists, and bigots outside of their society. Maybe when they’re trying to tell those simpletons how misguided they are, about how Kansas isn’t acting in its own best interest, the high-horse society can take a moment to fairly consider the simpleton’s argument for but just a moment. That is, before they retreat to a place of intellectual and moral superiority—again, telling Kansas what’s the matter with it.
A political cartoon I saw last week captured my sentiment about the two major candidates in 2016. I view Clinton and Trump as a game of Russian roulette, with each candidate being a different revolver. Clinton’s is fully loaded with corruption, propaganda, and bad decisions as a leader. Trump’s is only half loaded. Which one should Lady Liberty spin and point at her head?
This next reader, Nana, also had major qualms with both candidates but comes down on Trump the hardest:
I am a cross between your reader Marco [“The Smell of Corruption Emanating From the Clinton Machine”] and your Southern reader [“I Voted for the Middle Finger, the Wrecking Ball”] and, except for a few differences here and there, I could have written the latter’s piece. I am an immigrant from Africa with a PhD in engineering. I have lived in Texas, the Midwest, and now live in a red state in the Southwest. I love this country and, no matter how one voted, I think it is important that we all accept Trump as our president-elect and pray for his success.
But I don’t think the primary issue that concerns people who did not vote for Trump is the usual divide between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, Red and Blue that often shape our political discourse, although that is what this discussion seems to be devolving into.
Like Marco, I abhor the corruption of our politicians and feel a bit queasy about dynastic politics, but I also recognize that dynastic successions are not that uncommon in other areas such sports, media, business, and religious institutions—and they need not be corrupting. I could quibble with Marco on the extent to which “the smell of” Clinton’s political corruption is somehow worse than Trump’s well-documented corruption in his business life. But I wouldn’t have a problem with Marco deciding to vote for Trump on the basis of those two issues, if those were all we have to consider in selecting a President.
Similarly, I share your Southern reader’s frustrations about our inability to secure our borders, or have sensible immigration or health care policies. I understand his desire to vote for “the wrecking ball” to give us a kick. By most accounts, Trump’s victory is largely due to Americans with similar frustrations voting for him.
I suspect Romney, John Kasich, the Bushes, and the Republicans that came out forcefully against Trump share much of the concerns of Marco, your Southern reader, and most Americans. Our elections are mostly about our preferences for addressing such concerns.
The constant refrain from these Trump voters here is that people are judging them as uneducated, bigoted, xenophobes, or misogynists just because they voted for Trump. If this is happening, it is clearly wrong and we should all push back forcefully against that narrative. But I don’t think that is the issue here. The shock of those who did not vote for Trump, including Romney, Kasich and several Republicans, is about something entirely different, I suspect.
People waste no time pointing to Obama’s single comment about some “bitterly clinging to their guns and religion” as ample evidence of his identity politicking or bigotry. Many were aghast at Clinton’s truly deplorable comment describing some of Trump supporters as irredeemable “deplorables.” And who can forget Romney’s “47 percent” comment that likely contributed to his loss in 2012. Each comment, while deplorable, was made by a politician in an unguarded moment. That doesn’t excuse it. But you know what? Each of them apologized profusely and paid a price. More importantly, not one of them repeated or stood by those comments for the rest of their campaigns. If Trump had made a couple of such unfortunate comments, apologized, and moved on, I would hope we would too.
But in Trump’s case something quite different happened. Right from day one, he seemed to have chosen purposefully to use xenophobia and bigotry as tools to sow division. Not only did he repeatedly do this, but based on the evidence we have all seen and heard, I feel comfortable describing Trump as a xenophobe, bigot, and misogynist. Unfathomably, Trump’s campaign seemed to condone support from anti-Semites even though he has Jewish family members. If he is none of these things as some say, but chose to play a part to win this election, that is even more despicable.
Again, it is preposterous to suggest that all Trump voters share these characteristics. However, a not insignificant segment of Trump supporters, by their words, deeds, clothing at campaign rallies, and associations with hate groups, do seem to share some of these characteristics with Trump.
It is one thing to vote for a populist or even volatile candidate who rails at the usual suspects of corrupt politicians, out of touch elites, the media, big business, unions, opposing parties and the typical broad groups both sides attack in elections. What is different here is that clearly non-bigoted and decent voters, some of whom voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for a candidate that explicitly used bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny as campaign tools to sow division.
Even if you want to blow up the system, you don’t throw your fellow Americans under the bus. That is what is disturbing.
Update from Nana:
I don’t know if it matters at this point, but here is a point of clarification. Reading my email, I can see how you might think this, but I really do not have any major qualms with Clinton. Moreover, the issues I think need addressing—border security, immigration, health care—are universal. Clinton voters also want to see those issues addressed but in a different way. My point to all of us—and to push back a little at both Lindsey and Robert today—who from either side seem to be resorting back to the usual “let’s blame the ‘media,’” this election was really about us and our values, regardless of what the “media” did or did not do.
There is a larger point to be made to these Trump voters who bristle at being tagged with Trump’s sins of bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny, and I agree they really shouldn’t be tagged with them. But, if you will notice, none ever say Trump himself is not guilty of those sins. Minus Trump’s bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia and the willingness to use them in the election, I wouldn’t begrudge any voter for picking him, although I personally wouldn’t for a variety of other reasons. But the choices would not have been that different from your usual suspects.
What I think is staring us right in the face but we seem unwilling to confront is the following: Now that he is president, we must move forward and determine how best to live with our collective decision. But picking the Trump we know with his bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia, smacks of those voters saying, “I don’t commit those sins myself and abhor them, but I will condone them from Trump, wielded in my name against a large segment of my fellow citizens, because I like the benefits we saw from his campaign (e.g., Lindsey) and believe he can solve America’s problems for all our benefits (e.g., Marco and your Southern reader).”
Maybe it’s because of my immigrant perspective, but who wants benefits acquired by those means? What sins in our name will we be willing to accept next month, next year, or during the next election?
So far we’ve heard from two Trump voters in great detail: Alan, who’s most animated by identity politics, and our Southern reader who wants to take a “wrecking ball” to Washington. But both readers also had major qualms with the Trump candidacy. Another reluctant Trump voter, Marco, describes his deep aversion to establishmentarianism and dynastic politics—and he doesn’t spare the Republicans one bit:
We shouldn’t be asking what happened with Trump. What happened to The Atlantic? I’ve been a reader for years, after abandoning Time and Newsweek because of their People-like superficiality. The appearance of considered thoughts at The Atlantic is what kept me there. But since you decided to take sides in the presidential election, strident hysterical writing is all I find, especially on November 9.
That’s perhaps understandable The Day After, but, folks, the sky won’t fall. It won’t fall because the U.S. government’s institutions are designed to prevent irrational outcomes to a good degree. Trust the system a little, if you learned anything from history.
I probably do not feel the pain to the same degree as you do, though I am concerned, and on pins and needles. I admit it: I voted for Trump—at the limit of my tolerance for bad taste and unhinged statements. But I did so not because I am an undereducated, violent, intolerant, gun-waving xenophobe—as the press has made habit of defining Trump supporters. I have an MBA. I refuse violence and support gun control. And I’m an immigrant, now a citizen after obtaining green cards twice, all by the legal process.
I voted for Trump only because of the smell of corruption emanating from the Clinton Machine. That smell is well documented by Wikileaks and Podesta’s emails depicting the Clinton Foundation / State Department connections. To that you can add the past four decades of continuous scandals—why only them with so many? You get my picture.
But there is one more reason to fear their corruption: the history of ALL countries around the world, since WWII, where an immediate relative followed a president or PM (see my list below). In all cases, either the “succession” was made possible by endemic corruption, or advanced it as a result, or both. This is to be expected when the vested interests supporting one person get to take advantage of continued control of the government from behind the scenes by electing the relative.
By the way, the Bushes fit that pattern too. I objected to Jeb Bush on those grounds. Democratic institutions can control visible political activity (and will control Trump’s extremes), but they cannot control the invisible quid pro quo that corruption brings. Trump’s lack of institutional backers is the attractive part. If he can just push and deliver term limits and limits on lobbying, as he promised, he will have drained enough of the swamp. Beyond that the Congress can handcuff him as necessary.
So, perhaps the sky is not falling and a more reasoned discussion could help your readers, and recover the high editorial standards of The Atlantic. More importantly, you could help voters understand that women can and do make great leaders (Thatcher, Meir, Merkel), but we have to pick those that built their own career on their own ability, not those pushed along by private interests. Let’s hope for a better choice next time.
Here’s the list of dynastic world leaders that Marco compiled (I added #5-7):
Juan and Isabel Peron in Argentina in the ’70s (husband and wife)
Kirchners in Argentina in ’00s (husband and wife)
The Aquinos in the Philippines (husband would’ve been president if not assassinated; Corazon, the wife, became president, as did her son.)
Nehru and Gandhi in India (Indira Gandhi followed her father (Nehru), and her son Sanjay virtually ran the country under her administration)
Pierre Trudeau and Justin Trudeau in Canada (father and son both prime ministers, the son currently)
Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore (father and son both prime ministers, the son currently)
Uhuru Kenyatta and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya (father and son both prime ministers, the son currently)
Mandelas in South Africa (husband and wife controlled the ANC government). They raised corruption to a science.
Imelda Marcos (provincial governor while husband Ferdinand was president)
GHW Bush and GW Bush in the U.S. (father and son). The father’s Neocons gave us Iraq.
In 2016, the ultimate, Nicaragua’s Ortega is running for a third term with his wife on the ticket.
In recent weeks, corrupt practices by South Korea’s president Park Geu-hye were reported and admitted. She is daughter of the former president.
Did the Democratic Party make a mistake backing another Clinton? Can you relate to reader Marco’s sentiments? If so, does it matter when it comes to backing Trump? Drop us a note if you’d like to respond to Marco. Update from another reader, Rick: “This is the first pro-Trump argument that doesn’t scare me to death.” Then let reader Mark try:
I would like to point out the obvious: The Clinton dynasty is likely over whenever Hillary is done. The Bush dynasty still has some legs. But the Trump dynasty is just beginning. He gave his children large roles in his campaign and will either give them roles in his administration or will have them overseeing his business. To put it ungenerously, we now have our own Uday and Qusay.
But don’t discount the Clinton dynasty yet; there is widespread speculation that Chelsea is being groomed for a congressional run. Reader David, on the other hand, doesn’t see dynastic politics as necessarily a bad thing: “Well, I think we got pretty good stuff from the Roosevelt ‘dynasty’—Teddy and FDR!”
Circling back to Marco, here’s a reader rebuttal from Emily:
Thanks for your honesty, Marco. But are you having misgivings about President-elect Trump’s hiring of his three children for his transition team at the same time that they are in charge of a blind trust that will manage his businesses? Are you concerned that this doesn’t meet the legal standard for blind trusts, and that Trump’s banks of record and businesses will undoubtedly be affected by his relationships with other foreign leaders? He acknowledged throughout the campaign that his children would run this “trust”; it’s not a surprise. To me, this arrangement makes the issues around the Clinton Foundation look like running a lemonade stand.
Here’s reader Martha with a longer rebuttal:
I truly appreciate Marco’s thoughtfulness, but I can’t agree with his conclusions. I applaud his well-stated arguments for Mr. Trump and appreciate his observations about the Clintons. I thought both of our choices this election were awful.
Yet, a vote for Mr. Trump was a step too far.
First, to respond to the observations about the Clintons: I agree there is a whiff of something unpleasant about them and I believe they have a history of walking up to the line—and perhaps crossing it. However, I have to temper this observation with the years of their being pursued by a political paparazzi that, especially in the Internet age, states the most awful things about them as truth (murder anyone?).
A recent example is the furor over access of donors to the Clinton Foundation to the secretary of state, portrayed by certain Republicans and Clinton haters as pay-to-play. There may be something there, but if so, I haven’t seen it yet. As someone who spent more than 30 years in a large federal department, I know that top-level officials DO meet with individuals they know and do sometimes meet with people who may, or whose families may, have contributed to a campaign or cause dear to the official’s heart. This does not mean that such contacts are pay-to-play or inappropriate. I have not seen “results” stated that would demonstrate Secretary Clinton made inappropriate decisions based on these contacts.
I feel much of what has been written about the Clintons is not corruption. I do agree that some of it gives the “appearance” of questionable behavior. And I have been disturbed that the Clintons seem to demonstrate questionable lapses time and again. They don’t seem to learn. But I have not seen proof of criminality or intent to harm or corrupt.
Now, on to Mr. Trump: If I can see where Marco is coming from regarding the Clintons (though I don’t draw conclusions as harsh as his), then I ask he re-examine Mr. Trump and his potential corruption. Like the Clintons, there is no direct proof, but his business dealings raise questions about his ethics. Did he really let his investors take the hits during his bankruptcies through some fancy legal and tax footwork? Has he really borrowed from Russian banks and had contact with Russian officials during the campaign? Does he really stiff contractors, architects, purveyors, etc.? The list goes on.
So, I think neither candidate is free of questions concerning corruption, but they were the choices we had. Based on that, I selected Secretary Clinton for her foreign policy experience (even if too hawkish for my tastes), her support of climate change initiatives, her policy chops, her social agenda, her support of the environment, etc. And she conducts herself well. Mr. Trump’s language and behaviors are scary to me.
Here’s Dorothy with another strong rebuttal—directly addressing Marco here:
I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts about this since so many of us are trying to figure out why our fellow Americans think at Trump presidency could possibly be a good idea. And I really mean that; I’m not being snarky. Given some of the hateful things that have occurred since Election Night [my colleague Emma collected some in Philly], it gives me comfort to hear from good, reasonable people like yourself.
Nevertheless, I find some of what you have laid out puzzling, given how our system of government functions and the fact that one party is fully in charge of two of the three branches and in a position to shape the third for a generation. This statement, in particular, struck me:
Trump’s lack of institutional backers is the attractive part. If he can just push and deliver term limits and limits on lobbying, as he promised, he will have drained enough of the swamp. Beyond that the Congress can handcuff him as necessary.
I regret to inform you that he can do neither of those things without Congress, and a Congress finally out from under the yoke of a White House occupied by a different party is not going to take up either of those items. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already dismissed that out of hand this week, not wasting more than 30 seconds on it.
And what incentive does Congress have to handcuff him? Except for the two things you would most like to see happen, they largely agree with Trump on the things that will be most hurtful to most Americans: repealing the ACA; gutting the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts (perhaps abolishing the EPA altogether); deregulating the financial industry so that they can get back to the tricks that brought on the Great Recession, etc. And for at least two years there will be nobody or no mechanism of government (particularly after they pack the court with loonies) to put a check on a radical right-wing Republican agenda.
I can also say that I have A LOT of sympathy for your opinion of dynasties. One of the many reasons I was a devoted supporter of Barack Obama in 2008 was that if Hillary Clinton had won the nomination and gone on to win the general election that year, the sitting president would have had the surname Bush or Clinton for my entire voting life, and I was 41 years old at the time. But Donald Trump has appointed three of his children (and his son-in-law) to his transition team while these same three children are running his business interests. His business dealings and his public office are already completely commingled. You find his lack of “institutional backers” attractive, but he has one institutional backer with unfettered access to the White House: THE TRUMP CORPORATION.
I hope you’re right and that the sky doesn’t fall, because if it does the one thing that will unite those of us who did and didn’t vote for Trump is how screwed we will be.
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.
I love New York—Gotham, the capital of the world. I watch George Clooney movies and download Kanye—not because I care about their politics but because O Brother Where Art Thou is funny and “Gold Digger” is a good song. I love visiting Seattle and Chicago, Atlanta and Vegas.
I tip well. I am courteous to the airline attendant, the hotel concierge, the blackjack dealer, and the roofer fixing my leaky roof. I try to pay the bills, save a little for college, retirement, the emergency fund. I try to eat better, work out a little, read non-fiction, watch Frontline, listen to NPR, learn something new every day. I respect, appreciate, and marvel at the success of others of any and every race, religion, and gender. I check out Mother Jones, the Daily Kos, and the Drudge Report.
I know my brother in the U.S. Army will die tomorrow so a millionaire quarterback can kneel during the Anthem while my oldest brother, the police officer, will kick in the door of a trailer to get a white kid, an African American kid, an undocumented immigrant kid, out of harm’s way. This isn’t about hate; it just isn’t.
I know what the Fed is and who created it. I know the Treasury will be led by another JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs suit with an Ivy League degree and a painting hanging on the wall in the Hamptons worth more than I will ever see or know. I know lobbyists will still lobby, and tax money will still fund bridges to nowhere. I know people who know important people will be let in on deals and corruption on both sides isn’t going away any time soon.
I know the world isn’t perfect. I know American democracy is far from perfect. I also know it’s the best form of government on Earth—electoral college and all.
I know a bi-racial kid born in obscurity in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father can grow up to be president and I want to live here, where that can happen.
I know our representatives used to be the local banker, insurance agent, hardware store owner, and they used to serve at the expense of their business and then hand off the duty to the next citizen in line. I know we cannot go back to that way of life, that speed of life, that small of a world.
I am for progress, but what I deem the right kind of progress. That’s my right and I exercise it at the ballot box. I am against career politicians owning condos in the Dominican Republic. I am for clean air and water. I am against throwing jobs away in West Virginia when coal still makes sense.
I am for Muslims living openly and worshipping as they please. I do not care who you choose to marry or divorce or date or whatever. I will not apologize for the Christmas pageant at the public school or a Christian prayer before kickoff. I am for Israel existing; I am for Palestine existing. Peacefully.
I am for a safety net for people when they fall on hard times. I am not for government handouts as a way of life. I want everyone—of all kinds—pulling on the same side of the damn rope. Pitch in, make this a better place for everybody that obeys the law, pull yourself up by your bootstraps everyday and do some form of honest work. Come here legally, adopt our way of life, learn our language and preserve yours, respect our legal and social traditions and observe yours freely, engage in deliberative thought and debate without risk of being labelled a bigot or a hater because you disagree.
I am tired of the machine rolling over us—all of us. The Clinton machine, the Republican machine, the big media, investment banking, hedge fund carrying interest, corporatist, lobbying, influence peddling, getting elected and immediately begin fundraising for the next election machine—they can all kiss my ass.
Maybe Trump won’t do a thing to change or fix any of it. Hillary definitely would not have changed any of it. So I voted for the monkey wrench—the middle finger—the wrecking ball.
I do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to march through downtown and chant vulgarities or spray paint buildings or set cop cars on fire. So I protest—and use my voice—with a ballot.
Go ahead: Label me a racist, a bigot, a hate-filled misogynistic, an uneducated redneck. But I turned down Yale, motherfuckers; I ain’t who you think I am. And while I love grits and pulled pork barbecue and collard greens and cold beer in a bottle, I also love my neighbors of all colors, especially if they can cook. I want a synagogue, a church, and a mosque on Main St. all in a row, getting along and following the golden rule. And we mostly do.
But I have grown tired. I admit, I am tired of arguing with crazy.
Crazy is thinking we do not have to secure our borders when people want to kill us because we don’t stone homosexuals or because we let women drive.
Crazy is thinking you can live in this country below the radar, illegally, enjoy all we have inherited and worked to grow and preserve, and not make some form of restitution to others that follow the law.
Crazy is believing you can get health care for free, cell phones for free, have kids without consequences, drop out of school, join a gang, get a neck tattoo—and not face consequences.
Crazy is treating the same symptoms and never the disease.
Here’s the recipe for success and comfort in modern America: Stay in school, do your best, stay away from drugs, don’t have kids until you are no longer a kid, don’t break the law. You might be a pipe-fitter or a welder, a truck driver or a rapper. You might sell insurance, teach school, sell homes, or pave roads. You might become a chef or a mechanic, work with computers or take care of people in a nursing home. You will be able to afford Netflix, have food on the table, pay the rent or own a home, buy a car that runs, not get shot by the police, and probably find some happiness. Nobody will hate you because you’re a girl, or a person of color, or gay or straight, or speak with an accent. We just won’t.
We will invite you to the block party, watch our kids swim together at the neighborhood pool, go to work together, study at school together, pray together or not, cheer for the Raiders together, play golf together, argue about politics—together.
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.
My wife’s hometown of El Paso is a perfect example, with high unemployment [higher than Texas but lower than the U.S.] and low wages. I don’t think Obama cares; his aim is to change the electorate in a way that favors Democrats and the resulting inevitable ethnic tension plays right into his hands.
We like to believe the electorate chooses our leaders, but today our leaders are choosing the electorate. It’s anti-democratic, no matter the skin color of those involved.
Next, I have an advanced degree and own my own business. I have a very “live and let live” attitude about gay marriage and routinely prepare tax returns for gay couples. But I’m a Catholic and a Texan, so I’m accustomed to being disparaged on the news each night by commenters on the left referring to people like me, who they don’t even know, as hicks, yahoos, and haters (by Chris Matthews, Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman, Bill Maher, Joy Behar).
I deplore the thought that men should be allowed in women’s restrooms—not because I have any problem with those who are biologically male but identify as female (I suspect this relatively small group to be mostly comprised of gentle souls), but I have two young daughters, and I’m terrified of the much larger group of fully heterosexual, hormone-intoxicated young men (of whom I was a member, around the age of 14) that will be the first into the women’s restroom peeking through the doors on the stalls. But no one, and I mean no one, on the left will even brook a discussion on the topic [Notes discussion here]. How about an accommodation where more single-use restrooms are utilized? “No, this must be forced upon the haters no matter what.”
Finally, I’m convinced the social justice movement on campuses is the primary driver of the Trump victory. My college-age daughter constantly hears talk of white privilege and racial identity, of separate dorms for separate races (somewhere in heaven Martin Luther King Jr is hanging his head and crying). She also hears how it’s a microaggression to speak of the U.S. as a melting pot (as a multi-ethnic American, imagine how this makes her feel). I hate identity politics, and I fear for the future of my daughters as a result.
When everything is about identity politics, is the left really surprised that on Tuesday millions of white Americans, for the first time ever, voted as “white”? If you want identity politics, identity politics is what you will get.
I know many on the left will read this and ask how I could therefore possibly vote for Trump. The answer is that the right didn’t create it; the left did. It constitutes the entire word view of the left today. The right is reacting. Maybe now that you see what you have created, you will turn back to promoting a vision of the world where race, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity fade away and we all become individuals again. Or maybe I’m just so sick of being called a bigot that my anger at the authoritarian left has pushed me to support this seriously flawed man.
What do you think of Alan’s argument? Drop us a note and we’ll continue the debate. Update from Kevin, who thinks Alan “misses the forest for the trees”:
“Identity politics” (and so-called political correctness) makes an easy target for people who are either in, or sympathize with, a ruling majority. Fox News figured that out long ago, and they’ve made bank on it—War on Christmas, anyone?
Against Alan’s point, though, I would argue that identity politics is simply a newer name (and partial aspect) for what we used to call the class struggle: of those who have been historically disadvantaged against those who have unfairly benefitted. Perhaps even many of those who now organize primarily as women, African-Americans, or Latinos don’t fully realize that their efforts represent the only way the majority has allowed, even partially, a conversation about unfairness that should actually be subsumed under its largest category: the topic of reparations.
Here are some statistics from a Forbes (!) article on the gap between minority and majority wealth:
Even the New Deal and G.I. Bill programs, which led to the housing wealth that forms the majority of whites’ advantage in savings, deliberately and systematically excluded minorities, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has explained at length in The Atlantic. And of course, Native Americans were the original victims of majority expropriation, while women have been deprived by a parallel type of discrimination that expressed itself mainly through social norms about family structure.
Would Alan prefer an honest conversation about how genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, patriarchal family structures, and New Deal and G.I. Bill discrimination led to the incredible wealth gaps between whites and minorities and women that still persist through multiple generations? Followed by an honest conversation about how the majority can best repair the effects of the unfair advantage it was given—and still gets?
Those are the conversations that have a chance to get to the heart of the matter, and I would hope he would want to be part of them. If we make progress on such larger questions, I can promise him that the identity politics will subside to a matter of festive quasi-ethnic coloration, like today’s Polka Festivals and St. Patrick’s Day parades, within a just and multicultural society at peace with itself.
Update: Alan has a very thorough rebuttal, and I’ll keep my interjections (via brackets) to a bare minimum this time:
Soft Job Market
You picked a single monthly jobs report to contradict my point, & you failed to mention that it takes 145,000 jobs per month just to keep up with new workers entering the workforce. The unemployment rate is less important, in my view & the view of many others, than the workforce participation rate, which is way down since 2007. Half of this number is from baby boomers retiring, but half of it isn’t.
You alluded to unemployment in El Paso, which, as I stated, is not (in my view & the view of many others) the best measure. You ignored my comment about low wages in El Paso. The poverty rate there is 20.1%, compared to 17.5% in all of Texas and 14.5% nationally. It’s much the same along the entire Texas border.
Obama & Identity Politics
In my comments where you interjected your defense of Obama, I had said nothing about identity politics—that came later. I said he was manipulating border security to increase Democratic voters. Then he refers to those who disagree as bigots (ok, so it does have to do with identity politics).
It’s certainly true that Obama typically stays above the fray concerning identity politics, but he certainly doesn’t keep his surrogates from pursuing it. Remember the ridiculous War on Women? [Yep, and I lampooned that terminology at the time.]
But then at times, Obama participates himself. Remember his comments regarding poor whites “bitterly clinging to their guns & religion”? Remember his 2010 comments on Univision where he said: “If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We're gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us….”?
Remember how, after the floods in Louisiana, it took him a week to visit, pausing his golf vacation at Martha’s Vineyard just long enough to send an advisory to the state to not discriminate against minorities during the cleanup? The media ignored it, no help came, so the “Cajun Navy” took over: [CB: I really wish I could post the handful of photos that Alan attached, but we don’t have the copyright. The four moving photos show white folks helping black folks, and vice versa.]
I don’t disagree with any of the data Kevin presents, nor do I disagree with the existence of any of the government programs he mentions. I also absolutely agree that slavery, Jim Crow, etc. are the sole source of all the problems of the African-American community, & I would love to have a conversation about those issues with him.
It’s just that, other than his first paragraph, he doesn’t really address anything I said. He implies that I get all my news from Fox, but I don’t watch Fox at all (I despise Shawn Hannity & think Bill O’Reilly is a blustering fool), so he’s implies characteristics to me that are false.
Identity politics may or may not be an “easy target,” but what does that mean? My point is that, just as I’m sure he hates it when he’s the victim of a racial slur, so do I when I’m referred to as a bigot, when my whole life demonstrates the opposite. (In fact, over the course of my career, I’ve hired many African-Americans & fired two white managers & replaced them with African-American managers.)
All unsupported accusations of bigotry are counter-constructive, & they set us all back. As I said, I don’t think the culprits here are usually African-Americans (Charlie Rangel not withstanding). I think it’s a game of the white liberal left in an effort to gain political power. It’s very revealing that Trump, & Republicans generally, support school vouchers for low income minorities trapped in failing public schools, yet Democrats fight them with all their might. Why? Control.
Two Parent Privilege
I have no doubt you’d love for me to discuss this, so you can find more selective data to throw back at me. Why don’t you bring it up? You’re the reporter. But if you did, you’re job at The Atlantic would be so gone.
At the unlikely risk of that: The most prominent reference to “two-parent privilege” I could find is a National Review piece from Dennis Prager called “The Fallacy of ‘White Privilege.’” Money quote:
[T]here are a host of privileges that dwarf “white privilege.” A huge one is Two-Parent Privilege. If you are raised by a father and mother, you enter adulthood with more privileges than anyone else in American society, irrespective of race, ethnicity, or sex. That’s why the poverty rate among two-parent black families is only 7 percent. Compare that with a 22 percent poverty rate among whites in single-parent homes. Obviously the two-parent home is the decisive “privilege.”
Back to Alan:
So I’m through with “Trumpsplaining.” The events of the last few days, & the response of the media, have convinced me that the left has simply doubled-down. So be it. They’re building a path to Trump/Pence 2020.
But here’s an event that occurred locally in the last couple of days that I’d like you & Kevin to discuss:
Victoria Smith, the daughter of one of the Dallas police officers killed during the July 7 ambush was told she was no longer invited to hit an honorary serve at a volleyball game at Southern Methodist University. In a Facebook post where the e-mail from SMU is reproduced, the college says: "In light of recent events and diversity within the SMU community, the demonstration could be deemed insensitive”
… the recent events apparently being the election. SMU is now backpedaling as fast as it can since the news broke.
Update from Molly, who dissents:
You didn’t even allow a pro-Trumper to express himself without interjecting your [facts], and your comment about [seeing the latest jobs reports] indicates that you either don’t understand or are not willing to understand the decades of devastation resulting from structural unemployment. Did you read the jobs report, or stop after the first page? Check out the establishment data on page 5. Do note the winners and losers.
Since I’m already here on a high horse, I’d love to share my perspective. The best word to describe my feelings is ambivalent, torn between people I love who voted for Trump and people I love who voted for Clinton. Unfortunately, that ambivalence and self-inflicted need to play devil’s advocate have already made me feel unwelcome by both sides.
Currently, my glass case of emotions include:
Happiness for my family, who have been ignored by Clinton’s, Bush’s, and Obama’s policies and truly believe that Trump’s CEO style will lower their health insurance premiums and bring back manufacturing jobs
Sadness for my friends and colleagues, who are confused, scared, and rightfully disgusted by this election
Frustration with the RNC, DNC, and DC, which once again forced us to choose between economic and social issues
Anger that bigoted haters spreading vitriol are claiming that they speak on behalf of the right
Anger that protesters burning effigies of democratically elected presidents are claiming that they speak on behalf of the left
Annoyance that both sides of the media don’t seem to be owning their role in this divisiveness
And hope/fear, which are basically two sides of the same coin.
We got ourselves into this situation together. The only way we get ourselves out … is together.
If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a note (emailed and posted before the updates from Kevin, Alan, and Molly) from reader D.A. about the perilously close distance between white identity politics and white supremacy:
This question may become the biggest one in America politics, post-Trump:
Is it possible to have a “white identity” politics that is not inherently a politics of white supremacy?
The best hypothetical I can think of is this:
Suppose you are studying a proposed piece of legislation. First you ask yourself:
How will this impact people?
How will this impact white people?
Now reverse the order in which you ask the questions.
Now substitute any other political identity group for “white.”
Is there a difference between a white person asking:
“How will this impact people like me?”
“How will this impact white people?”
Can we find the line (if it even exists) between white identity politics and white supremacy somewhere in that hypothetical? I haven’t yet. So “white identity vs. white supremacy” will likely be the big American political question of the next decade (unless economic status becomes a more important marker of identity than race).
This next reader, Nav, accuses Trump voters of a big double standard:
Several readers and commentators appear to hold that the principal reason for Trump's victory is the rise of identity politics on the left. Personally, I think that the evidence is pretty weak. However, regardless of the truth of the theory, I have questions.
If the rise of identity politics is a problem, how likely is it that voting for the bigotry-adjacent candidate is going to reduce the role of identity in political discourse? To put it another way, if you believe that voting for Trump is a reasonable response to being perceived as bigoted, what is a reasonable response to the election of a candidate that has a very small, but very vocal, set of white supremacists filled with delight?
I doubt voting for the dog-whistle candidate is going achieve the goal of reducing identity politics, nor do I believe that deeper embrace of identity politics (even though I’m generally a fan of the ethical argument) will reduce bigotry. History is not exactly replete with examples where people change their minds only after the opposing view gets sufficiently extreme.
And finally, Eric offers a good-faith challenge to Trump voters:
I am willing to take many Trump supporters at their word that they do not personally harbor any animosity towards women or minorities. But the truth is that Donald Trump certainly does. It is clear that he believes that racist and sexist stereotypes accurately describe the world and he supports polices based on these stereotypes.
And though I can understand being upset or disturbed by the worst excesses of the political correctness movement, I cannot understand the worldview that believes these excesses are worse than a president who has openly advocated using the state to target minority groups [such as Muslims]. I can understand how someone could think that Twitter mobs are an inappropriate response to blackface Halloween costumes, even though I do think those costumes are racist. To react to to those Twitter mobs by making a cruel, arrogant, narcissistic, petty, ignorant, racist, sexist, pathological lier the most powerful man in the world seems mean and shortsighted.
I have heard from many Trump supporters that he does not really mean to do the things he says. I personally take him at face value, but I have a challenge to these supposedly non-bigoted Trump supporters: If and when Trump does the things he says he would—target Muslims for surveillance, create a deportation force to hunt down all illegal immigrants, create a national stop and frisk policy, target journalists for writing “nasty” articles about him, arrest and imprison political opponents—will they stand up to him?
Will they write their congressmen? Will they march in the street to protest the violation of their fellow citizen’s rights? Will they stand arm in arm with their neighbors to protect them? Will they quietly acquiesce? Or will they, as I personally suspect, actively support his actions?
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.
We might define privilege as “not having to face injustice because you are treated as an embodiment of your group rather than an individual” (an inelegant definition for what is perhaps an inelegant term). In these instances of public shaming, people whose behavior would previously have been ignored due to their social privilege are instead faced with an unjust reaction because they are treated as the embodiment of straight, white, or male oppression.
While these injustices are relatively few compared to the everyday injustices faced by marginalized groups—for every person who lost their job [because of real or perceived bigotry], how many were never given a chance to be hired?—they are legitimately unjust. And they must be addressed as a consequence of minority groups gaining social power and the erosion of majority privilege. We cannot fight systemic issues by punishing individuals. I believe we should publicize these cases as concrete examples of systemic problems, but hounding people out of their jobs is unjust and unproductive.
Still, this is an issue that can either be addressed with discussion and debate within our newly developing social dynamics, or the privileged can fight back against it by re-empowering white supremacy within our society. With the election of Trump, white America has chosen to do the latter because even this small taste of the injustice you might face when you lack privilege has proved far more important to them than equality, justice, and acceptance for their fellow citizens.
Or in other words, two wrongs don’t make a right, even if one of those wrongs—outright bigotry—is much worse than the other—an over-willingness to label someone a bigot. And the latter is counterproductive to fighting the former.
A pastor also responds to Ben’s note:
I’m a moderate-liberal Democrat who has been in ministry in deep red parts of Texas for 15 years. Each of the four churches I’ve served has been heavily conservative and heavily Republican.
Meanwhile, I have pretty much been in the closet with my political beliefs. There was the year that it was rather obvious, though: I was the only Democratic voter in a primary election. The Republican judges had to go to the back to get the Democratic judges so I could vote. And, my church was the precinct voting place, “Hey, George! Get up here! The pastor needs to vote!”
Ben makes an interesting observation, but a large part of the Trump vote simply is from Republicans who assign various reasons for their leanings against Democrats: arrogant, judgmental liberals; lying liberals; crooked Hillary; government “handouts” (except for the ones they receive, of course); baby killing; big spending; and others.
However, all of these are subsumed under the simple fact that a poor Republican candidate beat a weak Democratic candidate.
This next reader also has a simple reason for Trump’s success:
I was not a Trump supporter, but I voted for him on Tuesday. I’m a big city refugee—Manhattan, Chicago, and Houston—now happily living in the rolling hills of rural NE Oklahoma.
In trying to empathize with the rationale of Trump supporters, Ben has missed the simplest of all. Every voter wants an honest government, and a government for the people. We all want an end to politics-as-usual. Trump is the outsider, promising to be the outsider, just as Obama did in 2008. Those of us here, who voted for POTUS Obama in 2008/’12, feel let down. We’ve seen some social progress, but failures everywhere else, and we are willing to give the outsider the benefit of the doubt.
Consider this: Oklahoma Evangelicals came out for Trump, actually crowded the polling stations, despite his playboy ways and lewd talk. They didn’t rush to the polls because of the usual divisive social issues; they rarely do. They just want someone, anyone, to make a change against politics as usual.
Here’s our last reader for now, Sean, who echoes some of the themes above:
A little background information: I am a 27-year-old Wisconsinite that voted for Hillary Clinton. I consider myself a middle-of-the-road moderate, simply because I find the idea silly and impossible that one party has the correct answer for every single issue our country and world faces.
I’m still processing the events of the election result, but I feel like this is a perfect time to submit my first email to The Atlantic. Although readers Ben and Adam had unique insights as to why some people were compelled to vote for Trump, I respectfully disagree. I think there are two reasons for Trump's victory:
First, I believe it was simply a backlash to the American “system.” I believe Trump won the election because most people my age and younger have already accepted/agree with socially progressive ideas but yearned for a change in economic stances and the “status quo.” Trump represented a change in the political machine while Clinton basically represented more of the same political gamesmanship. Progressive social ideology was not enough for Clinton to court enough voters because again, I think most young voters have already accepted progressive ideas to be the norm. Now, why a lot of my peers think Trump will be a good change to the political machine (which I do not agree with) is a different discussion ...
Second, I think that this is the first time a vast majority of the electorate has ranked a candidate’s message above that candidates “character.” By that, I mean that a lot of people were willing to bite the bullet for Trump’s glaring character flaws for the chance to try a new approach to the American experiment. In previous elections, it was always assumed that the two candidates would be extremely polished, and would be immediately disqualified for saying some of the things Trump said. However, I think he was able to brush past these traditional political land mines due to an unexpected effect from my first point: a lot of people were sick and tired of traditional politics. They put much more weight into a candidates political message rather than their personal character.
Update from Dan, who gets the last word here:
Thank you so much for your kind words about my note on feeling empathy for Trump supporters. I do take issue with the implication of what you wrote in the “in other words” section following my note:
Or in other words, two wrongs don’t make a right, even if one of those wrongs—outright bigotry—is much worse than the other—an over-willingness to label someone a bigot. And the latter is counterproductive to fighting the former.
Perhaps I was not clear enough, but my belief is that liberal bullying of perceived bigots is only a tangential effect of progress in dismantling system of social privilege and power. It is not part of the work to dismantle those systems; it is merely the result of marginalized people finally gaining the power to express their anger at those who have been collectively furthering their oppression in individually minor ways. It is a problem that will inevitable arise with a new balance of social power, especially without any widespread engagement from the right or even acceptance of the reality of these concrete issues of marginalization and oppression, without some sort of “truth and reconciliation” for American society.
It is not actually a part of the work that is being done to address these issues, so I disagree with the implication I see in your comment that this behavior must be stopped before we can continue making progress. If people oppose the dismantling of systems of privilege because of these cases of bullying, and instead support the resurgence of straight white male supremacy, that is a failure on their part. It is a failure of perspective and values and they are responsible for that failure.
And that failure of perspective brings me to the email from the person who “voted for the wrecking ball.” That person knows so many things about this country. That person knows exactly what you need to do to succeed and overcome adversity. That person knows exactly how all their fellow white people feel about marginalized groups and how they would treat marginalized people if those people could only be just a little better.
That person does not know what they do not know about the experience of life as a marginalized person in this country. That person does not know that the opportunities his parents and their parents and their parents had to pursue the right kind of life were not afforded to the parents of others. That person does not know that the issues marginalized people complain about are not excuses for a failure of hard work; they are legitimate and real challenges that this person has not experienced. That person does not know that it’s not that “not everyone starts off on the same spot”; it’s that many grow up constantly being dragged down and boxed in by the people around them. That person does not know that bigoted speech, whether they agree that it is bigoted or not, leads to harmful action.
But on that last point, your reader will likely learn better. Because he knows that his “wrecking ball” will leave him relatively untouched. But he doesn’t know that the hateful people swinging this wrecking ball with him are real, not a liberal bogeyman. He does not know that marginalized people are going to be hurt; they are going to die because of this. They are going to keep being hurt and keep dying for years because of this. And the people who voted for Trump—however understandable and relatable their motivations might be—are responsible for this, whether they know it or not.
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.
Last year, John Eastman, whom CNN describes as an attorney working with Donald Trump’s legal team, wrote a preposterous memo outlining how then–Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the 2020 election by fiat or, failing that, throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans could install Trump in office despite his loss to Joe Biden. The document, which was first reported by the Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their new book, is a step-by-step plan to overthrow the government of the United States through a preposterous interpretation of legal procedure.
Pence apparently took the idea seriously—so seriously, in fact, that, according to Woodward and Costa, former Vice President Dan Quayle had to talk him out of it. Prior to November, the possibility of Trump attempting a coup was seen as the deranged fever dream of crazed liberals. But as it turns out, Trump and his advisers had devised explicit plans for reversing Trump’s loss. Republican leaders deliberately stoked election conspiracy theories they knew to be false, in order to lay a political pretext for invalidating the results. Now, more than 10 months after the election, the country knows of at least five ways in which Trump attempted to retain power despite his defeat.
The Illinois representative thought the GOP was filled with democracy-loving internationalists. Now he sees the party as a corrupt shell of itself.
In each edition of my newsletter, I’ll bring readers inside The Atlantic, and discuss the issues that concern us the most. Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get future issues of Notes from the Editor in Chief.
Political courage is a fascinating phenomenon, particularly at moments when it is largely absent. Which is why I’m so interested in the imperiled career of Representative Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has described Donald Trump’s demagogy for what it is—a danger to the republic—and who possesses spine enough to excoriate members of his own party for succumbing to Trump’s imbecilic authoritarianism.
As Anne Applebaum described so well in her Atlantic cover story last year, “We all feel the urge to conform; it is the most normal of human desires.” Her essay, “History Will Judge the Complicit,” made the argument that collaboration, and not dissent, is the default posture of frightened humans, including and especially careerist politicians. Dissent can often lead to social and political death (and sometimes, physical death), and, as we’ve learned in the months following the insurrection of January 6, most Republicans would sooner cast people like Kinzinger into the wilderness than risk ostracism.
After last year’s eerie lull, flu viruses could be poised to return packing a bigger punch.
On Saturday morning, I finally rolled up my sleeve for the vaccine I’d been waiting for all summer: my annual flu shot, a technological marvel that I opt to receive every fall.
During non-pandemic times, the flu vaccine is a hot autumn commodity that holds a coveted place in the public-health spotlight. As of late, though, the shot’s been eclipsed by the prominence of its COVID-blocking cousins, fueled by debates over boosters and mandates. It’s also been a while since we’ve had to tussle with the flu directly. Thanks to the infection-prevention measures the world took to fight SARS-CoV-2 when the pandemic began, many other respiratory viruses vanished. Last winter, we essentially had “no flu season at all,” Florian Krammer, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, told me. The human attention span is short; the flu’s brief sabbatical might have purged it from our minds at an inopportune time.
Why targets of deliberate deception often hesitate to admit they’ve been deceived
Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’” Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.
Missouri is suffering one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the country. Some hospitals are rapidly running out of ICU beds. To Americans who rushed to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, some Missourians’ desire for secrecy is difficult to understand. It’s also difficult to square with the common narrative that vaccine refusal, at least in conservative areas of the country, is driven by a lack of respect or empathy from liberals along the coasts. “Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics—or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all,” lamented a recent article in the conservative National Review. Writers across the political spectrum have urged deference and sympathy toward holdouts’ concerns about vaccine side effects and the botched CDC messaging about masking and airborne transmission early in the pandemic. But these takes can’t explain why holdouts who receive respect, empathy, and information directly from reliable sources remain unmoved—or why some people are afraid to tell their loved ones about being vaccinated.
The jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of America’s local hierarchies.
American wealth and power usually have a certain look: glass-walled penthouse apartments in glittering urban skyscrapers, sprawling country mansions, ivy-covered prep schools, vacation homes in the Hamptons. These are the outward symbols of an entrenched oligarchy, the political-economic ruling class portrayed by the media that entertains us and the conspiracy theories that animate the darker corners of the American imagination.
The reality of American wealth and power is more banal. The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of the local hierarchies that govern daily life for tens of millions of people. Donald Trump grasped this group’s existence and its importance, acting, as he often does, on unthinking but effective instinct. When he crowed about his “beautiful boaters,” lauding the flotillas of supporters trailing MAGA flags from their watercraft in his honor, or addressed his devoted followers among a rioting January 6 crowd that included people who had flown to the event on private jets, he knew what he was doing. Trump was courting the support of the American gentry, the salt-of-the-earth millionaires who see themselves as local leaders in business and politics, the unappreciated backbone of a once-great nation.
These words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The plane was dark and quiet. A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response, something to the effect of “I wish I was dead.”
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams—perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started.
Eventually we might all have to deal with COVID-19—but a shorter, gentler version, thanks to vaccines.
Boghuma Kabisen Titanji was just 8 years old when the hyper-contagious virus swept through her classroom. Days later, she started to feel feverish, and developed a sparse, rosy rash. Three years after being fully dosed with the measles vaccine, one of the most durably effective immunizations in our roster, Titanji fell ill with the very pathogen her shots were designed to prevent.
Her parents rushed her to a pediatrician, worried that her first inoculations had failed to take. But the doctor allayed their fears: “It happens. She’ll be fine.” And she was. Her fever and rash cleared up in just a couple of days; she never sickened anyone else in her family. It was, says Titanji, now an infectious-disease physician and a researcher at Emory University, a textbook case of “modified” measles, a rare post-vaccination illness so mild and unthreatening that it doesn’t even deserve the full measles name.
The pandemic was a big social experiment that sent asthma attacks plummeting.
Nicole Lawson spent the beginning of the pandemic incredibly worried about her daughter, who has asthma. Five-year-old Scarlett’s asthma attacks were already landing her in the ER or urgent care every few months. Now a scary new virus was spreading. Respiratory viruses are known triggers of asthma attacks, and doctors also feared at the time that asthma itself could lead to more severe coronavirus infections. So Lawson’s family in Ohio hunkered down quickly and masked up often to keep Scarlett healthy.
The ensuing months, to everyone’s surprise, turned into “this beautiful year,” Lawson told me. Scarlett hasn’t had a single asthma attack. Not a single visit to the ER. Nothing. She’s breathing so much better, and all it took was a global pandemic that completely upended normal life.
Robert Malone claims to have invented mRNA technology. Why is he trying so hard to undermine its use?
Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on August 23, 2021
Robert Malone—a medical doctor and an infectious-disease researcher—recently suggested that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines might actually make COVID-19 infections worse. He chuckled as he imagined Anthony Fauci announcing that the vaccination campaign was all a big mistake (“Oh darn, I was wrong!”) and would need to be abandoned. When he floated that nightmare scenario during a recent podcast interview with Steve Bannon, both men seemed almost delighted at the prospect of public-health officials and pharmaceutical companies getting their comeuppance. “This is a catastrophe,” Bannon declared, beaming at his guest. “You’re hearing it from an individual who invented the mRNA [vaccine] and has dedicated his life to vaccines. He’s the opposite of an anti-vaxxer.”