Reporter's Notebook

Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?
Show Description +

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

Show None Newer Notes

Hamilton’s Message to Pence: Was It Harassment?

Ben, the reader who sparked our long and evolving discussion thread on the best ways for Trump voters and other Americans to engage, emails about a new flashpoint: the cast of Hamilton delivering a short speech to VP-elect Mike Pence, who attended a performance of the musical on Broadway last night. Here’s how CNN covered it:

Here’s Ben (followed by a ton of reader pushback)

I’m seeing an awful lot of social media commentary looking at Trump’s tweets regarding the cast’s message to Pence, and nearly all of it follows a certain pattern of “Boo Hoo, Trump doesn’t like it when actors exercise their first amendment rights? Cry me a river.” On one hand, they are completely right: The note-reading by cast member Brandon Dixon was protected speech, and political speech. It’s very, very important that people are able to do what the Hamilton cast did, and I think very few people will disagree with that.

On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to be the least bit objective and not acknowledge that what happened was harassment, or at least something pretty close. The story is being presented near universally as “Trump is whining because Pence received a note!,” but let’s break down the evening in dry terms and see if that holds up:


A photo posted by Daquan Gesese (@daquan) on

I seriously can’t think of more polar-opposite people and public figures than Donald J. Trump and Barack Hussein Obama. But the following two readers actually voted for both, so their perspectives are especially valuable right now to understand what drove so much support to the president-elect. Here’s Aaron:

First I’d like to thank Chris Bodenner and The Atlantic for allowing a genuine conversation between Trump and Clinton supporters to take place. In my opinion, discussing all sides of difficult issues is the most important thing that we can do, and more discourse like what I’ve seen on your website could have made this election cycle go in a very different direction.

I’ve voted Democrat in every presidential election until this one. As the son of former hippies, I grew up respecting the environment, disliking unnecessary military action, and desiring equal rights for everyone. Over the years I came to realize that Democratic candidates provided a lot of high-minded talk with very little meaningful action, but they still seemed better than the alternative.

During the early stages of the election process, I began to notice a dramatic shift in public discourse. To me equal rights means an egalitarian meritocracy. I believe that everyone should be free to pursue happiness in their own way as long as it doesn’t harm others, and that everyone should be given an equal chance at success if they’re willing to work for it. In my mind, legalizing gay marriage was one of the last big hurdles in overcoming the unfair policies from our checkered past.

But not everyone seems to think so.

There’s a big difference between theoretical rights and actual results. The average woman still takes in significantly less income than the average man. Young inner-city black men are still being killed and imprisoned at an alarming rate. Muslims are still distrusted and even feared by Christians.

The reasons for each of these issues are extremely complex and difficult to fully address. But the narrative coming from Democrats and much of the mainstream media seemed to be that all of these issues and more were predominantly products of continuing systemic bigotry. It was an easy answer, but nowhere near good enough. And as the rhetoric on both sides became more heated, I began to see just how dangerous this simplistic way of thinking was.

My colleague Andrew McGill wrote a punchy piece over the weekend called “The U.S. Media’s Real Elitism Problem.” An excerpt:

In the aftermath [of Trump’s victory], many of the immediate post-mortems blamed a coastal bubble: Too many journalists had grown nearsighted in urban Democratic enclaves, the reasoning went, blinding them to what was taking place in Middle America. If more reporters actually spent time in fly-over country, instead of jetting through for a rally, they’d understand why Donald Trump won voters over. [...] [T]here’s little question the journalistic class has diverged sharply from the country it covers. In 1960, nearly a third of reporters and editors had never attended a single year of college; in 2015, only 8.3 percent could say the same, according to Census figures extracted with the help of the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS project. That year, 46 percent of adults 25 and older nationwide had never attended a university.

Andrew also made a great little graph showing how our fellow members of the media have congregated on the coasts:

For a reader debate on the media’s role in this election, see “A Middle Finger to the Mainstream Media,” sparked by Lindsey, a long-time Republican. Brett responds:

I’m a 35-year-old teacher who grew up and attended college in Oklahoma, moved to Alaska for a few years after I got married, then moved to NM, where I currently reside. This narrative about how poorly Trump and his voters are treated by the media is flat-out embarrassing. We have here a group of people that looked at the fact that every adult in the room was telling them that this was a terrible mistake and took that as a sign of their virtue. And it wasn’t just the usual suspects in the so-called liberal media; conservative newspapers broke with hundreds of years of precedent to point out that—despite their concerns with Clinton—this was an election unlike any other and that it would be unwise to elect a temperamentally buffoonish man to the White House. And it didn’t make one iota of difference. Now, when everyone recoils in horror at the terrible damage that has been done, that is further evidence of the Trump voter’s righteousness?

Another reader, Chris, thinks we’re missing a big point about the media’s role in this election:

As preface, a brief synopsis of my background: I’m a mid-30s, white, straight, Southern male. I was born in South Carolina, about 30 minutes from where they flew the Confederate flag, and I’ve there most of my life. I’m college educated, married, and live/work in Atlanta now. I’ve worked extensively in Republican politics, including for Congressman Joe Wilson (of You Lie! fame) and in various state and federal elections. I voted for Bush, McCain, Romney and in this election, Hillary Clinton. I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Before this election I’d have called myself a Republican, but now I guess I’m a small-l Libertarian or maybe a small-government Democrat—if either of those things are things.  

Lindsey echoes much of what I see daily from friends, family, and acquaintances on my Facebook feed. Her point raises one I’d like to make, and that I don’t believe has been explicitly made on your site.

Be sure to check out this video—a post-election Thanksgiving message that’s right in line with what readers have been debating in this Notes thread (except now with delightful lines like “we can keep shoving our heads up our high-horses asses all we want”). The self-described liberal redneck has some hard truths for his wounded compatriots:

A long-time reader—back when the Dish was at The Atlantic—flagged the video:

Long time, no talk, amigo. I’ve been meaning to check in with you, but I had to detox from any form of online interaction for about a week after the election. (Sully was onto something about our online addiction; I’ve never seen the battery on my phone die so quickly, or my anxiety get so out of control, as the days around this election.) It’s an occupational hazard for you, so it’s not like you could really look away, but I hope you’ve carved out some time to not be plugged in.

The back and forth with Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters has been illuminating, which is something to salvage from this wreckage, I suppose. I have tried empathizing with the “wrecking ball” voter, but I find myself coming up short when he says he knows coal won’t come back to West Virginia but he votes for the guy who has promised to fire up the flux capacitor and take the DeLorean back a few decades. The same goes for wanting a synagogue, a church, and a mosque all on the same street, while voting for the guy who traffics in Muslim scare tactics, retweets anti-Semitic imagery, and now employs Steve Bannon. Similarly, there’s no room in his heart for bigotry, but he’s accepting of the most openly bigoted campaign in contemporary politics.

His entire note reads inchoate. He didn’t really vote for a wrecking ball; he voted to piss into a stiff wind. Because … principles?

Your colleague David Frum gave an interview in the lead-up to the election [seen below, transcript here] in which he mentioned there are only two ways to use your vote: as an expression, or as an instrument.

Using your vote to express “I’d rather just piss into the wind than worry about what might happen to healthcare in America” is not something I can really find a defense for. It’s an obviously intelligent person grasping for a way to express anger at “the system” but who voted in a way that instead may put everyday people at risk. “I vote for the wrecking ball” because handing commander-in-chief duties of the most powerful military in the world to a guy who is so thin-skinned he picks fights with a Broadway musical? Call this line of thinking frustration, charitably, but it’s also reckless and irresponsible. Being a frustrated voter is understandable; being a reckless one is not.

Last week, we put out a survey to readers asking about Thanksgiving plans, and over 400 of you responded, telling us how far you’d be traveling to see friends and family and how you’d be getting there. We compiled the results and Andrew made this cool graphic:

Andrew McGill / The Atlantic

As you can see, we also asked how you were feeling. In the aftermath of an ugly presidential season and a shocking upset of an election, Americans may find their family gatherings more fraught than ever this year—and in this era of a deep political divide between the city and the countryside, that may be especially true for the people who are traveling far to see loved ones.

When we asked, generally, what emotions you were feeling, most of you didn’t bring up politics. But about 14 percent of you did. For some, that’s the reason they look forward to having family close. As one reader puts it, “I want to hug the ones I love following this dreadful election.”

“Adele, please release a new album” was all one reader had to say when we asked what you were feeling in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, with so many people bracing themselves for political clashes following a particularly toxic presidential election. The Adele fan might have had in mind this SNL skit from last year:

After the holiday, we reached out to readers again to see how things turned out. Sally paints a vivid picture:

I am the lone Democrat among six siblings ranging in ages 60-75. We gathered at our sister’s weekend cottage, a New Orleans shotgun salvaged from N. Claiborne Avenue and moved to a tongue of land on Bayou Lacombe. Spouses, children, and grandchildren made the crowd large. I steered clear of the sprawling back-porch addition, where the conversations, using outside voices, were laced with declarations about Hillary and Blue Lives Matter.

Inside was more temperate. In past years, my siblings would take me on and I’d jump in with rebuttals, mine from print, theirs from TV and talk radio. This year, I think my sadness was visible to them—not a time for jousting, as it came naturally to me to lower my head and eyes whenever in the vicinity of their political conversations. We did not engage.

Ellen Pober Rittberg and her family also tacitly decided on non-engagement:

Several members of my immediate family had a somewhat heated discussion/debate/what-have-you several days prior to the day of the holiday, and so they/we agreed without agreeing we wouldn’t talk (presidential) politics at table. It helped that there were 12 different dishes and lots of guests (24) so the majority of time guests alternately chewed and head-nodded (while chewing). That the head-nods were not all that emphatic indicated that our informal non-agreement was not breached.

Is strategic avoidance of politics enough to get us all through the holidays—or through the next four years? And how long will it be before the tension gets to be too much?

In the wake of the shocking results of November’s election, readers in Notes had a robust discussion titled, “Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?” One of the most revealing and contentious entries came from a Trump supporter who “voted for the middle finger, the wrecking ball.” He began by countering some common stereotypes about Trump voters:

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.

His was a protest vote:

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.

Many readers disagreed here. Another one, Susan, emailed this week asking, “Could we have an update from the guy who ‘voted for the middle finger, the wrecking ball’? I’d be very interested to know what he thinks of the first two months of President Trump.”

I actually wondered the same thing in early February, when I emailed the wrecking ball reader to see if his views on Trump has shifted during the presidential transition and his first few weeks in office. Here’s the reader’s verdict on February 9 (followed by a reply to Susan’s request):

It’s too early to tell, really—kind of like calling the Falcons to win after their first touchdown, right? I think Trump is still too combative and his messaging is awful at times—a lot of the time—but so far he is the guy (ass?) he’s been through the entire run. Trump thinks of himself as an executive in the most stringent application of the word—the buck stops here, the buck begins here, the buck is always here—but he’ll that learn running a company and the country are not the same thing, not matter how much I sometimes like the idea of someone “running the government like a business.”

I wish Trump had what we call down here—the land of obesity, fireworks, and Flannery O’Connor-inspired realities—a “pull-back guy.”

See, we love our college football down in the buckle of the Bible Belt. We love to watch our Clemson Tiger defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, go crazy on the sidelines. To handle him, they have to get a designated staffer be the “pull-back guy”—grabbing Venables around his britches and pulling him back off of the field so he doesn’t draw a penalty.