Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

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

Show None Newer Notes

‘I Voted for the Middle Finger, the Wrecking Ball’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, U.S. President George W. Bush, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and Senator and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stand together following the dedication ceremony for the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 18, 2004. Jason Reed / Reuters

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.


Former President George Bush is hugged by his son Jeb at the formal opening of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on November 6, 1997. (Reuters)

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)
Justin Trudeau / Wikimedia
  • 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.
Park Geun-hye / Wikimedia
  • 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:

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.

We’ve gotten a ton of reader response to the long detailed note from the Southern white guy with a master’s degree who voted for Trump because he wanted to bring a “wrecking ball” to Washington. This first reader, Pamela, scratches her head:

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.

http://webcomicname.tumblr.com/post/152958755984

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.

Laughs

A video posted by Elliot Tebele (@fuckjerry.tv) on

So far in our reader series exploring the reasons why so many Americans voted for Donald Trump, we’ve heard from an array of perspectives:

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.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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:

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

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 combined didn’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:

Update from another reader:

That clip you posted of mainstream journalists laughing at the prospect of Trump winning the nomination—let alone the presidency—made me think of this legendary act of media smugness, from The Huffington Post:

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.

I noticed that one of the bylines on that announcement is Ryan Grimm, who days before the election went after Nate Silver for “unskewing polls—all of them—in favor of Donald Trump”:

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.

Let’s indeed.

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.

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?

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.

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 think it sucks that a 32-year-old Ivy League educated lawyer can’t make ends meet. I hear you.  

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.  

A reader, Jon, articulates in Notes what he probably doesn’t say in public:

A lot of the post-election analysis has pointed to the deep divide between between city-dwellers and country folk. An excellent essay in Cracked Magazine, the musings of Michael Moore, and people in the reader notes you’ve been compiling [namely the Southern Trump voter in “‘I Voted for the Middle Finger, the Wrecking Ball’”] have described the election of Donald Trump as a collective middle finger to us urban liberals who think we’re so superior.

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.

Myself with mother and father at New York Military Academy. See, I can be very military. High rank! #TBT #Trump

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.

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.