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.
“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:
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?
I spoke on the phone with another reader, Donna, who had written in to say she’d lost a longtime friend over Thanksgiving weekend when an email exchange about Trump’s election got heated. Donna now feels that “the friendship lasted possibly only because I bit my tongue for 30 years.” The following has been condensed and edited from our conversation:
We were friends for 30 years and he had always been very right-wing. But we had a lot of things in common. He and I share a love of the arts and humanities. Even there, his opinion would slip in at times, in ways that I thought were unfair. I would just listen and maybe once in a while say something very general.
Ironically, the breaking point came over a question of unity: The friend had described a national zeitgeist in favor of Trump, says Donna, and she was so irked by the apparent assumption that most people agreed with him that “I guess I couldn’t fake it anymore.” She wrote back to him saying she was upset and didn’t agree. In his reply, he said he didn’t want to know her anymore.
I asked Donna whether she regretted staying quiet for so long to preserve the friendship, and she wasn’t sure:
He feels so strongly about what he believes, and I don’t think that anybody could change him much. Had I spoken up, I don’t think I would have changed his mind.
After he wrote this long email, I really had a hard time getting to sleep, I was so upset. I had to take a tranquilizer. But last night [after he ended the friendship] I felt a lot calmer, maybe because I finally told him.
Have you ever lost a friend over politics—or found a way to repair a relationship that politics broke? Do you have close friends with whom you disagree on fundamental issues? We’d like to hear your stories: firstname.lastname@example.org. I, for one, could certainly use the advice.
But we’ll end on a more cheerful holiday note with Bill and his wife, two liberal Democrats in Tucson who were apprehensive about an invitation from their conservative neighbors, “who couldn’t be further from us on the political scale of things—or so we thought”:
The third couple they invited, also neighbors, are also Republicans. We are all friends, play a little golf together and share a meal occasionally, but we have not spoken since the summer, as we were away at our summer home and arrived a few days before Turkey Day. We were nervous, but we accepted when the host, over the backyard fence, casually mentioned that they had banned all news from their home and are enjoying getting caught up on repeats on the Home Channel.
The afternoon was lovely. No one brought up the election. At one point, as we were discussing in general terms the difficulty in finding anyplace to put our savings and earn anything, the host said he thought the market was going to crumble soon anyway since the President-elect would probably be indicted and impeached soon. His grace at the dinner table was lovely and asked that the healing in the country start right now. We all said a big Amen.
Later, as we discussed health issues, as we tend to do at our boomer ages, the other Republican mentioned that at least we would soon have a single-payer system, e.g. Medicare for All, since the Republicans are going to screw up the current system that seems to be helping an awful lot of Americans and a single-payer system will be the only solution to fix it … a lot of “about time” chiming in around the table. Another shocker.
Hillary’s name never came up. I was all prepared to use my current approach, “I hope HE is successful and helps all Americans.” Never had to.
So, we were pleasantly surprised to say the least, and we thanked all our neighbors for a graceful dinner and their “act of kindness” toward their distressed/depressed Democratic friends.
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:
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.”
Most others, though, anticipate discord. “I dread the spectre of Trump looming over our table,” a reader sighs. Another traveling home to Michigan expects to be alone in grieving Trump’s victory, and one going to rural Alabama looks ahead to “further exhaustion: over-worked and underpaid to go ‘home’ to a different kind of work—tactfully avoiding political discourse.” Another reader is feeling “anxiety because of the election,” but for more complicated reasons than Clinton vs. Trump: “I’m queer and my (Clinton-supporting) family isn’t totally down with that and I’m not ready for the discussions around the dinner table.”
A tiny number of people—2 percent of everyone who responded—said they actually canceled plans because of the election. (That’s not counting the people who said they were newly relieved to be staying home, or those who were dreading Trump talk so much they wished they could skip the family dinner.) One reader: “I want my family to know that their political choices have personal impacts.” Another explains, “We can’t face family that voted for Trump.” And for a reader with a conservative Republican father, a schism over politics was a long time coming:
We’ve had our disagreements but we could always be civil until the last five years. I’m spending Thanksgiving alone because my father (a Trump supporter) sees me as the enemy and “does not like me anymore.”
But among your responses is also, as one reader puts it, “the usual family drama.” There is stress over traffic and cooking and in-laws and meeting a boyfriend’s parents and, for a gay woman, introducing a girlfriend to extended family for the first time. Some look ahead to bittersweet celebrations—the first family gathering since a grandfather’s funeral, the first Thanksgiving without a mother, perhaps the last with a sister in hospice. This reader is nervous: “First time I will not be drinking while surrounded by people that love to drink.” Another says:
Thanksgiving has traditionally been a high-stress time for my family, filled with high expectations and obligations. This year is the first without such feelings, so I’m anticipating a chill and relaxing day.
It’s encouraging, in the dreary-as-usual November of an unusually divided America, to see that just over half of you are purely happy about seeing your loved ones for Thanksgiving. (This includes, of course, the person who simply wrote “Turkey and gravy”—agreed. Enough said.) And in a more poignant way, it’s encouraging to see all these mixed feelings all mixed together. We’re a country of mixtures and contradictions, and we are families of the same. And in the briefest descriptions of your feelings headed into the holiday, there’s a spectrum to match. Excited. Resigned, you wrote. Sadness. Peace, fulfillment. Anxious. Joy. Joy.
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.
On the other hand, some of the “liberal urban elitist” passages are a bit close to some of Charles Pierce’s recent pieces (here and here). But after reading through such sentiment, I find it hard to pile on with that camp against those who effectively vote against their own interests, or to demean the importance of a “working class job” to America. I’m keenly aware that every job I’ve gotten means someone hasn’t gotten the job I was hired for, and it sure as hell isn’t because I'm intrinsically “better” or that much smarter than the next person.
And try as I might, I just can’t go along with Dan [the likely Clinton voter who wrote that “we cannot fight systemic issues by punishing individuals”] or Vince [the Gary Johnson voter who shares Trump voters’ disdain for identity politics and “the new progressive bullying”]. I’ve heard variations of the “I’m tired of those coastal elites telling me to check my privilege”-sort of angle, the “why is the left publicly shaming everyone it disagrees with?”-type of question.
So carry that to its logical conclusion as a form of protest in this election. One votes in opposition to 19-year-old sophomores in Boston talking smug in your Facebook feed. In exchange, you get a president who very well may end Medicare with a unified Republican government. If you like the idea of your elderly parents having a safety net, that seems to be a fairly disproportionate weighting of voting priorities (but hey, sure showed them college elites what’s up, eh?). Basing votes on shallow name-calling is laughable; calling Donald Trump a “bigot” is pretty soft, considering people like me were called a “fifth column” not too long ago. (How much of the American population, circa 2001-2004, had their fidelity to the republic cast in doubt for holding an opinion of being against a war?) The world's tiniest violin scrapes a hardly discernible melody here.
But, to quote the “liberal redneck,” you can be right, or you can win. And I don’t really care to be on any particular side of winning a pathetic name-calling contest. So sure, I’ll cede that ground to Dan and Vince. Maybe TNC is on the right track:
There isn’t much quarter given to the racism that Trump inflamed, of course, but there’s a pretty elegant point made around the 24-minute mark. “Own your history.” Not just the convenient parts, not just the 4th of July, not just FDR and his dog Fala. There’s a lot of ugliness to go around, and where I’d break with TNC is that cordoning off one section of society as racists—no matter if they voted for a race-bating candidate or not—is not going to get us over to the next checkpoint of historical progress. Because we need help to get over that checkpoint, and politics is the art of sausage making, not organic soybeans.
So, to my fellow coastal elites, perhaps it’s time to retire your privilege checking (since there are more than a few 20-something white kids wondering where their privilege is, as they work bussing tables despite having gotten a more privileged education). Instead, own your history. That’s enough. Own the ugliness that you too are a part of (like this embarrassing, petty election we’re discussing). You’ll probably find far more allies in owning the whole, rather than splitting up the ugly composites. And in doing so, you’re far more likely to be a part of a coalition of voters like the one Obama road to victory on. Twice. And then you can be a part of making the country a little better.
Or the left can instead expend its energies on “being right” in a comments section. We may not have responsible governance, but gee, sure does feel good to let people know how you feel about Scarlett Johansson being cast as the lead in Ghost in the Machine, right?
Update: That “liberal redneck”—Trae Crowder, a comedian in Celina, Tennessee—was on Real Time recently:
Another long-time reader, Jim, cuts through all the hand-wringing and recriminations on the broader left over identity politics and the mainstream media and white women going for Trump and political correctness and James Comey, etc, etc, and points instead to a reason for Trump’s victory that’s right in front of our noses: Clinton.
I read your collection of notes by Trump voters. I think there’s a lot to learn here. But mostly, it just confirms my greatest fears in advance of Election Day: That in an anti-establishment year, the Democratic Party chose the most-establishment of candidates they could possibly have chosen.
The Democratic coalition was beginning to fracture along the borders of its components’ varied interests—for example, forgetting that many Latinos are not necessarily pro-immigration—their families having been here before the white folks—and thinking that Tim Kaine could somehow assuage the fears of white men while also appealing to Latinos because he speaks Spanish better than your average gringo. In a year rife with populism, they nominated a woman whose husband and surrogate is the president who has had NAFTA hung around his neck for 20 years. In a year about economic and cultural anxieties and the anger they bring forth, the Democrats turned to entreating people to care about policy as the solution to unease. They proposed technocracy as the solution to popular discontent. Morons.
If you have anything to add along those lines: email@example.com. Update from a cooly pragmatic reader, John:
After every election there is a lot of handwringing over what caused the losing side to lose, and there are always numerous reasons. This effort ignores the fact that a handful of voters in a few key states tilted the tables in one direction. We don’t need to focus on finding the particular factors that mattered the most. We just need to get more people to vote on our side. Get the other 40 percent or so to vote and you can stop worrying about attracting the racists, bigots, misogynists, and misunderstood working people, wherever they live.
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:
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.
“Mainstream media” is an oversimplified attempt to describe dozens of entities ranging the ideological spectrum. There are plenty of traditionally liberal publications/websites/networks, obviously, and there are a litany of conservative outlets across all platforms as well but they’re no more a collective than Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh or NPR are collectively talk radio.
If there’s criticism to be levied at the mainstream media, it’s not for any specific political bias. Rather, such criticism should stem from the industry’s willingness to devolve, over the last decade or two, from information providers into infotainment peddlers. CNN and Fox and MSNBC keep a never-ending stream of talking heads on their networks, and they do it to drive conflict and drama, and they do that to drive ratings and subsequently advertising revenue. As the amount of legitimate news that’s available to report is less than the airspace they have to sell, they have filled the gaps with commentary, opinion, and (in a lot of cases) drivel, and then called that news.
That commentary has become hyper-partisan on both sides, because in order to keep the eyes glued to the TV, you’re forced to forever ramp up the rhetoric, to call everything a crisis, to proclaim whatever it is you’re talking about to be the most important thing going on anywhere. It’s my belief that the American electorate has become largely incapable of distinguishing between legitimate news and trumped-up (pardon the phrasing) nonsense designed to rile up the viewers/readers or produce clicks/likes/shares/re-tweets.
In a society where we can’t tell the difference between news and entertainment, we treat everything as entertainment and thus feel no compunction in decrying the mainstream media wholesale, even when (especially when) that media does eventually attempt to provide what it believes to be objective truth. That’s why my Facebook feed treats angrypatriot.com as a legitimate news source. The people on it can’t tell the difference between hack websites and The New York Times, or else they’ve been convinced the difference doesn’t matter.
That’s why Lindsey explicitly says she doesn’t care what the mainstream media thinks, and why she hilariously calls on the media not to report the truth, but to advance a narrative more to her liking. She appears to believe there’s no longer an objective truth to report on, only post-fact narratives to be advanced.
Trump exacerbates this, of course, by actively attacking anyone who says anything negative about him and by lying pathologically. As such, we appear to have reached the point where the truth is no longer relevant to the discussion, where a great many of us don’t believe that truth exists at all. How much further before we get to Orwell?
In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy.
Andrew Simmons on our site yesterday addressed 1984in the context of 2016. Update from reader Kevin, who points to another literary classic:
Another, less obviously violent but no less repressive fictional dystopia applies better than 1984: the one invented by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. As far back as 1985, when he published his prophetic screed Amusing Ourselves to Death, the late media critic Neil Postman wrote:
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture . . . [emphasis added]
Postman’s description in my opinion captures the Trump phenomenon and the man’s essential power—to a T. It’s that triviality and distraction, rather than violent oppression, that most of us Americans will experience.
Along those lines, here’s Daniel, a reader who began on the lower rungs of the economy:
I am an immigrant who came to this country in 1995 as young adult with exactly $10 in my pocket. When we arrived to Seattle as refugees (see: Syria)—and legally, I might add. My family went on welfare courtesy of some relief agency settling us—yes, that stuff with food stamps and everything. It gave us a way to orient ourselves, and within seven months we were off it.
My first job was working for minimal wage ($7 as I recall) with bunch of illegal Mexicans (who got $4.50) in a machine shop, working a lathe and smelting lead— a nasty toxic process. I was buzzed in and buzzed out, just like I suppose they did/do in steel mills. I still go by that place when I think my work is stressful, just to remind myself.
So I think I started as barely-ends-meeting “white working class” and perhaps have a bit of insight into it. But then I very rapidly progressed out of that term/category.
Fast forward 20+ years. I now have a solid job in software, a nice family, and a decent house of the least expensive part of Mercer Island. I did it without finishing my education I started in my home country. I must thank the high-tech software industry for letting university dropouts prosper. I am not privileged in any way, except that I used my brains, worked hard, and didn’t sit around on my ass. My mother wound up being incredibly successful at real estate—again, by working harder than anyone I know.
So when I hear about people from the Great Middle or South sticking a finger to the “elites” in the coast cities, I have very similar reaction to that of Jon’s. Why? What have I done that you couldn’t have? It’s not like I even bothered with education—although my kids are certainly going to go to university, if I have anything to do with it. I didn’t even chose to move to the coast myself; my parents did. But when I came here, I applied all the resourcefulness and all the brains that I have and I did just fine both financially and morally! What in that behavior is making me “elitist” and worthy of disdain from the center of the country?
Renie’s parents were also refugees:
No one from the top of the elite world would ever see me as part of it. I may have a PhD; my husband and I may have worked all our adult lives in universities; we have lived for more than 45 years in one of the bluest enclaves in the U.S., but we are invisible to the elite that truly does govern our country. But to working-class whites, we appear as alien as any Goldman Sachs partner, and that is despite the fact that we now run a small ranch and interact often with people whose lives up to now appear to have been very different than theirs.
A lot of that is assumptions: that people like us were born to the life we have lived; that we have no clue about people whose lives are different than ours; that we don’t respect them; that our rejection of fundamentalist Christianity is because we have no moral grounding; that we are somehow “others” and not real Americans because we are liberals. Remember that it’s not just liberals who scorn conservatives and ignore flyover country. I’ve had people I know afraid, literally afraid, to set foot in Boulder because they see it as so alien and scary.
As for living an insulated and privileged life—yes, I do know people whose lives were and are very privileged. But I come from parents who literally started with no money when they came to the U.S. as refugees. My dad’s CPA clients were small businessmen; they owned kosher butcher shops, small clothing stores, bowling alleys, and beachfront businesses until I was a teenager and his company merged with a larger one. My husband’s father graduated from CCNY at the end of the Depression with a degree in electrical engineering. His first job was driving a laundry truck; he took a step up when he drove an electrician’s truck. Eventually he got a job as an engineer for the federal government and he was on the way to a very successful career.
Both of our families did bring ambition, education, and a belief that they could succeed. And after much hard work, frugality, and sacrifice, they did.
Another immigrant story comes from Kavinder:
I am a 25 year Sikh-American medical student. I was originally a Republican and my politics was in great part (and still is) influenced by my father and his journey (documented here in Notes). After my time getting my undergraduate degree from NYU, my politics and ideology shifted (due to open-minded inquiry, not some false PC indoctrination that Trump supporters believe is wide spread on college campuses). My politics also influenced my career choice of join into medicine.
For the record, my policy choices aligned more with Bernie Sanders, but I supported Clinton (quietly) in the primary and more openly in the general election. Besides commenting online and getting my immediate family to vote for Clinton in my deep blue state, I did nothing else. [For a longer reader note along those lines, see “The Guilt and Pain of a Clinton Supporter.”]
Let me begin by saying that I will NEVER accept Trump as my president. I will also join the resistance against him (in the ballot box and on the streets). I will not take the Trumpian agenda lying down, nor I will accept the hate crimes being committed in Trump’s name. Nor will I compromise on my core values of a open democratic and inclusive society.
At the same time, I do want to acknowledge that two bubbles exist in America, and one is made up of the Northeast and West Coast where liberal initiatives made gains. This is the bubble I live in, a progressive urban and cosmopolitan bubble. The other bubble is made up of the Mid-west and South, a backwards bubble (economically and socially).
I want to believe that most Trump voters are not personally racist or motivated by hate of the “other” (evidence is proving to show otherwise). But at the same time I do want to reach out to blue-collar workers (people I grew up around my entire life) and understand why the think and believe what they believe. If I can go from being a conservative Republican to liberal Democrat as a result of open-minded inquiry, then I believe other people can. I do not want to believe that half of our country is irredeemable, and I want to bridge the divide and work towards a progressive future.
Lastly here’s Susan, a reader in Portland, Oregon (where most of my family ended up after living all over the Midwest and South):
I guess I’m an elite, by Trump voters’ definition. I grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., my dad worked in a factory. I went in the military, finished college on the GI bill and moved to the west coast. I remember bitterly finding out my cousin-in-law back in GR, a gate guard at an auto factory, made three times a year what I made as a college graduate and news reporter. My fault for picking a low-paying profession, lower than teachers, with whom I used to commiserate. If people think THOSE jobs are coming back, well, I hope they hold Trump’s feet to the fire. They’ve been lied to, big league.
If you have something notable to add to the thread, firstname.lastname@example.org is always open. We’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of emails since the election, and we can’t post all of them of course, but we’re doing our best to feature the smartest, most thoughtful, tough-minded arguments and personal stories. I’m truly awed by the quality of notes coming in—the best I’ve seen since Notes launched more than a year ago.
Update from yet another reader, Mike:
I reject the notion of a “Liberal Bubble” as it has been described in the media recently. To me, it’s more indicative of liberals’ proclivity to hurry into the arms of defeat whenever they can. As our politics has seen over the last several decades, liberals seem to look for ways to surrender ground all the time. They seem to have taken to heart all the conservative tropes about how they’re somehow not #RealAmericans. This bubble talk is just one more instance of that.
How is it the liberals who are in a bubble and not other factions of the country? We’re not getting that impression from the popular vote!
If anything, we are a country of bubbles. The Trump supporters were deluded when they voted us into this mess. They bought into a massive con because they were conveniently insulated from a lot of important information. That’s by no means a unique feature to their cause, but that’s also kind of my point.
Now, if we were to say there was a “Clinton Bubble,” then I would agree with that. But really, it’s a stretch to call her a liberal to begin with.
But really, we’ve all just been divided into convenient demographics to make it easier to market to and exploit. Recent events should make that all the more evident.
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.
Shouting down political opponents is nothing new, but for people with modern sensibilities, being called a bigot when it’s unwarranted actually has an effect similar to a racial slur. It creates a sense of shame and anger, and it forces people to remind themselves that they’re fundamentally a good person. Like other slurs, it shuts down the conversation immediately and creates a mutual distrust.
Add in the new culture of safe spaces and trigger warnings, and you create an ideological echo chamber. Little by little, the social justice movement seems to be morphing into an insidious and sometimes subtle form of oppression, where controversial ideas are expunged from the public dialogue—by force of law if necessary.
Donald Trump is a cartoon character of a man. He’s likely committed multiple acts of fraud, his political knowledge is suspect, and even when addressing thousands of people, he sometimes seems to blurt out whatever insensitive comment comes to mind.
But the more his opponents exaggerated his evil nature and disregarded the legitimate policy concerns behind his questionable language, the more they turned him into a champion for all of those who the government had left behind. Both parties and the majority of the press unleashed all of their powers against him, but rather than backing down and providing the usual political doublespeak, he simply withstood the onslaught.
Meanwhile, Hillary was basically a character from House of Cards, with numerous scandals, questionable ties to everyone from Wall Street to foreign governments, and a policy agenda pulled straight from the polling computers. When I failed to find an inspiring third-party candidate, the choice was easy.
The silver lining is that this will be a shock to the system for many young liberals. In their confusion at the result, maybe they’ll take that extra step to start looking at the issues from all sides. Perhaps aspiring politicians will realize that the status quo in Washington simply isn’t good enough, and that a lot of people will vote for whomever provides the most believable case that they will change how things are done.
As divisive as this campaign has been, I’m still hopeful that some good can come out of exploring that divide more deeply. The more people who realize that in many ways we’re more the same than different, the better off everyone will be.
This video is a must-see:
Clinton suffered her biggest losses in the places where Obama was strongest among white voters. It's not a simple racism story
This next note, from Len, has a core reason for voting for Trump that I definitely haven’t seen yet: “I went Trump for his obvious LACK of principle, and pitched HRC due to her obvious religiosity.” Len elaborates:
I’m a middle-aged white male in Wisconsin with a rural Xtian upbringing. I am blue-collar for life and can’t afford more college at my age. It would be a waste of my money. My house, in a semi-rural area, is completely paid off, so that’s a plus: but the value of it, on the tax rolls, is about $45K. It’s a nice enough place.
In 2012 I voted for Obama (although I disagree with the guy, I like him personally), in 2008 I voted Green. I wanted to vote for Jill Stein this year but got worried about Hillary Clinton actually being elected. I vote for Tammy Baldwin [for Senate]. I voted Trump because, while I was laid off four times in six years, I did a lot of jobs, and work of various kinds, and I think got a pretty good view of how people live here. Oddly, for around here, I am violently opposed to Protestant religion and its global view, and voted for Trump as I consider Clinton a religious zealot. I chose to vote for a guy with no discernible principles at all. But Clinton? Globally, I regard her as a complete religious whack-job.
Len follows up:
I know this is a VERY out-there thing, but I do in fact consider modern Progressivism and Liberalism a form of Evangelical Protestant Christianity: the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. This is a very fringe idea at the moment, but it has very deep roots. There was a serious theological battle before the U.S. Civil War about whether Protestant Christianity was about saving the individual or projecting the Christian world-view into the physical realm. The firebrand abolitionists forced the United States into a physical battle over a physical injustice: slavery. The roots of the so-called “Social Gospel” are in that decision: to attempt to force, or instill, a Christian “defend the weak” values into the physical realm, on a mass, real-world scale. (I am kind of morally neutral about it.)
If you look into Hillary Clinton’s religious beliefs, you will find it, just like I did: She is, really, a Wesleyan Protestant Calvinist religious zealot. For real.
Oh, and Chris: Human beings get into fights all the time, all over the world; it’s what people do. So what happens when you ascribe, to yourself, the role, the job, of “helping the loser,” when one fight only leads to another? When as soon as you “empower” one combatant, they abuse and oppress the loser of the fight, that YOU just helped them vanquish? (As a case-study, I use Israel.) The whole theology is flawed.
Anyway, I am not popular with my supposedly “secular” Progressive and Liberal acquaintances, and they get very upset at being termed “religious fanatics.”
Here’s the third Obama/Trump voter to write us, Kristin:
My elderly mother and aunt were the biggest Trump supporters from the very beginning. As a college-educated, registered Independent woman and divorced mother of six (five daughters and one son), I stood by during most of the election. Presently, four of my children are grown, working under the weight of this economy. Three are in college.
A few years ago, as a non-traditional student, I finally completed my BS in Humanities (a minor English, with emphasis in Women’s Gender Studies) and went on to an MA in English Literature (two classes away). I have recently started an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) and this is where you and I meet: in a bulk e-mail announcement that always happily begins “Hi Kristin...”
I watched, I listen, I researched—a lot. Previously, I voted Obama. I celebrated Obama. This time I voted Trump.
I am not a Deplorable; I am an American, and a couple of generations ago, all of my grandparents were immigrants. I have sent my voice forth, in the poems attached. Yet there is only anger from the other half that I didn’t know existed until Obama flew from city to city on taxpayer money and warned my friends that a Trump victory would be disaster from America.
I will let my poems speak. From the very bottom of my heart, I thank you for listening :)
Here’s one of the pieces of writing she attached:
I’m sorry you are hurt. I hurt too. In 2008 I voted for Obama. In 2012, I didn’t vote at all. Either way, it didn’t matter. Nothing changed.
Protesters, I still didn’t have enough money to pay my mortgage, which had tripled. Neither did my family, my neighbors, my friends. And my job disappeared, over the Pacific, or the Atlantic. I forget. “It’s the right thing to do,” they said, those Third World countries that keep changing names deserve a better life for their people.
But Protesters, I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I looked in my refrigerator and then I stood in line at the food bank where they gave me rancid cake mix—did you know a cake mix can get rancid? I watched. I waited. Along with my family, my neighbors, and my friends. We held our breath as the Bail Out began.
Protesters, something DID happen during the Bail Out. But it missed us. We lost our homes, our cars. Our marriages. Still, we prayed. We waited. And we learned a few things while we waited, too. We learned that one meal eaten late in the afternoon can be counted as lunch and dinner. We also learned that “help wanted” meant under 20 hours, and if you get sick and you can’t pay the rent on the 5th of the month, a five-day “Pay or Quit” Notice of Eviction will be hanging on your door. Then the daughter who can’t read will ask you what it says and the daughter that can read gets very quiet and without asking, does her homework. And takes out the trash.
Protesters, I’m a woman, too, and I was so excited to see a woman candidate on this almost 100-year anniversary of the Women’s Right to Vote! Sure, I had questions about Obama Care, about e-mails, and dead soldiers in Benghazi. And issues about Trump. War with Russia and Global Warming. But Protesters, as a college-educated woman, I know that all guilt should be proven or else it’s all rhetoric. After all, this is America. I listened.
Then my paycheck came in, direct deposit, and the bank re-calculated a $4.00 gasoline purchase, a $3.00 Safeway charge for milk, and a $3.89 charge for tampons (can it already be that time of the month!) This triggered two $35.00 charges and after I paid the water and the electricity I had two crisp dollar bills and a handful of change in the palm of my hand. And 14 days till payday.
Protesters, that night, I listened one more time to Hillary speak. I really, really, really listened. Afterwards, I clicked off the television, tiptoed into my daughter’s bedroom and kissed her on the forehead. And I knew: something had to change.
I also knew that Hillary would understand my choice NOT to vote for her this time around. After all, she’s a woman, too.
Protesters, in the end, you’re not protesting President Trump. You’re protesting my cry for change. Your protesting ME.
Once again, I apologize if I hurt you.
Your Fellow American
If you’re also an Obama voter who voted for Trump and want to share your perspective, please drop us a note. Update from a long-time reader, Scott:
First time I’ve emailed, but as a former subscriber to the Daily Dish, I have followed Notes with interest and appreciate the curated reader comments. Thank you for continuing to air these discussions with Trump voters. I am despairing over the notes from these Obama/Trump voters, Aaron and Kristin, who feel like the government let them down since 2009, or that the social justice movement was too aggressive.
To Aaron, there is a big difference between describing systemic racism and injustice vs. labelling individual people as prejudiced. All of us work together to create these systems, even if individual people are free of animus toward African Americans, Muslims, etc. My interpretation is that many in positions of power, including white people, are having their eyes opened to the daily reality of people not like them, who have never been treated like full, equal members of the American community, and who are now asserting that equality. I do not believe in the need to have safe spaces to keep people from uncomfortable ideas, but at the same time, saying the rise of their use on college campuses somehow led to the expungement of controversial views, etc. from the national discourse is quite laughable. And tying that to assertions of equality for those our systems have prevented from being equal is a strange rhetorical leap indeed.
I also wonder if Kristin has spent any time contemplating why she feels that “nothing changed” despite her vote for Obama in 2008. Perhaps it was a GOP Congress that from the outset refused to let anything pass proposed by President Obama that could have actually helped her situation or the situations of her family members?
Here’s one more reader note, from Vince—an Obama voter who didn’t vote for Trump but relates to a lot of sentiment that elected him:
There seem to be many parallels between Alan and me: I too am a straight white male, raised Catholic. I have been married for 22 wonderful years to a black woman, and I adore my extended family. At 51 years of age, I have lived my entire adult life a stone’s throw from West Hollywood, the throbbing heart of the bluest state. I voted for Obama twice, and pretty much any analysis of my voting record for the past 30 years, or indeed my lifestyle and closest friendships, would reveal an open-minded, liberal-leaning independent. Oh: and I’m a 20-year professional employee of UCLA with a Master’s.
The difference between Alan and me is that I just could not vote for Trump, as I saw him as too reckless. I voted for Gary Johnson, knowing that in a state that Hillary would win in a landslide, I was safe to cast this protest vote.
However, I am thrilled to see the cynical, greedy Clinton machine finally smashed to bits. I am thrilled to see the arrogant cocoon of the news media, popular culture, Hollywood, liberal activists, DNC, identity politickers, and academia punctured by reality. I am thrilled to see the progressive juggernaut derailed. Trump could have replaced “Make America Great Again” with, “It’s the Authoritarianism, Stupid!”
The progressive left seems to have grown more hysterical, more bullying than ever before. It has enacted an illiberal, punitive, terrifying form of politics where everyone is one wrong position or one misunderstanding from being ex-communicated from the world of the decent. You’re either an Angel completely signed onto their endless quest for progressive utopia, or a Devil. While too many grope for the overheated “Marxist” to describe this kind of politics, it is far more apt than the totally inadequate “Political Correctness.”
It has obliterated any serious debate on a host of subjects by vilifying and demonizing some very good, decent people throughout the country. This cannot be stressed enough: While it has only gotten worse—ironically, as big culture war battles like marriage equality have been settled—it has been this way for decades.
So has the vicious mocking and slandering of anyone who lives outside of the liberal elite urban hubs—the demographic that put Trump over the top—as hateful, ignorant rednecks, a stereotype that has been a liberal punchline for generations. The Democratic establishment has become as much of a corporate-elitist imperium as the Republicans’, and it too has totally failed this large and economically desperate swath of Americans as much as the GOP. The only difference is that as the Democrats hold these peoples’ heads under water they insult their intelligence by promising “job training” while a black Ivy Leaguer tells them to “check their privilege.”
Liberals need to answer this question honestly: Even if the Republican candidate had not been a narcissistic, vulgar, bigoted clown, no matter how temperately he spoke about a need to control our borders, criticized Obamacare or questioned the wisdom of bringing tens of thousands of war-traumatized Muslims into the U.S., would you not have tarred the candidate and his supporters as bigoted scum anyway? Of course you would have. How, in that respect, was 2016 any different?
This new progressive bullying lies too much, obfuscates too much, railroads too much, silences too much, divides by identity too much. And it is finally an unsustainable strategy in a democracy where everyone gets a voice at the ballot box.
Update from a latecomer to the discussion, Alex, who has a detailed account of “why my brother, a life-long Democrat (and prior Obama voter) voted for Trump and I didn’t”:
My brother works as an electrician in the boroughs of New York City. He is also a veteran and an ex-EMT. Last year, I went there to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with him. Later that night, I, along with him and a bunch of his buddies retreated to his “man cave,” and we drank (I was cajoled into multiple shots of “Fireball’), told stories of yore, and got around to talking politics.
I was hesitant and a bit nervous to dive into this topic, since he knows I am a conservative and he is a life-long Democrat. His friends are an eclectic group: ex-cops, union guys, stage workers, etc. Some are like him, veterans. Almost all were loyal Democrats. I was therefore very much surprised when they all stated they were going to vote this year for Donald Trump. They were equally surprised when I said that I most likely would not.
I asked why they flipped from their party and now supported Trump. Let me distill all the responses given down to this one: “He gets us.”
My brother, financially, is “middle class.” He is, however, “working class.” He is one of the millions of workers to whom we owe our very lifestyle. They RUN our country in the mechanic sense. Everything you eat, use, and operate depends on THEM. Nothing works without them. Your life would devolve into the 16th Century without them. They are workers. Most are white and male. And they voted overwhelmingly for Trump. It was a workers revolt.
Democrats are always boasting that they represent the working class; this is only partly true. Every protest you see by “workers” is industry specific and they are surrogates for the Democratic Party. They represent the teacher’s unions, the fast food and restaurant industry, and the services sector. They usually are comprised of more minorities than the working class that voted for Trump.
Aaron Sorkin, who produced the T.V. Series “West Wing” recently made the news by penning a letter to his daughters in response to Trump’s victory. It was published in the far-left magazine Vanity Fair. In it, he states:
and it wasn’t just Donald Trump who won last night—it was his supporters too. The Klan won last night. White nationalists. Sexists, racists, and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate.
Newsflash to Aaron Sorkin: one of my brother’s buddies is a rigger and stagehand. Your industry employs thousands of folks like him. He is not a racist, sexist or a xenophobe, and as a white male, he is sick and tired of rich, liberal elitists constantly saying that he is. And neither is my brother. Both my brother and his buddy voted for Trump. When you order a seafood entry at one of your fancy, expensive favorite restaurants, it was made possible by some guy fishing in the middle of the ocean, in places like the Bering Sea, where it is so cold and the waters so rough that it is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. You can bet that those guys voted for Trump. Many of the workers in the lower rungs of your industry, who without, your damn plays and T.V. shows cannot be made, voted for Trump.
Sorkin’s letter is exhibit #1 why Trump won.
When a water main breaks and poor Aaron Sorkin can’t take a shower in his 3,700 square foot, $6.1 million dollar mansion in Los Angeles, who goes out and fixes it? Some guy (or gal) whose job it is to do so. He or she goes out regardless of the weather conditions and grapples with equipment down in the mud and restores the water supply. Ask that white male who fixed it who he voted for, Mr. Sorkin.
New York City’s “Water Tunnel 3,” that is almost complete and has been under construction since 1969 is famous for the workers that have created this marvel. They are called “sandhogs.” They get paid very well. Some of them die in this very dangerous vocation. These jobs are family heirlooms passed onto generation after generation. Many of these workers are white; all of them male. Many are Irish. The last leg of this massive construction project which would have reached the outer boroughs was shut down in April of this year by the socialist, liberal mayor of New York, Bill DeBlasio. Funny how once Manhattan got its part of the water tunnel finished, somehow there was no longer any money left to complete the tunnel into Brooklyn and Queens where the “bridge and tunnel” crowd live, huh? DeBlasio should ask some of these workers who they voted for, Trump or Clinton.
The people who make sure everything works in this country, those who farm the grain your food is made from, those who make sure your lights are on, those who transport everything you see around you by truck, train, and plane, those who process all the food you eat, those who you depend on day and night, do not all live on our two coasts. They live in “fly-over country.” They have been referred to as Aaron Sorkin did, as racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and ignorant. Some of them are. Some “liberals” are as well. But the vast majority is not.
They have seen their manufacturing jobs disappear, many as a result of NAFTA. Trump made it clear he will re-negotiate that treaty. Trump appealed to the average white male worker who just wants to have a good paying job and who was sick and tired that the elite Washington D.C. political class along with academia had convicted them to be what Hillary Clinton deemed as a “basket of deplorables.”
Aaron Sorkin and Hillary Clinton can continue to attack Trump voters with such incendiary jabs all they want. And Trumps everywhere will continue to be elected.
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:
The VP-elect went to the theater to see a show. He went as a public figure, but he didn’t attend in his capacity as a public figure. He asked for no attention.
The cast, learning that he was going to be attending, wrote a note to Pence that implied heavily that he was a racist and that they expected him to help enact racist policies.
The cast then picked him out of the audience at the end of the show and read the statement that heavily implied that Pence was a racist planning to enact racist policies in front of a crowd who cheered every time a well-worded jab hit.
To say Dixon’s speech “heavily implied that Pence was a racist planning to enact racist policies” seems like a stretch, but decide for yourself by reading the note’s contents here (as read aloud to the audience):
Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical, we really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us. All of us.
This next part from Dixon seems improvised: “Again we truly thank you for [attending our] show—this wonderful American story told be a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.” (He also told the audience not to boo Pence.) That’s a strong but polite defense of pluralism. And it was objectively a very divisive election, with Trump’s campaign especially divisive, and his transition is already divisive, so defenses of pluralism can’t be made enough right now. It was probably in poor taste for Dixon to encourage “everybody to pull out your phones, tweet and post, because this message needs to be spread far and wide” (besides, that speech was bound to go viral anyway). But it doesn’t seem like harassment when it’s done politely at the end of the show—a show about American history that’s inherently political and known precisely for its diverse cast; there was no ambush here.
But back to Ben, who insists “it isn’t really a question whether this is harassment or not”:
If it were a just-elected President Obama in the audience being grilled by people who were “worried he would strip the right to bear arms from law-abiding Americans” and who “hoped he would protect all the rights of all the Americans, not just the ones he felt were convenient to protect,” there would be a national uproar in the media at large. It would be universally decried, and that’s without calling implying anything half so personally negative as the Hamilton cast did to Pence.
It’s possible and perhaps reasonable to say “well, it’s harassment, but he’s a very good target for it,” but that’s not the same thing as pretending this was a quiet note slipped into his hand for his consideration at a later date. Whether you think it justified or not, this was a pointed insulting message delivered to a captive audience in a hostile room.
If the only thing that justifies it as acceptable (not just legal) behavior is that it’s OK to do it to “them” as it seems to be, then I’m not sure I can sign on. We just tried the “demonize everyone who disagrees with us and try to make it impossible for anyone with different views to exist in public society” tactic for six years, and I’m not sure the election indicates that it’s working out very well for us.
What do you think? Disagree with Ben, as I do, or was it unfair to spring that speech on Pence the way it happened? If so, what should have been the best approach? Email your thoughts. Update from an anonymous reader:
As a history teacher, I applaud the Hamilton cast and the way they took the opportunity to deepen the lessons of their show in a deliberate and direct way to Pence, our newly elected VP. It’s the epitome of speaking truth to power and it is our right as Americans.
Kate would agree:
I don’t see this as harassment. To speak in a civil tone, requesting consideration of your concerns, after the completion of the performance seems like a good use of the “bully pulpit” you have as a performer, especially as a performer in a play about the complex tensions in creating our country. Harassment might include calling Pence names, interrupting the performance to say things like “But we won’t have freedom if Pence has his way,” inciting the audience to yell or boo Pence, or orchestrating a scheme so that Pence couldn’t leave until the cast had their say. None of these things happened.
We haven’t heard that Pence was offended in any way. I’m sure it was unpleasant to be booed, but the cast didn’t do that; the audience did. The cast asked for the booing to stop.
Trump, who wasn’t there, seems like an inappropriate person to lecture others on the standards of harassment. Because if he believes that’s harassment, what about the things he’s said about Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Alicia Machado, Rosie O'Donnell, Megyn Kelly, the Khan family, and the women who say he’s physically harassed them? Clearly they are all far beyond respectful rebuke the cast made.
Another reader adds, “I appreciate the nuanced debate, but I’m surprised that the litany of examples of Trump’s harassing people left out his multiple, actual incitements to physical violence against protesters at his rallies!”
Stephen has the only solid dissent I’ve seen thus far, among the scores of emails streaming in:
The question is not whether talking to Pence was harassment, but whether Pence and his supporters will perceive it as harassment—the answer to which is rather obviously “yes.” It simply reinforces their narrative: the snobs are out to get us, and nothing we can do will make them stop calling us names.
So the question becomes: What are you trying to do? Have a real political impact, or just engage in emotional self-therapy and tribal bonding with people who already agree with you? Or to put it another way: Will this help flip Iowa? If it will, it’s politics. If it won’t, it’s narcissism and self-regard.
Here’s another reader, Lee-on, who sees things much differently than Stephen:
Mike Pence made the conscious decision to run for VP with Trump in a campaign filled with divisive language and rude remarks. He made the conscious decision to go to a show on Broadway where it is no secret that the LGBTQ community is strongly represented. He put himself in the public eye, pushed anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies [including conversion therapy], and then put himself in one of most famous places in the world that embraces fully the LGBTQ community. Getting asked by the cast to remember that they are people too, and that he should consider their rights when assuming office, is not only not harassment; it’s the only tool they have to voice their concern.
Louise looks back at some legit examples of harassment:
Donald Trump demanding President Obama’s long-form birth certificate for several years was harassment. Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie” to Obama during a State of the Union address was harassment. I don’t recall Rep. Pence castigating his colleague Rep. Wilson at the time. [Pence actually did say he was “disappointed” with Wilson’s outburst at the time.] He Nor do I recall Mr. Pence—either while serving in the House or as governor of Indiana—suggesting that Donald Trump refrain from casting absurd aspersions about President Obama’s place of birth. [Though Pence in early September did put pressure on Trump regarding birtherism by affirming Obama’s Hawaiian roots.]
Along those lines, Shelley adds:
Here’s a story about Michelle Obama and Jill Biden being booed at a NASCAR event. (Pay attention to the statement after the event.) I know Ben is complaining about the cast letter, but I offer this example as evidence of the way the Obama administration routinely met with boos and often still managed to make the message that seeing America united for shared causes—in the NASCAR case, supporting veterans—is more important than personal insult or affront.
And good thing, because I can think of no single bigger affront against a President than the birther movement, with Trump at its helm, which implies that a black citizen is always suspect and is seen as less than legitimate, with no form of proof being ample enough to discount the accusation of illegitimate power grab.
Ryan tackles the comparison that Ben makes with Obama:
The problem with Ben’s logic is that then-Senator Obama never campaigned on a platform of “strip[ping] the right to bear arms from law-abiding Americans.” Gun fanatics may believe he did just because there is a (D) next to Obama’s name, but there is nothing that Obama ever said that can be remotely equated with wanting to “strip the right to bear arms from law-abiding Americans.”
On the other hand, Pence’s boss has campaigned on stripping away freedoms. Trump has said he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Trump has said he intends to “open up the libel laws” to go after journalists. Trump seems very willing to use his newly acquired power to quell dissent and punish detractors. This is a dangerous man to have in the White House and it is imperative to stand up and call it out.
Another reader joins Ryan:
Let’s look at Ben’s straw-man example of Obama. Say Obama went to take in a Loretta Lynn concert in Nashville. If he ever took during his national campaign a similarly maximalist position on guns as Trump and Pence took (and have continued to take since the election in their appointments and lack of conciliation) on race and religion, then it would be within both Loretta Lynn’s and the crowd’s right to confront him (confront, not harass). Then in what objective observation of Obama’s behavior before or since his election would anyone think Obama demands an apology?
This goes back to this respect that Ben and Trumpers seem to want. They do not get to dictate the manner, method, and location of being confronted by the real concerns of fellow citizens. They seem to forget respect goes both ways. They demand respect but seem to want unyielding deference. Demands of apology and fealty from their defeated opponents is no way to get respect.
Elaine makes another good distinction between Obama and Trump:
When Obama gets booed, he addresses it and engages. Trump and Pence won’t engage with people who disagree with them except on Twitter, so they are making us do desperate things in order to be heard.
Here’s Beth on Trump’s lack of magnanimity:
The bottom line is that this was a missed opportunity for the incoming Trump/Pence administration. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Trump to tweet “Thank you for your voices! We love all Americans!” The fact that he can’t ignore it or pretend that he really cares about all Americans is horrifying. To recycle an old theme from his campaign: If he can’t handle his VP being potentially offended by people exercising their First Amendment rights, what will happen when he’s offended by someone like Kim Jong-un?
I hate to say I agree with George:
My first reaction to hearing Trump’s reaction to the Hamilton cast’s message was outrage. This is the man who apologizes for nothing, and he expects the cast of Hamilton to apologize of this!?
My second reaction was a slow realization that he's just played us again. Trump is not really asking for an apology by asking for an apology. He knows full well the media reaction to such tweets. The blogosphere will erupt, it will get TV coverage, print coverage, radio coverage, water cooler coverage. And while those of us who cannot stand his hateful rhetoric will be talking about the double standard he is using, and assorted injustices, his real audience will be laughing and sharing memes on Facebook about this.
My final reaction is sadness. This is how it’s going to be. Trump knows the system, and every time we argue with reasons and facts and specifics, careful pleas to sanity and American values, we are going to get burned. Our current media landscape is not set up to deal with this man. All we can really do is watch him shape his wings and wonder if he will, at some point, fly too close to the sun.
It’s one thing to ignore a troll in the comments section or Twitter, but incredibly hard when we just elected one to be President of the United States. This is a genuinely depressing time.
Update: In stark contrast to Trump:
Okay one more email, for the sake of open discourse. Here’s a reader who prefers the anonymous attribution “had enough from both sides now”:
Of course the cast of Hamilton had every right to reach out to Pence and exercise their First Amendment rights after the performance. Was it harassment? No. But was it the right thing to do?
Pence was not there as a public servant, but was confronted and accused in an unfair arrangement in a public space. One held the stage and the microphone; one did not. One had present a group of like-minded supporters; one did not. One had the element of surprise; one did not.
Perhaps the cast should have let their powerful piece of work and its message stand for itself. The fact that Pence even attended such a performance is interesting. Perhaps just a friendly acknowledgment from the cast, “Hey Mike, glad you could come, hope you liked the show” would have been a MUCH more powerful message. Such a friendly callout puts a bit of onus on Pence: “We see you here; you are now a witness and accountable.” Perhaps an open public letter the next day seeking Pence’s review of the performance, forcing him to air his views? Put him on the spot for respectful public discourse.
That would have been much more effective and persuasive than what they actually said, what they accused. And it certainly would not have given any more ammo to the Man Behind the Tweet, who uses these digressions to fuel his rabid fans.
Have we not yet learned that SHOUTING at someone or groups of people is wrong and counterproductive? That it actually has the exact opposite effect that we desire and causes people to retrench and hold tighter to their beliefs, even if misguided? It certainly doesn’t force the person to look at their views from a different perspective.
We recently learned this hard lesson with the Black Lives Matter protest. What should have been a very powerful and important movement became polarizing and divisive and was used to fuel the horrible rhetoric of the Republican campaign.
No one should be treated like this, even if the claims are true and they are made with just intentions. Until we can stop shouting AT each other and really start listening to each other’s differing points of view, we will be doomed to this endless spiral of pointed accusations with no end in sight.
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: email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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.
A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change.
Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.
Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.
The Texas governor appears more worried about losing his primary than saving the lives of his constituents.
Governor Greg Abbott is afraid. Not of COVID-19, which is killing thousands of Texans, but of losing his primary.
Last week, Abbott announced that he was banning COVID-vaccine mandates by “any entity” in Texas, a policy so absurd that you’d be forgiven for thinking, as the running joke on social media goes, that the coronavirus wrote the executive order itself. You might as well ban restaurants from requiring employees to wash their hands, or bar hospitals from making surgeons wear masks in the operating room. According to The Texas Tribune, about 270 Texans a day have died of the virus in the past month—close to 70,000 people in total—and only 52 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. The vaccines could control the pandemic, if Republican officials and their allies in conservative media weren’t so busy trying to convince their followers not to get them.
Different chemically than it was a decade ago, the drug is creating a wave of severe mental illness and worsening America’s homelessness problem.
In the fall of 2006, law enforcement on the southwest border of the United States seized some crystal methamphetamine. In due course, a five-gram sample of that seizure landed on the desk of a 31-year-old chemist named Joe Bozenko, at the Drug Enforcement Administration lab outside Washington, D.C.
Organic chemistry can be endlessly manipulated, with compounds that, like Lego bricks, can be used to build almost anything. The field seems to breed folks whose every waking minute is spent puzzling over chemical reactions. Bozenko, a garrulous man with a wide smile, worked in the DEA lab during the day and taught chemistry at a local university in the evenings. “Chemist by day, chemist by night,” his Twitter bio once read.
A lasting effect of this pandemic will be a revolution in worker expectations.
I first noticed that something weird was happening this past spring.
In April, the number of workers who quit their job in a single month broke an all-time U.S. record. Economists called it the “Great Resignation.” But America’s quittin’ spirit was just getting started. In July, even more people left their job. In August, quitters set yet another record. That Great Resignation? It just keeps getting greater.
“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.
At a glance, America’s shortage of adoptable babies may seem like a problem. But is adoption meant to provide babies for families, or families for babies?
Ever since I entered what can generously be called my “mid-30s,” doctors have asked about my pregnancy plans at every appointment. Because I’m career-minded and generally indecisive, I’ve always had a way of punting on this question, both in the doctor’s office and elsewhere. Well, we can always adopt, I’ll think, or say out loud to my similarly childless and wishy-washy friends. Adoption, after all, doesn’t depend on your oocyte quality. And, as we’ve heard a million times, there are so many babies out there who need a good home.
But that is not actually true. Adopting a baby or toddler is much more difficult than it was a few decades ago. Of the nearly 4 million American children who are born each year, only about 18,000 are voluntarily relinquished for adoption. Though the statistics are unreliable, some estimates suggest that dozens of couples are now waiting to adopt each available baby. Since the mid-1970s—the end of the so-called baby-scoop era, when large numbers of unmarried women placed their children for adoption—the percentage of never-married women who relinquish their infants has declined from nearly 9 percent to less than 1 percent.
An enduring scientific debate is about humanity’s past—and its future.
On a searing-hot summer day at ‘Ubeidiya, an ancient site in northern Israel, an undulating expanse of dry grasses and thistles stretches into the distance. Far on the horizon, the mountains of Jordan shimmer through the haze; nearby stand cultivated olive groves and a date-palm plantation.
Just south of the Sea of Galilee, and up a rocky dirt road, ‘Ubeidiya seems like a secret, with no sign to indicate its archaeological riches. About 1.5 million years ago, ‘Ubeidiya’s panorama would have looked dramatically different, says the archaeologist Omry Barzilai, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, as he tramps through hillside brambles. “You would have seen a large lake that extends all the way to the Jordanian hills,” he says.
In the social-media age, we curate images of our lives on a screen—making it especially easy to translate images of perfection as the image of oneself. But the pressure to pretend we are perfect is exactly the thing holding us back from experiencing the happiness we seek—and limiting our ability to be our whole, authentic selves.
In this week’s episode of How to Build a Happy Life, we’ll define what we mean by “authenticity” and explore the psychological underpinnings of our ego-driven identities. A conversation with the clinical psychologist and mindfulness expert Dr. Shefali helps us work through one of the most challenging questions of all: Who am I?
Republicans are holding up the January 6 insurrection—an effort to overthrow the American government—as the high-water mark of patriotism.
One of my favorite things about covering political rallies is that they typically start with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. For anyone above school age, occasions to recite the pledge with a large group of people are irregular, and the ritual serves as a good reminder of what politics is about at its best, no matter how divisive what follows might be.
The pledge at a rally for the Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in Virginia on Wednesday night was different. At the beginning of the event, which Steve Bannon hosted and Donald Trump phoned into, an emcee called an attendee up onstage and announced, “She’s carrying an American flag that was carried at the peaceful rally with Donald J. Trump on January 6.” Attendees then said the pledge while facing the flag. (Youngkin didn’t attend, and later tepidly criticized the moment.)
Studying powerful eruptions means witnessing beauty and tragedy in the same moment.
On March 16, 2017, Mount Etna almost killed Boris Behncke. He was on the volcano’s snow-covered flanks, accompanying a film crew from the BBC. Serpents of lava were slithering out of a southeastern crater, but Behncke, a volcanologist at Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, felt no need to take his hard hat out of his bag. They were more than a mile away from the crater, seemingly far from harm’s reach.
Suddenly, flashes of steam erupted from the ice—lava had snuck into the snowbank and was violently vaporizing it, launching red-hot debris into the air. Everyone bolted downslope; some were knocked off their feet by the blasts, others pelted by a Hadean hail of volcanic rock. A small, scorching-hot chunk of matter shot at Behncke, careening through his backpack like a bullet through Jell-O. That he had not whipped out his hard hat proved oddly fortunate: If he had put it on his head, that volcanic shard would have sliced through his abdomen.
Jesus meets Dostoyevsky. He takes one look at him, peers for a diagnostic instant into those tunnels-of-torment eyes, and performs an immediate exorcism. Brisk and bouncerly, no fuss, in the Jesus style: Party’s over, little devil. Out you go. A slight buzzing sound, and it’s done. And Dostoyevsky, with the infernal reveler ejected, is relieved that second of his hemorrhoids, his gambling habit, his seizures, his fevers, his depression, his hypochondria, his appalling futuristic intuitions and obsessions. He is freed from the cell of his own skull. And he writes no more books, ever.
The Sinner and the Saint, Kevin Birmingham’s inspired account of the genesis—philosophical and neurological—of Crime and Punishment, will leave you of two minds about Dostoyevsky, rather as the great Russian was of (at least) two minds about himself. On the one hand, you’ll be in awe of his writerly stamina, his dedication to the depths of experience, his artistic fidelity, his fragility/durability, his unprotected imagination, and so on. On the other, you’ll be wondering if a good chunk of Crime and Punishment—a baggy, sweaty book; a sprawl, a trial, as even its admirers will concede—might not be pure pathology.