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.
That’s how reader Ray describes himself in the subject line of the note he sent to hello@. The question Ray closes with is the most compelling: Should you take a gamble with a volatile candidate or one who’s predictably corrupt?
I grew up on the West Coast, raised by Indian immigrants, went to a liberal university, and voted liberally on most stances until this election. I am currently working on a post-baccalaureate professional degree, so I am not uneducated. My vote for Trump is a protest vote—a protest that Sanders couldn’t provide.
I’m tired of our country being whored out to the highest bidder. I’m tired of people coming into this country illegally, taking away the justice due to those who have waited in line for years to get into this great country. I’m tired of politics as usual. I’m tired of micro-aggressions, safe spaces, and the general retreat on being confronted with opposing views. I’m tired of the sense of entitlement present in many of my peers. I’m tired of pretending that the U.S. is hunky-dory while seeing my friends sipping their mochas in LA, SF, and NYC, ignoring the plight of the “flyover” states. I’m tired of accepting that U.S. politics is an inevitable palace of corruption, with trim made of corporate donations, a carpet of immunity, and a chandelier of complacency. I’m tired of accepting politics as the broken system we see today.
As of very recently, I’m tired of liberal-minded individuals grouping Trump supporters as ignorant, racist, and/or sexist. I was one of those people casting the judgement before the campaigns began. However, after having changed my opinion—contrary to late night shows and other self-congratulatory political comedy—now I’m just uninformed and racist. When I was trying to spread the Wikileaks revelations about the corruption of Clinton, I was wearing a tinfoil hat and was “unrealistic” about the nature of politics. The cognitive dissonance of former Sanders supporters was so strong it just about knocked me off my chair.
The media response to Trump firmly solidified my position with Trump. The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post—all my beloved bastions of journalism—began a coordinated effort to turn their outlets into the the daily Trump takedown. They firmly stepped into the bubble of self-reassurance: It is not possible for contradictory views of the 2016 election to exist without being racist or ignorant. Instead, they continued to perpetuate identity politics and wedge issues.
Trump supporters couldn’t have legitimate views worthy of discussion, right? They obviously had to be bigots.
If you feel that 50 million of your countrymen are racists and ignorant voters, I feel sorry for you. I implore those people to come on down from their towering high horse and talk to the simpletons, racists, and bigots outside of their society. Maybe when they’re trying to tell those simpletons how misguided they are, about how Kansas isn’t acting in its own best interest, the high-horse society can take a moment to fairly consider the simpleton’s argument for but just a moment. That is, before they retreat to a place of intellectual and moral superiority—again, telling Kansas what’s the matter with it.
A political cartoon I saw last week captured my sentiment about the two major candidates in 2016. I view Clinton and Trump as a game of Russian roulette, with each candidate being a different revolver. Clinton’s is fully loaded with corruption, propaganda, and bad decisions as a leader. Trump’s is only half loaded. Which one should Lady Liberty spin and point at her head?
This next reader, Nana, also had major qualms with both candidates but comes down on Trump the hardest:
I am a cross between your reader Marco [“The Smell of Corruption Emanating From the Clinton Machine”] and your Southern reader [“I Voted for the Middle Finger, the Wrecking Ball”] and, except for a few differences here and there, I could have written the latter’s piece. I am an immigrant from Africa with a PhD in engineering. I have lived in Texas, the Midwest, and now live in a red state in the Southwest. I love this country and, no matter how one voted, I think it is important that we all accept Trump as our president-elect and pray for his success.
But I don’t think the primary issue that concerns people who did not vote for Trump is the usual divide between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, Red and Blue that often shape our political discourse, although that is what this discussion seems to be devolving into.
Like Marco, I abhor the corruption of our politicians and feel a bit queasy about dynastic politics, but I also recognize that dynastic successions are not that uncommon in other areas such sports, media, business, and religious institutions—and they need not be corrupting. I could quibble with Marco on the extent to which “the smell of” Clinton’s political corruption is somehow worse than Trump’s well-documented corruption in his business life. But I wouldn’t have a problem with Marco deciding to vote for Trump on the basis of those two issues, if those were all we have to consider in selecting a President.
Similarly, I share your Southern reader’s frustrations about our inability to secure our borders, or have sensible immigration or health care policies. I understand his desire to vote for “the wrecking ball” to give us a kick. By most accounts, Trump’s victory is largely due to Americans with similar frustrations voting for him.
I suspect Romney, John Kasich, the Bushes, and the Republicans that came out forcefully against Trump share much of the concerns of Marco, your Southern reader, and most Americans. Our elections are mostly about our preferences for addressing such concerns.
The constant refrain from these Trump voters here is that people are judging them as uneducated, bigoted, xenophobes, or misogynists just because they voted for Trump. If this is happening, it is clearly wrong and we should all push back forcefully against that narrative. But I don’t think that is the issue here. The shock of those who did not vote for Trump, including Romney, Kasich and several Republicans, is about something entirely different, I suspect.
People waste no time pointing to Obama’s single comment about some “bitterly clinging to their guns and religion” as ample evidence of his identity politicking or bigotry. Many were aghast at Clinton’s truly deplorable comment describing some of Trump supporters as irredeemable “deplorables.” And who can forget Romney’s “47 percent” comment that likely contributed to his loss in 2012. Each comment, while deplorable, was made by a politician in an unguarded moment. That doesn’t excuse it. But you know what? Each of them apologized profusely and paid a price. More importantly, not one of them repeated or stood by those comments for the rest of their campaigns. If Trump had made a couple of such unfortunate comments, apologized, and moved on, I would hope we would too.
But in Trump’s case something quite different happened. Right from day one, he seemed to have chosen purposefully to use xenophobia and bigotry as tools to sow division. Not only did he repeatedly do this, but based on the evidence we have all seen and heard, I feel comfortable describing Trump as a xenophobe, bigot, and misogynist. Unfathomably, Trump’s campaign seemed to condone support from anti-Semites even though he has Jewish family members. If he is none of these things as some say, but chose to play a part to win this election, that is even more despicable.
Again, it is preposterous to suggest that all Trump voters share these characteristics. However, a not insignificant segment of Trump supporters, by their words, deeds, clothing at campaign rallies, and associations with hate groups, do seem to share some of these characteristics with Trump.
It is one thing to vote for a populist or even volatile candidate who rails at the usual suspects of corrupt politicians, out of touch elites, the media, big business, unions, opposing parties and the typical broad groups both sides attack in elections. What is different here is that clearly non-bigoted and decent voters, some of whom voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for a candidate that explicitly used bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny as campaign tools to sow division.
Even if you want to blow up the system, you don’t throw your fellow Americans under the bus. That is what is disturbing.
Update from Nana:
I don’t know if it matters at this point, but here is a point of clarification. Reading my email, I can see how you might think this, but I really do not have any major qualms with Clinton. Moreover, the issues I think need addressing—border security, immigration, health care—are universal. Clinton voters also want to see those issues addressed but in a different way. My point to all of us—and to push back a little at both Lindsey and Robert today—who from either side seem to be resorting back to the usual “let’s blame the ‘media,’” this election was really about us and our values, regardless of what the “media” did or did not do.
There is a larger point to be made to these Trump voters who bristle at being tagged with Trump’s sins of bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny, and I agree they really shouldn’t be tagged with them. But, if you will notice, none ever say Trump himself is not guilty of those sins. Minus Trump’s bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia and the willingness to use them in the election, I wouldn’t begrudge any voter for picking him, although I personally wouldn’t for a variety of other reasons. But the choices would not have been that different from your usual suspects.
What I think is staring us right in the face but we seem unwilling to confront is the following: Now that he is president, we must move forward and determine how best to live with our collective decision. But picking the Trump we know with his bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia, smacks of those voters saying, “I don’t commit those sins myself and abhor them, but I will condone them from Trump, wielded in my name against a large segment of my fellow citizens, because I like the benefits we saw from his campaign (e.g., Lindsey) and believe he can solve America’s problems for all our benefits (e.g., Marco and your Southern reader).”
Maybe it’s because of my immigrant perspective, but who wants benefits acquired by those means? What sins in our name will we be willing to accept next month, next year, or during the next election?
So far we’ve heard from two Trump voters in great detail: Alan, who’s most animated by identity politics, and our Southern reader who wants to take a “wrecking ball” to Washington. But both readers also had major qualms with the Trump candidacy. Another reluctant Trump voter, Marco, describes his deep aversion to establishmentarianism and dynastic politics—and he doesn’t spare the Republicans one bit:
We shouldn’t be asking what happened with Trump. What happened to The Atlantic? I’ve been a reader for years, after abandoning Time and Newsweek because of their People-like superficiality. The appearance of considered thoughts at The Atlantic is what kept me there. But since you decided to take sides in the presidential election, strident hysterical writing is all I find, especially on November 9.
That’s perhaps understandable The Day After, but, folks, the sky won’t fall. It won’t fall because the U.S. government’s institutions are designed to prevent irrational outcomes to a good degree. Trust the system a little, if you learned anything from history.
I probably do not feel the pain to the same degree as you do, though I am concerned, and on pins and needles. I admit it: I voted for Trump—at the limit of my tolerance for bad taste and unhinged statements. But I did so not because I am an undereducated, violent, intolerant, gun-waving xenophobe—as the press has made habit of defining Trump supporters. I have an MBA. I refuse violence and support gun control. And I’m an immigrant, now a citizen after obtaining green cards twice, all by the legal process.
I voted for Trump only because of the smell of corruption emanating from the Clinton Machine. That smell is well documented by Wikileaks and Podesta’s emails depicting the Clinton Foundation / State Department connections. To that you can add the past four decades of continuous scandals—why only them with so many? You get my picture.
But there is one more reason to fear their corruption: the history of ALL countries around the world, since WWII, where an immediate relative followed a president or PM (see my list below). In all cases, either the “succession” was made possible by endemic corruption, or advanced it as a result, or both. This is to be expected when the vested interests supporting one person get to take advantage of continued control of the government from behind the scenes by electing the relative.
By the way, the Bushes fit that pattern too. I objected to Jeb Bush on those grounds. Democratic institutions can control visible political activity (and will control Trump’s extremes), but they cannot control the invisible quid pro quo that corruption brings. Trump’s lack of institutional backers is the attractive part. If he can just push and deliver term limits and limits on lobbying, as he promised, he will have drained enough of the swamp. Beyond that the Congress can handcuff him as necessary.
So, perhaps the sky is not falling and a more reasoned discussion could help your readers, and recover the high editorial standards of The Atlantic. More importantly, you could help voters understand that women can and do make great leaders (Thatcher, Meir, Merkel), but we have to pick those that built their own career on their own ability, not those pushed along by private interests. Let’s hope for a better choice next time.
Here’s the list of dynastic world leaders that Marco compiled (I added #5-7):
Juan and Isabel Peron in Argentina in the ’70s (husband and wife)
Kirchners in Argentina in ’00s (husband and wife)
The Aquinos in the Philippines (husband would’ve been president if not assassinated; Corazon, the wife, became president, as did her son.)
Nehru and Gandhi in India (Indira Gandhi followed her father (Nehru), and her son Sanjay virtually ran the country under her administration)
Pierre Trudeau and Justin Trudeau in Canada (father and son both prime ministers, the son currently)
Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore (father and son both prime ministers, the son currently)
Uhuru Kenyatta and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya (father and son both prime ministers, the son currently)
Mandelas in South Africa (husband and wife controlled the ANC government). They raised corruption to a science.
Imelda Marcos (provincial governor while husband Ferdinand was president)
GHW Bush and GW Bush in the U.S. (father and son). The father’s Neocons gave us Iraq.
In 2016, the ultimate, Nicaragua’s Ortega is running for a third term with his wife on the ticket.
In recent weeks, corrupt practices by South Korea’s president Park Geu-hye were reported and admitted. She is daughter of the former president.
Did the Democratic Party make a mistake backing another Clinton? Can you relate to reader Marco’s sentiments? If so, does it matter when it comes to backing Trump? Drop us a note if you’d like to respond to Marco. Update from another reader, Rick: “This is the first pro-Trump argument that doesn’t scare me to death.” Then let reader Mark try:
I would like to point out the obvious: The Clinton dynasty is likely over whenever Hillary is done. The Bush dynasty still has some legs. But the Trump dynasty is just beginning. He gave his children large roles in his campaign and will either give them roles in his administration or will have them overseeing his business. To put it ungenerously, we now have our own Uday and Qusay.
But don’t discount the Clinton dynasty yet; there is widespread speculation that Chelsea is being groomed for a congressional run. Reader David, on the other hand, doesn’t see dynastic politics as necessarily a bad thing: “Well, I think we got pretty good stuff from the Roosevelt ‘dynasty’—Teddy and FDR!”
Circling back to Marco, here’s a reader rebuttal from Emily:
Thanks for your honesty, Marco. But are you having misgivings about President-elect Trump’s hiring of his three children for his transition team at the same time that they are in charge of a blind trust that will manage his businesses? Are you concerned that this doesn’t meet the legal standard for blind trusts, and that Trump’s banks of record and businesses will undoubtedly be affected by his relationships with other foreign leaders? He acknowledged throughout the campaign that his children would run this “trust”; it’s not a surprise. To me, this arrangement makes the issues around the Clinton Foundation look like running a lemonade stand.
Here’s reader Martha with a longer rebuttal:
I truly appreciate Marco’s thoughtfulness, but I can’t agree with his conclusions. I applaud his well-stated arguments for Mr. Trump and appreciate his observations about the Clintons. I thought both of our choices this election were awful.
Yet, a vote for Mr. Trump was a step too far.
First, to respond to the observations about the Clintons: I agree there is a whiff of something unpleasant about them and I believe they have a history of walking up to the line—and perhaps crossing it. However, I have to temper this observation with the years of their being pursued by a political paparazzi that, especially in the Internet age, states the most awful things about them as truth (murder anyone?).
A recent example is the furor over access of donors to the Clinton Foundation to the secretary of state, portrayed by certain Republicans and Clinton haters as pay-to-play. There may be something there, but if so, I haven’t seen it yet. As someone who spent more than 30 years in a large federal department, I know that top-level officials DO meet with individuals they know and do sometimes meet with people who may, or whose families may, have contributed to a campaign or cause dear to the official’s heart. This does not mean that such contacts are pay-to-play or inappropriate. I have not seen “results” stated that would demonstrate Secretary Clinton made inappropriate decisions based on these contacts.
I feel much of what has been written about the Clintons is not corruption. I do agree that some of it gives the “appearance” of questionable behavior. And I have been disturbed that the Clintons seem to demonstrate questionable lapses time and again. They don’t seem to learn. But I have not seen proof of criminality or intent to harm or corrupt.
Now, on to Mr. Trump: If I can see where Marco is coming from regarding the Clintons (though I don’t draw conclusions as harsh as his), then I ask he re-examine Mr. Trump and his potential corruption. Like the Clintons, there is no direct proof, but his business dealings raise questions about his ethics. Did he really let his investors take the hits during his bankruptcies through some fancy legal and tax footwork? Has he really borrowed from Russian banks and had contact with Russian officials during the campaign? Does he really stiff contractors, architects, purveyors, etc.? The list goes on.
So, I think neither candidate is free of questions concerning corruption, but they were the choices we had. Based on that, I selected Secretary Clinton for her foreign policy experience (even if too hawkish for my tastes), her support of climate change initiatives, her policy chops, her social agenda, her support of the environment, etc. And she conducts herself well. Mr. Trump’s language and behaviors are scary to me.
Here’s Dorothy with another strong rebuttal—directly addressing Marco here:
I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts about this since so many of us are trying to figure out why our fellow Americans think at Trump presidency could possibly be a good idea. And I really mean that; I’m not being snarky. Given some of the hateful things that have occurred since Election Night [my colleague Emma collected some in Philly], it gives me comfort to hear from good, reasonable people like yourself.
Nevertheless, I find some of what you have laid out puzzling, given how our system of government functions and the fact that one party is fully in charge of two of the three branches and in a position to shape the third for a generation. This statement, in particular, struck me:
Trump’s lack of institutional backers is the attractive part. If he can just push and deliver term limits and limits on lobbying, as he promised, he will have drained enough of the swamp. Beyond that the Congress can handcuff him as necessary.
I regret to inform you that he can do neither of those things without Congress, and a Congress finally out from under the yoke of a White House occupied by a different party is not going to take up either of those items. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already dismissed that out of hand this week, not wasting more than 30 seconds on it.
And what incentive does Congress have to handcuff him? Except for the two things you would most like to see happen, they largely agree with Trump on the things that will be most hurtful to most Americans: repealing the ACA; gutting the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts (perhaps abolishing the EPA altogether); deregulating the financial industry so that they can get back to the tricks that brought on the Great Recession, etc. And for at least two years there will be nobody or no mechanism of government (particularly after they pack the court with loonies) to put a check on a radical right-wing Republican agenda.
I can also say that I have A LOT of sympathy for your opinion of dynasties. One of the many reasons I was a devoted supporter of Barack Obama in 2008 was that if Hillary Clinton had won the nomination and gone on to win the general election that year, the sitting president would have had the surname Bush or Clinton for my entire voting life, and I was 41 years old at the time. But Donald Trump has appointed three of his children (and his son-in-law) to his transition team while these same three children are running his business interests. His business dealings and his public office are already completely commingled. You find his lack of “institutional backers” attractive, but he has one institutional backer with unfettered access to the White House: THE TRUMP CORPORATION.
I hope you’re right and that the sky doesn’t fall, because if it does the one thing that will unite those of us who did and didn’t vote for Trump is how screwed we will be.
A Trump voter describes his worldview in great detail. Despite his blunt quote above, his note is more nuanced and perhaps more relatable than you think:
I am Southern. I am white. I am a male. I was raised Roman Catholic and now go to a Methodist church regularly with my wife and kids. I value the 2nd Amendment but do not own a gun. Every male in my family, save me, is currently serving or has served in the U.S. military. I stand at the pledge of allegiance, and stand and sing with the anthem. I live near streets named after Stonewall Jackson and Strom Thurmond and know Tillman Hall was named after a racist populist who carried a pitchfork. Until recently, I attended field trips with my kids to our state capitol where the Confederate flag still flew, and I am genuinely glad we finally took it down.
I have a Masters degree. My kids go to public school with kids of all races, colors, and creeds. Our neighborhood has immigrant families, mixed-race families, minorities, and same-sex couples. Our sports teams are multi-cultural, diverse, and play beautifully together, on and off the field. I have neither the time, energy, or room in my heart for hatred, bigotry, or racism.
I work hard and sacrifice for my family. I expect everyone to do the same and believe most do. I am romantic enough to still believe that America was created and intended to be a meritocracy. I am intelligent enough to understand the realty that not every one starts off in life from the same spot and not all of us will reach the attain the same levels of success—however you define it.
I also know that living right now, right here, is the greatest advantage any man, women, or child in the history of humankind has ever had. I understand a ruling class exists in our country and contrary to what many believe, my white skin does not provide me access to it. I started off with advantages others didn’t—many of which were afforded me by my parents sacrifices, judgment, and toil. They stayed away from drugs. The waited until marriage to have children. They moved to chase a better life, took night classes at local community colleges to earn credentials. They passed on new cars for used ones, sewed to repair clothes, declined cable television, ate in, not out—and saved every day and every night. They taught me right from wrong, first impressions matter, there is no substitute for hard work and no limits on achievement.
I love working people who answer the alarm clock. I love parents who make sure their kids will have it better than they do. I respect people too busy paying the light bill to keep up with “the news.”
I do not hate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender, or faith in any way shape or form. I like liberals, conservatives, and independents. I do not hate Obama or Hillary; I do not know them. I did not deny Clinton my vote because she lacks a penis.
I appreciate the incredible difficulties that surround an unwanted pregnancy, marvel at foster parents and adoption, but detest even the thought of abortion. But I have read a history book or two, so I get the lessons of prohibition. I know we can’t just “turn the switch off” on abortion and I know a red herring when I see one. Abortion isn’t going away because we elected a Republican. It just isn’t.
I know the Clintons do not really care about me. I know Trump could not care less. I know Morning Joe will look the same tomorrow and the day after, and Fox News will put even more colorful graphics and pretty anchors on next week. I know Rush is a buffoon, and Al Sharpton is too. I know some schools are better than others, some students are too, and not everyone is destined to Jay Z or Jordan or Bill Gates.
I know life has meaning beyond $ and I can be happy with what I have—and most importantly, ok with what I don’t. I can dream big and one day maybe design a better duck call that gets me my own TV show or make a loom for kids to make rubber band bracelets that makes me a fortune. America fosters those dreams.
I voted for the wrecking ball—and I feel better about it now than I did in the booth.
I love New York—Gotham, the capital of the world. I watch George Clooney movies and download Kanye—not because I care about their politics but because O Brother Where Art Thou is funny and “Gold Digger” is a good song. I love visiting Seattle and Chicago, Atlanta and Vegas.
I tip well. I am courteous to the airline attendant, the hotel concierge, the blackjack dealer, and the roofer fixing my leaky roof. I try to pay the bills, save a little for college, retirement, the emergency fund. I try to eat better, work out a little, read non-fiction, watch Frontline, listen to NPR, learn something new every day. I respect, appreciate, and marvel at the success of others of any and every race, religion, and gender. I check out Mother Jones, the Daily Kos, and the Drudge Report.
I know my brother in the U.S. Army will die tomorrow so a millionaire quarterback can kneel during the Anthem while my oldest brother, the police officer, will kick in the door of a trailer to get a white kid, an African American kid, an undocumented immigrant kid, out of harm’s way. This isn’t about hate; it just isn’t.
I know what the Fed is and who created it. I know the Treasury will be led by another JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs suit with an Ivy League degree and a painting hanging on the wall in the Hamptons worth more than I will ever see or know. I know lobbyists will still lobby, and tax money will still fund bridges to nowhere. I know people who know important people will be let in on deals and corruption on both sides isn’t going away any time soon.
I know the world isn’t perfect. I know American democracy is far from perfect. I also know it’s the best form of government on Earth—electoral college and all.
I know a bi-racial kid born in obscurity in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father can grow up to be president and I want to live here, where that can happen.
I know our representatives used to be the local banker, insurance agent, hardware store owner, and they used to serve at the expense of their business and then hand off the duty to the next citizen in line. I know we cannot go back to that way of life, that speed of life, that small of a world.
I am for progress, but what I deem the right kind of progress. That’s my right and I exercise it at the ballot box. I am against career politicians owning condos in the Dominican Republic. I am for clean air and water. I am against throwing jobs away in West Virginia when coal still makes sense.
I am for Muslims living openly and worshipping as they please. I do not care who you choose to marry or divorce or date or whatever. I will not apologize for the Christmas pageant at the public school or a Christian prayer before kickoff. I am for Israel existing; I am for Palestine existing. Peacefully.
I am for a safety net for people when they fall on hard times. I am not for government handouts as a way of life. I want everyone—of all kinds—pulling on the same side of the damn rope. Pitch in, make this a better place for everybody that obeys the law, pull yourself up by your bootstraps everyday and do some form of honest work. Come here legally, adopt our way of life, learn our language and preserve yours, respect our legal and social traditions and observe yours freely, engage in deliberative thought and debate without risk of being labelled a bigot or a hater because you disagree.
I am tired of the machine rolling over us—all of us. The Clinton machine, the Republican machine, the big media, investment banking, hedge fund carrying interest, corporatist, lobbying, influence peddling, getting elected and immediately begin fundraising for the next election machine—they can all kiss my ass.
Maybe Trump won’t do a thing to change or fix any of it. Hillary definitely would not have changed any of it. So I voted for the monkey wrench—the middle finger—the wrecking ball.
I do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to march through downtown and chant vulgarities or spray paint buildings or set cop cars on fire. So I protest—and use my voice—with a ballot.
Go ahead: Label me a racist, a bigot, a hate-filled misogynistic, an uneducated redneck. But I turned down Yale, motherfuckers; I ain’t who you think I am. And while I love grits and pulled pork barbecue and collard greens and cold beer in a bottle, I also love my neighbors of all colors, especially if they can cook. I want a synagogue, a church, and a mosque on Main St. all in a row, getting along and following the golden rule. And we mostly do.
But I have grown tired. I admit, I am tired of arguing with crazy.
Crazy is thinking we do not have to secure our borders when people want to kill us because we don’t stone homosexuals or because we let women drive.
Crazy is thinking you can live in this country below the radar, illegally, enjoy all we have inherited and worked to grow and preserve, and not make some form of restitution to others that follow the law.
Crazy is believing you can get health care for free, cell phones for free, have kids without consequences, drop out of school, join a gang, get a neck tattoo—and not face consequences.
Crazy is treating the same symptoms and never the disease.
Here’s the recipe for success and comfort in modern America: Stay in school, do your best, stay away from drugs, don’t have kids until you are no longer a kid, don’t break the law. You might be a pipe-fitter or a welder, a truck driver or a rapper. You might sell insurance, teach school, sell homes, or pave roads. You might become a chef or a mechanic, work with computers or take care of people in a nursing home. You will be able to afford Netflix, have food on the table, pay the rent or own a home, buy a car that runs, not get shot by the police, and probably find some happiness. Nobody will hate you because you’re a girl, or a person of color, or gay or straight, or speak with an accent. We just won’t.
We will invite you to the block party, watch our kids swim together at the neighborhood pool, go to work together, study at school together, pray together or not, cheer for the Raiders together, play golf together, argue about politics—together.
So far we have heard from readers—here and here—who empathize with the grievances of Trump voters but who couldn’t support the demagogue themselves. Now let’s here from a Trump voter, Alan. At first he was a very reluctant to back the “deplorable” Trump but ultimately did so because of the following reasons: the “bigot” stigma is tossed around too freely by leftist whites; too many liberal commentators are too smug; he fears that cisgender men will exploit trans-inclusive bathrooms; and, perhaps most of all, he’s outraged and worried about the new campus PC.
Here’s Alan detailing those views (the bracketed notes are mine):
Ben is the first writer to, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. I started out as a Never Trumper and actually still deplore the man. But on Tuesday I voted for him.
My wife is Mexican-American, my children ½ white ½ Hispanic. I have nieces who are ½ African-American. I hate bigotry and take it very, very, seriously. So when I hear Charlie Rangel say “bigots no longer use racial slurs; they talk about balanced budgets and the line item veto,” it infuriates me. [CB: I couldn’t find a quote similar to that, but Rangel is known for his divisive rhetoric. Update: Alan points to this alleged quote from Rangel from 1994 that he said he paraphrased, but I wouldn’t trust the source, since the alleged quote isn’t really found elsewhere.] Accusations of racism are being thrown about as political weapons (mostly by white liberals) in a way that belittles the seriousness of bigotry.
I don’t like the economic policies of Barack Obama, but if I disagree with him and anyone on the left hears me I will immediately be branded a bigot. I also believe that at a time when the economy is soft with little-to-no job growth [latest jobs report here], it’s a bad time to have high immigration; it drives down wages for all Americans: White, Black, Asian, or Hispanic.
My wife’s hometown of El Paso is a perfect example, with high unemployment [higher than Texas but lower than the U.S.] and low wages. I don’t think Obama cares; his aim is to change the electorate in a way that favors Democrats and the resulting inevitable ethnic tension plays right into his hands.
We like to believe the electorate chooses our leaders, but today our leaders are choosing the electorate. It’s anti-democratic, no matter the skin color of those involved.
Next, I have an advanced degree and own my own business. I have a very “live and let live” attitude about gay marriage and routinely prepare tax returns for gay couples. But I’m a Catholic and a Texan, so I’m accustomed to being disparaged on the news each night by commenters on the left referring to people like me, who they don’t even know, as hicks, yahoos, and haters (by Chris Matthews, Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman, Bill Maher, Joy Behar).
I deplore the thought that men should be allowed in women’s restrooms—not because I have any problem with those who are biologically male but identify as female (I suspect this relatively small group to be mostly comprised of gentle souls), but I have two young daughters, and I’m terrified of the much larger group of fully heterosexual, hormone-intoxicated young men (of whom I was a member, around the age of 14) that will be the first into the women’s restroom peeking through the doors on the stalls. But no one, and I mean no one, on the left will even brook a discussion on the topic [Notes discussion here]. How about an accommodation where more single-use restrooms are utilized? “No, this must be forced upon the haters no matter what.”
Finally, I’m convinced the social justice movement on campuses is the primary driver of the Trump victory. My college-age daughter constantly hears talk of white privilege and racial identity, of separate dorms for separate races (somewhere in heaven Martin Luther King Jr is hanging his head and crying). She also hears how it’s a microaggression to speak of the U.S. as a melting pot (as a multi-ethnic American, imagine how this makes her feel). I hate identity politics, and I fear for the future of my daughters as a result.
When everything is about identity politics, is the left really surprised that on Tuesday millions of white Americans, for the first time ever, voted as “white”? If you want identity politics, identity politics is what you will get.
I know many on the left will read this and ask how I could therefore possibly vote for Trump. The answer is that the right didn’t create it; the left did. It constitutes the entire word view of the left today. The right is reacting. Maybe now that you see what you have created, you will turn back to promoting a vision of the world where race, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity fade away and we all become individuals again. Or maybe I’m just so sick of being called a bigot that my anger at the authoritarian left has pushed me to support this seriously flawed man.
What do you think of Alan’s argument? Drop us a note and we’ll continue the debate. Update from Kevin, who thinks Alan “misses the forest for the trees”:
“Identity politics” (and so-called political correctness) makes an easy target for people who are either in, or sympathize with, a ruling majority. Fox News figured that out long ago, and they’ve made bank on it—War on Christmas, anyone?
Against Alan’s point, though, I would argue that identity politics is simply a newer name (and partial aspect) for what we used to call the class struggle: of those who have been historically disadvantaged against those who have unfairly benefitted. Perhaps even many of those who now organize primarily as women, African-Americans, or Latinos don’t fully realize that their efforts represent the only way the majority has allowed, even partially, a conversation about unfairness that should actually be subsumed under its largest category: the topic of reparations.
Here are some statistics from a Forbes (!) article on the gap between minority and majority wealth:
Even the New Deal and G.I. Bill programs, which led to the housing wealth that forms the majority of whites’ advantage in savings, deliberately and systematically excluded minorities, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has explained at length in The Atlantic. And of course, Native Americans were the original victims of majority expropriation, while women have been deprived by a parallel type of discrimination that expressed itself mainly through social norms about family structure.
Would Alan prefer an honest conversation about how genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, patriarchal family structures, and New Deal and G.I. Bill discrimination led to the incredible wealth gaps between whites and minorities and women that still persist through multiple generations? Followed by an honest conversation about how the majority can best repair the effects of the unfair advantage it was given—and still gets?
Those are the conversations that have a chance to get to the heart of the matter, and I would hope he would want to be part of them. If we make progress on such larger questions, I can promise him that the identity politics will subside to a matter of festive quasi-ethnic coloration, like today’s Polka Festivals and St. Patrick’s Day parades, within a just and multicultural society at peace with itself.
Update: Alan has a very thorough rebuttal, and I’ll keep my interjections (via brackets) to a bare minimum this time:
Soft Job Market
You picked a single monthly jobs report to contradict my point, & you failed to mention that it takes 145,000 jobs per month just to keep up with new workers entering the workforce. The unemployment rate is less important, in my view & the view of many others, than the workforce participation rate, which is way down since 2007. Half of this number is from baby boomers retiring, but half of it isn’t.
You alluded to unemployment in El Paso, which, as I stated, is not (in my view & the view of many others) the best measure. You ignored my comment about low wages in El Paso. The poverty rate there is 20.1%, compared to 17.5% in all of Texas and 14.5% nationally. It’s much the same along the entire Texas border.
Obama & Identity Politics
In my comments where you interjected your defense of Obama, I had said nothing about identity politics—that came later. I said he was manipulating border security to increase Democratic voters. Then he refers to those who disagree as bigots (ok, so it does have to do with identity politics).
It’s certainly true that Obama typically stays above the fray concerning identity politics, but he certainly doesn’t keep his surrogates from pursuing it. Remember the ridiculous War on Women? [Yep, and I lampooned that terminology at the time.]
But then at times, Obama participates himself. Remember his comments regarding poor whites “bitterly clinging to their guns & religion”? Remember his 2010 comments on Univision where he said: “If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We're gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us….”?
Remember how, after the floods in Louisiana, it took him a week to visit, pausing his golf vacation at Martha’s Vineyard just long enough to send an advisory to the state to not discriminate against minorities during the cleanup? The media ignored it, no help came, so the “Cajun Navy” took over: [CB: I really wish I could post the handful of photos that Alan attached, but we don’t have the copyright. The four moving photos show white folks helping black folks, and vice versa.]
I don’t disagree with any of the data Kevin presents, nor do I disagree with the existence of any of the government programs he mentions. I also absolutely agree that slavery, Jim Crow, etc. are the sole source of all the problems of the African-American community, & I would love to have a conversation about those issues with him.
It’s just that, other than his first paragraph, he doesn’t really address anything I said. He implies that I get all my news from Fox, but I don’t watch Fox at all (I despise Shawn Hannity & think Bill O’Reilly is a blustering fool), so he’s implies characteristics to me that are false.
Identity politics may or may not be an “easy target,” but what does that mean? My point is that, just as I’m sure he hates it when he’s the victim of a racial slur, so do I when I’m referred to as a bigot, when my whole life demonstrates the opposite. (In fact, over the course of my career, I’ve hired many African-Americans & fired two white managers & replaced them with African-American managers.)
All unsupported accusations of bigotry are counter-constructive, & they set us all back. As I said, I don’t think the culprits here are usually African-Americans (Charlie Rangel not withstanding). I think it’s a game of the white liberal left in an effort to gain political power. It’s very revealing that Trump, & Republicans generally, support school vouchers for low income minorities trapped in failing public schools, yet Democrats fight them with all their might. Why? Control.
Two Parent Privilege
I have no doubt you’d love for me to discuss this, so you can find more selective data to throw back at me. Why don’t you bring it up? You’re the reporter. But if you did, you’re job at The Atlantic would be so gone.
At the unlikely risk of that: The most prominent reference to “two-parent privilege” I could find is a National Review piece from Dennis Prager called “The Fallacy of ‘White Privilege.’” Money quote:
[T]here are a host of privileges that dwarf “white privilege.” A huge one is Two-Parent Privilege. If you are raised by a father and mother, you enter adulthood with more privileges than anyone else in American society, irrespective of race, ethnicity, or sex. That’s why the poverty rate among two-parent black families is only 7 percent. Compare that with a 22 percent poverty rate among whites in single-parent homes. Obviously the two-parent home is the decisive “privilege.”
Back to Alan:
So I’m through with “Trumpsplaining.” The events of the last few days, & the response of the media, have convinced me that the left has simply doubled-down. So be it. They’re building a path to Trump/Pence 2020.
But here’s an event that occurred locally in the last couple of days that I’d like you & Kevin to discuss:
Victoria Smith, the daughter of one of the Dallas police officers killed during the July 7 ambush was told she was no longer invited to hit an honorary serve at a volleyball game at Southern Methodist University. In a Facebook post where the e-mail from SMU is reproduced, the college says: "In light of recent events and diversity within the SMU community, the demonstration could be deemed insensitive”
… the recent events apparently being the election. SMU is now backpedaling as fast as it can since the news broke.
Update from Molly, who dissents:
You didn’t even allow a pro-Trumper to express himself without interjecting your [facts], and your comment about [seeing the latest jobs reports] indicates that you either don’t understand or are not willing to understand the decades of devastation resulting from structural unemployment. Did you read the jobs report, or stop after the first page? Check out the establishment data on page 5. Do note the winners and losers.
Since I’m already here on a high horse, I’d love to share my perspective. The best word to describe my feelings is ambivalent, torn between people I love who voted for Trump and people I love who voted for Clinton. Unfortunately, that ambivalence and self-inflicted need to play devil’s advocate have already made me feel unwelcome by both sides.
Currently, my glass case of emotions include:
Happiness for my family, who have been ignored by Clinton’s, Bush’s, and Obama’s policies and truly believe that Trump’s CEO style will lower their health insurance premiums and bring back manufacturing jobs
Sadness for my friends and colleagues, who are confused, scared, and rightfully disgusted by this election
Frustration with the RNC, DNC, and DC, which once again forced us to choose between economic and social issues
Anger that bigoted haters spreading vitriol are claiming that they speak on behalf of the right
Anger that protesters burning effigies of democratically elected presidents are claiming that they speak on behalf of the left
Annoyance that both sides of the media don’t seem to be owning their role in this divisiveness
And hope/fear, which are basically two sides of the same coin.
We got ourselves into this situation together. The only way we get ourselves out … is together.
If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a note (emailed and posted before the updates from Kevin, Alan, and Molly) from reader D.A. about the perilously close distance between white identity politics and white supremacy:
This question may become the biggest one in America politics, post-Trump:
Is it possible to have a “white identity” politics that is not inherently a politics of white supremacy?
The best hypothetical I can think of is this:
Suppose you are studying a proposed piece of legislation. First you ask yourself:
How will this impact people?
How will this impact white people?
Now reverse the order in which you ask the questions.
Now substitute any other political identity group for “white.”
Is there a difference between a white person asking:
“How will this impact people like me?”
“How will this impact white people?”
Can we find the line (if it even exists) between white identity politics and white supremacy somewhere in that hypothetical? I haven’t yet. So “white identity vs. white supremacy” will likely be the big American political question of the next decade (unless economic status becomes a more important marker of identity than race).
This next reader, Nav, accuses Trump voters of a big double standard:
Several readers and commentators appear to hold that the principal reason for Trump's victory is the rise of identity politics on the left. Personally, I think that the evidence is pretty weak. However, regardless of the truth of the theory, I have questions.
If the rise of identity politics is a problem, how likely is it that voting for the bigotry-adjacent candidate is going to reduce the role of identity in political discourse? To put it another way, if you believe that voting for Trump is a reasonable response to being perceived as bigoted, what is a reasonable response to the election of a candidate that has a very small, but very vocal, set of white supremacists filled with delight?
I doubt voting for the dog-whistle candidate is going achieve the goal of reducing identity politics, nor do I believe that deeper embrace of identity politics (even though I’m generally a fan of the ethical argument) will reduce bigotry. History is not exactly replete with examples where people change their minds only after the opposing view gets sufficiently extreme.
And finally, Eric offers a good-faith challenge to Trump voters:
I am willing to take many Trump supporters at their word that they do not personally harbor any animosity towards women or minorities. But the truth is that Donald Trump certainly does. It is clear that he believes that racist and sexist stereotypes accurately describe the world and he supports polices based on these stereotypes.
And though I can understand being upset or disturbed by the worst excesses of the political correctness movement, I cannot understand the worldview that believes these excesses are worse than a president who has openly advocated using the state to target minority groups [such as Muslims]. I can understand how someone could think that Twitter mobs are an inappropriate response to blackface Halloween costumes, even though I do think those costumes are racist. To react to to those Twitter mobs by making a cruel, arrogant, narcissistic, petty, ignorant, racist, sexist, pathological lier the most powerful man in the world seems mean and shortsighted.
I have heard from many Trump supporters that he does not really mean to do the things he says. I personally take him at face value, but I have a challenge to these supposedly non-bigoted Trump supporters: If and when Trump does the things he says he would—target Muslims for surveillance, create a deportation force to hunt down all illegal immigrants, create a national stop and frisk policy, target journalists for writing “nasty” articles about him, arrest and imprison political opponents—will they stand up to him?
Will they write their congressmen? Will they march in the street to protest the violation of their fellow citizen’s rights? Will they stand arm in arm with their neighbors to protect them? Will they quietly acquiesce? Or will they, as I personally suspect, actively support his actions?
As brilliant and scathing as Alec Baldwin was with his portrayal of Donald Trump this year, SNL’s “Black Jeopardy” sketch was ultimately the real standout—for its humor and its humanity:
At the onset of our dialogue with Clinton votes and Trump votes—or at least voters who understand where some Trump voters are coming from—reader Ben diagnosed what he sees as a shortcoming of the left right now: an over-willingness to stigmatize people as bigots for what may just be misplaced or simply misunderstood views, rather than active hatred. (One of the examples Ben cited was the successful effort to get Brendan Eich fired as CEO of Mozilla because he donated to the admittedly awful Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California for a time.) This reader agrees with Ben:
He has diagnosed a significant reason people voted for Mr. Trump. I’m a conservative who did not end up voting for him, but like Ben, I thought about it a lot. The left has adopted bully tactics through their control of the media and the universities. Rather than deal with the right’s arguments, they use creative name-calling: racist, xenophobic, homophobic, hicks. I can tell you for a fact, neither myself nor any of my conservative friends and family are any of those things, and yet we’re called that frequently. What in the world?
Mrs. Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment and Mr. Podesta’s e-mails that threw Catholics and Evangelicals under the bus are perfect examples of this moral snobbishness. The problem is, we won’t change our minds because you force us to celebrate homosexual unions or call us names in front of the entire nation. If you on the left want to change our minds, you need to understand us, and vice versa. Our country will keep splitting, the less we listen respectfully to each other.
People are angry. Unfortunately, the only Republican candidate who showed anger to match was Mr. Trump.
And unfortunately that anger morphed into a lot of ugly rhetoric and demagogic stances. Was that inevitable, or could such anger be channeled into something more constructive? Hopefully the actual mantle of responsibility in office will temper Trump—though a compromising Trump could actually inflame Trumpism, because his supporters will witness how even Trump won’t be able to enact extreme measures like building a wall across Mexico and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants.
Circling back to Ben’s argument, this next reader has a line that popped out in particular: “We cannot fight systemic issues by punishing individuals.” His closing line is also strong, and his overall argument is really nuanced:
My name is Dan, and I’ve been following your coverage of the campaign closely this year, especially the Trump Time Capsule series. I greatly appreciate the discussion The Atlantic has been hosting through reader emails and the insights they have produced. Your recent emails from Ben and Adam—about the backlash against the left’s “bullying” contrasted with the historic and continuing oppression and marginalization of minority groups—struck a chord.
I’ve heard many angry people lamenting that Trump was elected because straight white people could not bear the loss of their privilege. It wasn’t until I read Ben’s email that I realized that the bullying coming from the left is exactly what the erosion of straight white male privilege looks like.
We might define privilege as “not having to face injustice because you are treated as an embodiment of your group rather than an individual” (an inelegant definition for what is perhaps an inelegant term). In these instances of public shaming, people whose behavior would previously have been ignored due to their social privilege are instead faced with an unjust reaction because they are treated as the embodiment of straight, white, or male oppression.
While these injustices are relatively few compared to the everyday injustices faced by marginalized groups—for every person who lost their job [because of real or perceived bigotry], how many were never given a chance to be hired?—they are legitimately unjust. And they must be addressed as a consequence of minority groups gaining social power and the erosion of majority privilege. We cannot fight systemic issues by punishing individuals. I believe we should publicize these cases as concrete examples of systemic problems, but hounding people out of their jobs is unjust and unproductive.
Still, this is an issue that can either be addressed with discussion and debate within our newly developing social dynamics, or the privileged can fight back against it by re-empowering white supremacy within our society. With the election of Trump, white America has chosen to do the latter because even this small taste of the injustice you might face when you lack privilege has proved far more important to them than equality, justice, and acceptance for their fellow citizens.
Or in other words, two wrongs don’t make a right, even if one of those wrongs—outright bigotry—is much worse than the other—an over-willingness to label someone a bigot. And the latter is counterproductive to fighting the former.
A pastor also responds to Ben’s note:
I’m a moderate-liberal Democrat who has been in ministry in deep red parts of Texas for 15 years. Each of the four churches I’ve served has been heavily conservative and heavily Republican.
Meanwhile, I have pretty much been in the closet with my political beliefs. There was the year that it was rather obvious, though: I was the only Democratic voter in a primary election. The Republican judges had to go to the back to get the Democratic judges so I could vote. And, my church was the precinct voting place, “Hey, George! Get up here! The pastor needs to vote!”
Ben makes an interesting observation, but a large part of the Trump vote simply is from Republicans who assign various reasons for their leanings against Democrats: arrogant, judgmental liberals; lying liberals; crooked Hillary; government “handouts” (except for the ones they receive, of course); baby killing; big spending; and others.
However, all of these are subsumed under the simple fact that a poor Republican candidate beat a weak Democratic candidate.
This next reader also has a simple reason for Trump’s success:
I was not a Trump supporter, but I voted for him on Tuesday. I’m a big city refugee—Manhattan, Chicago, and Houston—now happily living in the rolling hills of rural NE Oklahoma.
In trying to empathize with the rationale of Trump supporters, Ben has missed the simplest of all. Every voter wants an honest government, and a government for the people. We all want an end to politics-as-usual. Trump is the outsider, promising to be the outsider, just as Obama did in 2008. Those of us here, who voted for POTUS Obama in 2008/’12, feel let down. We’ve seen some social progress, but failures everywhere else, and we are willing to give the outsider the benefit of the doubt.
Consider this: Oklahoma Evangelicals came out for Trump, actually crowded the polling stations, despite his playboy ways and lewd talk. They didn’t rush to the polls because of the usual divisive social issues; they rarely do. They just want someone, anyone, to make a change against politics as usual.
Here’s our last reader for now, Sean, who echoes some of the themes above:
A little background information: I am a 27-year-old Wisconsinite that voted for Hillary Clinton. I consider myself a middle-of-the-road moderate, simply because I find the idea silly and impossible that one party has the correct answer for every single issue our country and world faces.
I’m still processing the events of the election result, but I feel like this is a perfect time to submit my first email to The Atlantic. Although readers Ben and Adam had unique insights as to why some people were compelled to vote for Trump, I respectfully disagree. I think there are two reasons for Trump's victory:
First, I believe it was simply a backlash to the American “system.” I believe Trump won the election because most people my age and younger have already accepted/agree with socially progressive ideas but yearned for a change in economic stances and the “status quo.” Trump represented a change in the political machine while Clinton basically represented more of the same political gamesmanship. Progressive social ideology was not enough for Clinton to court enough voters because again, I think most young voters have already accepted progressive ideas to be the norm. Now, why a lot of my peers think Trump will be a good change to the political machine (which I do not agree with) is a different discussion ...
Second, I think that this is the first time a vast majority of the electorate has ranked a candidate’s message above that candidates “character.” By that, I mean that a lot of people were willing to bite the bullet for Trump’s glaring character flaws for the chance to try a new approach to the American experiment. In previous elections, it was always assumed that the two candidates would be extremely polished, and would be immediately disqualified for saying some of the things Trump said. However, I think he was able to brush past these traditional political land mines due to an unexpected effect from my first point: a lot of people were sick and tired of traditional politics. They put much more weight into a candidates political message rather than their personal character.
Update from Dan, who gets the last word here:
Thank you so much for your kind words about my note on feeling empathy for Trump supporters. I do take issue with the implication of what you wrote in the “in other words” section following my note:
Or in other words, two wrongs don’t make a right, even if one of those wrongs—outright bigotry—is much worse than the other—an over-willingness to label someone a bigot. And the latter is counterproductive to fighting the former.
Perhaps I was not clear enough, but my belief is that liberal bullying of perceived bigots is only a tangential effect of progress in dismantling system of social privilege and power. It is not part of the work to dismantle those systems; it is merely the result of marginalized people finally gaining the power to express their anger at those who have been collectively furthering their oppression in individually minor ways. It is a problem that will inevitable arise with a new balance of social power, especially without any widespread engagement from the right or even acceptance of the reality of these concrete issues of marginalization and oppression, without some sort of “truth and reconciliation” for American society.
It is not actually a part of the work that is being done to address these issues, so I disagree with the implication I see in your comment that this behavior must be stopped before we can continue making progress. If people oppose the dismantling of systems of privilege because of these cases of bullying, and instead support the resurgence of straight white male supremacy, that is a failure on their part. It is a failure of perspective and values and they are responsible for that failure.
And that failure of perspective brings me to the email from the person who “voted for the wrecking ball.” That person knows so many things about this country. That person knows exactly what you need to do to succeed and overcome adversity. That person knows exactly how all their fellow white people feel about marginalized groups and how they would treat marginalized people if those people could only be just a little better.
That person does not know what they do not know about the experience of life as a marginalized person in this country. That person does not know that the opportunities his parents and their parents and their parents had to pursue the right kind of life were not afforded to the parents of others. That person does not know that the issues marginalized people complain about are not excuses for a failure of hard work; they are legitimate and real challenges that this person has not experienced. That person does not know that it’s not that “not everyone starts off on the same spot”; it’s that many grow up constantly being dragged down and boxed in by the people around them. That person does not know that bigoted speech, whether they agree that it is bigoted or not, leads to harmful action.
But on that last point, your reader will likely learn better. Because he knows that his “wrecking ball” will leave him relatively untouched. But he doesn’t know that the hateful people swinging this wrecking ball with him are real, not a liberal bogeyman. He does not know that marginalized people are going to be hurt; they are going to die because of this. They are going to keep being hurt and keep dying for years because of this. And the people who voted for Trump—however understandable and relatable their motivations might be—are responsible for this, whether they know it or not.
Fallows is traveling again, this time in Wyoming, and he’s also busy working on a new piece for the magazine, so he passed along several “powerful” emails from a reader named Vasav who served in the U.S. military and is the son of Indian immigrants. His first note is from a few weeks ago:
Yes, let’s not demonize Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables.” And no, we shouldn’t give in to their demands that sacrifice our basic, democratic tenets. But a widening income gap and a lack of opportunity, a political class more and more removed from the average voter, and the never-ending wars that seem to be the fate of winning the Cold War and our politicians try to ignore come election time—those are all legitimate gripes that I actually find myself nodding along when Trump talks about them. I would never vote for him or his solutions to these problems. But rather than completely ignore Trumpers, as tempting as it is, they have legitimate gripes that ought to be heard. Their mouthpiece is an oaf and a threat to democracy, women, minorities, and a world order I believe is beneficial to our country and freedom around the world. But their gripes are real, and the price of not listening at all may be more dire than any of us could have imagined.
Yesterday, following the stunning news of Trump’s win, Vasav followed up:
There is one exceptionally annoying narrative that has started to come down, about how rural voters were “making themselves heard” with Trump. The last couple of emails I wrote to you talked about why there is some validity to the claim that middle America is ignored by coastal elites. And to put it in personal perspective, I am a man of color and child of immigrants who was born on one coast, got college degrees, and traveled to work in one of the bougiest parts of the world on the other coast. It is ridiculous for me to tell a poor kid living in a trailer who has no real path to college in today’s America that he’s benefiting from white privilege.
But the flip side is, considering their candidate lost the popular vote, considering in 2012 more votes were cast for Democratic congressmen, and yet despite that the party that has lost raw vote totals controls the totality of two branches of government—well, it’s ridiculous for anyone to say they haven’t been heard. Republicans have disproportionately controlled the government since 2000. The deck is stacked in their favor. And rural Americans have chosen Tea Party candidates and now Donald Trump as their standard bearer.
Everything I said before remains true: There’s a gap that needs to be bridged. I hope Donald Trump can do it. But it should be noted that bridge needs to flow in both directions. It’s not just about listening to the concerns of blue-collar whites; it’s about listening to the concerns of coastal people of color who are now wondering whether middle America will let us stay in this country.
From a personal perspective, I’ve loved and believed in America for a long time, and was inspired that Barack Obama called Chicago his home. Since before I started college in Michigan and just imagined setting foot in the Big House, I believed in middle America. I experienced some racism in the military, but on the whole my love for every part of this country grew.
And now I have to ask: Does the America I’ve always loved, and specifically the middle of this country—the part I’ve defended, gone out of my way to understand, endorsed as a place to live to my skeptical friends—does the America I’ve literally served and fought for still want me around? It’s hard to look at the results and think the answer is still yes.
In another email sent before Election Day, Vasav detailed “some harebrained ideas” for addressing “the fragility of American democracy that is becoming more and more apparent”:
In the short term, enforce the Hatch Act. If members of the government are using their professional position to affect the election, they’re not just violating federal law, they are undermining their oath of office: “To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” A series of firings are too close to a purge for anyone’s liking, but there must be teeth to this law. I believe, perhaps naively, that enough of our public servants will actually feel remorse if pulled to the mat and being told their actions question their integrity to their oath of office and their love of country and constitution. Public apologies won’t do much, but a thorough independent review—as the AG’s office did of Ferguson PD’s emails and correspondence—will force the country to confront the FBI. There’s no disinfectant like sunlight.
Longer term, the gap needs to be bridged. Why is it that growing up in Jersey and now living in Cali, I am far less exposed to Republicans than when I served in the military? Why don’t more liberals join the military? Why do so many Republicans join the government but have no faith in the powers and controls of the federal government as headquartered in D.C.? There is both a socio-economic and a geographic segregation in this country. It needs to be addressed aggressively.
But how? For one, public service looks a lot worse when you’re part of the economic ladder that expects to go to college and earn a boatload of money from the new economy. We need government officers from everywhere and every breadth of society. Government needs to reform by trying to attract the best talent to civil and military service—and not just as campaign consultants.
For another, Fallows’s series on America by air highlights how hard people are working throughout the forgotten heartlands of this country to remake and rebuild their communities to link into and actively push forward the new economy. Investments in education and infrastructure were a boon to the economy throughout the country in the 1870s and 1950s. We are due for another round so that the centers of growth aren’t just where there’s oil and increasingly elite metropolises.
Most importantly, more Americans need to be aware of why and how the levers of power work the way they do, in D.C. and elsewhere. I’m an engineer, with two degrees in the subject and my experience in the military was engineering too. So you know I believe in the value of a technical skill set. But I think every high school senior should learn and debate civics and government. Start with how ours works and has evolved instead of dropping it at the fifth-grade version that children learn and forget with broad strokes on the constitution. But also how democracy, government and politics works around the world and has evolved throughout history. Talk to them about fascist strongmen, about how and why the classical republics gave way to military dictatorships and then feudal systems, tie it into the changing economics, and include lessons in how a parliamentary system works. And do it at an age where they can actually think and process and challenge and learn to buy-in to our system of government.
Finally (and admittedly this is both costly and probably only cosmetic), how annoying is it that the elites of our government sit on the coast, a short train ride away from the elites of our private sectors? Both of our presidential candidates base themselves in our largest city and metro, and naturally the teams they’ve put together have strong ties to NYC as well. It’s literally a morning’s ride on the rails to D.C. I propose Congress and the Supreme Court (and possibly the president) move to either East St. Louis or Kansas City, Kansas. Missouri is a great state that’s both east and west, north and south, Midwest but not. Either side of the state has a large metro that too many of my coastal friends would not be able to find on a map of the U.S. If we moved Congress to the middle of the country, we can both give D.C. voting rights and create a small, federal “District of Lincoln” that forces coastal political and economic elites to worry about their brethren in the middle of the country.
Update from Vasav:
Chris, I’d like to add one addendum. I just talked with a buddy of mine who I served with. He is, like I was, an officer. Unlike me, he stayed in. Also unlike me, he voted for Trump.
I’ll try to keep this short, but he frankly didn’t believe a lot the Trump rhetoric that has me nervous. He also took the time to listen to my concerns and understand how I don’t have the luxury of ignoring that rhetoric. In a small way, Justin restored my faith that, while some Trumpers would not make this country safe for me, there are plenty who would stand by my side if things every really got crazy.
A long-time reader, Ben, tries to understand what drove so many Americans to elect Donald Trump yesterday:
So to get it out of the way: I didn’t vote for Trump. So I don’t like the results any better than you and your magazine do. But I did consider supporting Trump here and there, so I think I probably have a slightly better-than-average answer to “how could this have happened?” And I really think it’s kind of simple: Some people voted for Trump, but way more people voted for “stop calling me names and being a bully.”
I think the left was right on gay marriage, at least in the sense of “it should be legal if the government is going to have their hands in it.” But immediately after it became an inevitability, it also became a club: If your pizza place/cake baking business/photography business doesn’t want to be part of it, you get vilified and threatened. If the fringier parts of the left had its way, Brendan Eich’s ouster would have been duplicated a thousand times.
I think the left is right that black people are still treated like a subclass and don’t get anywhere near a fair shake. But traveling down the right road, there were plenty of pit stops that signaled that free speech was an acceptable sacrifice. There was a more-than-general smattering of clues that private opinions would be dug out at any cost and used to get you fired from your job.
The far left took a gamble that calling half the country racist, backwoods, bigoted hicks wouldn’t unite them under literally any alternate flag. It said, “If you aren’t 100 percent with us, you are 100 percent evil” without considering that inevitably this would result in absolutely no motivation for anyone on the right to shift even a little to the left. Give people the impression that you will hate them the same or nearly so for voting Jeb Bush as compared to voting for Trump, and where is the motivation to be socially acceptable with Jeb?
The far left took the gamble, and the moderate left backed them up with a range of active support and silence. And somebody popped up who said whatever he wanted. People called him a racist bigot idiot who wouldn’t fit in in San Francisco, and it bounced off. So he’s a racist and a bigot for real. You think people wouldn't envy his bulletproof vest?
If the left had been responsible with its dominance of culture, media, and social mores, this would have been an easy win for them—more than that, Trump would have never been possible. I would have liked that. At the same time, it’s hard to feel guilty when I see a lot of people who just got done saying “We will destroy everything you believe in and make it impossible to be anything but us” for years and now finding out it backfired.
A bully can be right and still be a bully. The bullied can be wrong and still fight back. I hope this lesson is understood and remembered.
Disagree with Ben? Or, are you an American who voted for Donald Trump and would like to share your thoughts right now? Please send us a note and we’ll post: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from reader Adam, who has a strong dissent against Ben:
I’m a San Francisco native (so yea, a bleeding heart liberal) completing a masters program in Kansas, where I’ve encountered plenty of Trump support, and specifically the sorts of embittered White culture Ben describes. While I’ve met plenty of people on the social right-wing who feel bullied as Ben describes, I do disagree that they have any right to their victimhood—specifically on gay rights and the harassment of business owners who refused service to gay customers.
Ben considers this the left “bullying” the right, but in doing so he overlooks this country’s dark (and RECENT) history of businesses refusing service to minority groups—a comparatively extreme form of bullying. In the communities I visit in Kansas, it is racial and sexual minority groups who must cope with bullying in the day-to-day, sometimes physical sense—far more consequential than the so-called bullying from the media.
Yes, the left is shrill and self-righteous, and sure, people on both sides of the aisle cross the line. The difference is that fundamentally, the right’s positions on cultural issues is to eliminate the liberties of minority groups—religious, sexual, racial, and otherwise, whereas even if the left can be bullies, it’s in the name of increasing individual liberties.
There are ethically gray areas like abortion, sure, but there’s nothing to debate when it comes about the right to receive service at local private businesses and government institutions (i.e. Kim Davis). So, is it really realistic to expect the left (also flawed humans, mind) to reach out to the right on these issues—especially when so many in power, and out of it, continue to campaign aggressively to deny liberties to others? There’s simply no equivalency here. Having friends who are Black/Muslim/Gay, when I hear right-wing rhetoric, I become angry and scared, not put in a place to “hash out differences.”
To Ben’s point: Bottom line, from the standpoint of diplomacy, the left could have done more to court the religious and social right-wing. Maybe won the election. But ethically, it’s the people who hold the myopic, prejudiced, and yes, hateful views who are culpable for this president. I have no sympathy, because the right-wingers I’ve met in Kansas? They are smart enough to know better.
In general, conservatives prefer cultural to materialist analyses of human behavior. For years, for instance, conservatives have insisted that economic distress does not cause jihadist terror. The real source, they insist, is Islamic culture. For decades, they’ve argued that economic distress does not cause unwed pregnancy and drug addiction among African Americans. The real explanation lies with inner city black culture. Given those precedents, you would think conservatives would embrace a cultural rather than economic explanation for Trump’s appeal, especially when the evidence points so strongly in that direction. But when it’s whites acting badly, not blacks or Muslims, suddenly economic distress matters a great deal.
Update from Ben, who first responds to me asking if he’d like me to add his last name for the sake of public attribution:
I betcha I could get fired for that note if people didn’t read it carefully, and you and I both know nobody does. I don’t think the “I don’t like Trump either, but there’s fundamental problems that exist on both sides that made him possible” message would probably parse well.
I like reader Adam’s hand-wave and dance around the actual issues I brought up. I mention a pizza place that never refused to serve anyone and a wedding cake shop, and he brings up Kim Davis. For the record I don’t think scorching Kim Davis was bad, and where vital services are at play, I generally agree with Adam.
But the general immediate dismissal of everything else I bought up—firings for private views, freedom of speech on campus and elsewhere being squelched—is sort of proof of my point. Even without getting into the “let’s change culture to completely cut these people out” aspect being addressed, Adam called everyone on the right a racist bigot who just wants to crush minorities and the LGBT community. That’s his— and a large portion of the left’s—knee-jerk reaction for dismissing all of their problems.
It’s not just not “courting” that Trump vote. I wasn’t suggesting the left should change their views or be disingenuous. I’m just suggesting that it’s not the best tactic to say:
If you are a Republican or conservative in any way, that means you are a homophobic bigot racist. I’m going to immediately assume all your problems are fake and all of your complaints are invalid. I’m going to actively work against you in all things.
And again, this isn’t about winning their votes; it’s about giving them any motivation to care about anything you think at all. I’m not suggesting the left should have been trying to get Hillary in the White House. I’m suggesting that they should have tried to get Jeb Bush campaigning instead of Trump. But, hey, guy, keep doing the same stuff; it’s totally not like you didn’t generate a giant backlash that pushed the worst candidate ever into the presidency or anything.
Sorry, rant over. And yeah, the election really sucks. I abstained from the vote for reasons probably obvious to you if you’ve been tracking my personal politics, but I definitely don’t consider Trump to be anything but a horrible outcome.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Images above: A protestor holding a sign that reads “Abortion Is Freedom” and protestors holding anti-abortion signs
In 1956, twoAmerican physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
At least one human life has already been lost as a direct result of the widespread obsession with turning the sex of one’s unborn child into an explosive (often literally) spectacle. In October, an Iowa woman was killed when her family inadvertently built a pipe bomb as part of their gender-reveal party—a gathering at which expectant parents dramatically and colorfully announce the sex of their baby.
The methods for doing so seem to have started out as benign, if stereotypical—cutting into a cake to reveal either blue or pink frosting, say. But in the past couple of years, some kind of communal madness has taken hold, and many of these feats of gender performance have gotten more elaborate, more public, and more dangerous—putting lives and entire ecosystems at risk. Last year, a father-to-be started a 47,000-acre wildfire in Arizona when he shot a rifle at an explosive target full of blue powder (It’s a boy!), causing $8.2 million of damage, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The latest instance of a gender reveal gone wildly wrong, as The New York Times reported on Friday, involved a plane that stalled and crashed while crop-dusting a Texas field with 350 gallons of pink water in honor of an unborn female child. No one was killed in either incident, but someone easily could have been. Othergender-reveal-relatedexplosions, and one reveal involving an alligator, have also placed people in harm’s way.
Things were getting bad even before the 2016 election, but somehow, within just a few years, they have gotten worse. In an environment of intense partisan warfare, each side believes it has a claim to lead the nation based on its own set of values. Each side understands that it has more to gain from aggrievement than achievement, and each side beholds the other with contempt. Meanwhile, the republic seems to be unraveling. A culture of anxiety and depression has spread far and wide as people face health crises without access to affordable care. An opioid epidemic ensnares ever larger numbers of the alienated and desperate; among certain groups, life spans are actually shortening. Some of those who aren’t harming themselves are harming others in mass shootings; many of the killers are infected with an ideology of white supremacy. Also, the prisons are full. The economy, at least, seems to be in decent shape for now, but income inequality continues to widen. Jobs are plentiful, which is good, because it often takes more than one to support a family. But the economic energy of a rich country has not eased the strains on our political institutions—money flowing to politicians has only hardened the gridlock. Congress still can’t get anything done. Tax cuts have left the country short of money to address national problems. The gulf between needs and capacities is glaring. Everyday scenes sometimes resemble New Yorker covers designed by Pravda: In Manhattan, the Harvard Club’s elegant dining room backs onto West 45th Street, where men and women sleep beneath damp cardboard in the warm glow of the club’s windows.
The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false promise of civility.
Joe Biden has fond memories of negotiating with James Eastland, the senator from Mississippi who once declared, “I am of the opinion that we should have segregation in all the States of the United States by law. What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”
Recalling in June his debates with segregationists like Eastland, Biden lamented, “At least there was some civility,” compared with today. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition; the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
As anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do. If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring.
Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits.
A conversation with the magazine’s creative director, Peter Mendelsund, about our bold new design
Today, we launch our December issue, built around a single theme: “How to Stop a Civil War.” This issue, an exploration of our dangerous political moment, also represents the debut of a new visual identity for The Atlantic. It is the most dramatic new look for our magazine in its 162-year history, and one that, we hope, reflects boldness, elegance, and urgency. The redesign of the print magazine, as well as the new look of our website, was led by Peter Mendelsund, our creative director. His design work, carried out in collaboration with many teams across our magazine, is also reflected in the new Atlantic app that launched today. I sat down with Peter to talk about the new design, his creative process, and how his work was informed by the history of our magazine.
The socialist president claimed authoritarian powers in the name of the popular will. But average citizens were fed up with arbitrary rule.
Evo Morales has been attacking Bolivia’s democracy for many years. Since coming to office in 2006, the socialist president has concentrated ever more authority in his own hands, denounced the opposition in aggressive terms, and placed loyalists in key institutions, from the country’s public broadcaster to its highest court.
Like many populists on both the left and the right, Morales claimed to wield power in the name of the people. But after weeks of mass protests in La Paz and other Bolivian cities, and the rapid crumbling of his support both within law enforcement and his own political party, it was his loss of legitimacy among the majority of his own countrymen that forced Morales to resign yesterday.