Why One Bernie Supporter Is Tempted to Vote for Trump

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last week’s article “A Dialogue With a 22-Year-Old Donald Trump Supporter” inspired a lot of reader emails, including a few from voters who cast ballots for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but plan to vote for Trump in November. Here is one of those emails:

I am in my late 30s, married, and have young kids. I’m “white” (mostly 19th-century German immigration). I am from the Midwest, middle-class background (but not upper-middle-class), and I went to college but dropped out. I spent the next decade working odd jobs, factory and retail, and being a left-wing activist. After that I was heavily involved in the “global justice” protests and the anti-war protests, as well as labor and immigrant rights activism. I was a member of a number of radical groups and identified as a socialist for many years.

Eventually I moved out to California, got a degree in Computer Science, and started working at area software startups. Currently I am a lead developer with a six-figure salary but a lot of school-related debt too. Living in the Bay Area finally got so terrible that last year––insane cost of living, commutes, impossible to raise a family. I told my company I was moving back out to the Midwest and they didn’t try to stop me.

I suppose I am a natural Bernie voter, and indeed I voted Bernie in the
primary. In the past I have tended to vote Green and stay away from
the major parties. I may do that again this election if it’s an
option, but I admit that voting Trump seems tempting—terrible as he is—and I don’t think that I can vote for Clinton.

Many in my family and my wife’s family who normally vote Democratic say they are going to be voting Trump this time around, as well as the people in my family I know who aren’t are hardcore evangelicals who usually vote Republican.


I do think a sort of “white” tribalization has something to do with it,
though it isn’t all tribalization; class appeals are part of it as
well. I can remember the first time I was spat on in an activist
meeting, sometime after Occupy. I hadn’t said much of anything, but I have always been an independent thinker and follow my own analysis, something of an idiosyncratic Marxism typically, and it was just for being white and male and not agreeing with whatever the speaker had said. I was “privileged.”

I didn’t make too much of it at the time, as there are always some unpleasant people you end up dealing with while doing activism, but I started noticing more and more of this over the next few years. I was not the only one. Most of my old circle of activist contacts dropped out one by one. Then I dropped out, quit Facebook and social media. It felt like such a relief; things had become so toxic.

Since then, I have been extensively re-evaluating my politics, and I
know there are many others doing the same thing. A left which is
focused on issues of identity and excludes issues of class (it was class issues which drew me to the left years ago) is no friend of mine, and it is no friend of the working class. And if it is all going to be tribal politics, then well, I guess you have to go with your own tribe—if not for your sake, then for the sake of your kids.

Trump as a person seems despicable. But he also seems strong. And he
listens to the popular will. He is against many things that I, as a
leftist, have protested over the years, such as NATO, international
trade agreements, and foreign wars. I feel like the corporate
globalization of the 25+ years has just ripped a hole through this
country, especially in the Midwest where I am from. Clinton will just
continue this and Trump seems like someone who wants it to stop.

Just driving through so much of the Midwest now makes me so incredibly angry and depressed. It’s my home and they’ve wrecked it.

Immigration is part of it as well. I don’t expect that my job is going
to be stable long term. I spend half of my time managing people
overseas. If management thought they could get away with out-sourcing all of it, I have no doubt they would. Most of the people we hire domestically are immigrants on various work visas. They’re nice people, but it doesn’t feel like there is any long-term future in tech in this country for people like me.

And not really in anything else either. My brother is a top research scientist at a government agency and he tells me they have projected that in the next few decades 40 percent of all jobs will be automated. That is going to be social suicide. And immigration makes that way worse. Looking at Europe over this past year has made people wake up to that somewhat. It is hard not to get a tribal feeling in your bones when reading some of those stories.

I offer this with the usual disclaimers: This is one person in a nation of 300 million; a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters may feel differently about this election once their candidate concedes defeat and starts campaigning for Hillary Clinton; and I personally disagree with these arguments for Trump, who would, in my estimation, be a disaster for working  and middle class whites (along with all other Americans).

This is, nevertheless, an interesting look at one voter’s logic, and a chance to ask other Democrats who say that they’re tempted by Trump: What exactly is your reasoning? Email to tell me.