Our major party candidates have historically high disapproval ratings. So I am often asked, usually by people in “blue” enclaves, “How can anyone vote for him?” and by people in “red” enclaves, “How can anyone vote for her?” Since I live in coastal California, and because so many more Americans presently intend to vote for Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump, who is disapproved of by significantly more people, I hear “how can anyone vote Trump” more than the reverse.
And I myself could never vote Trump, so I get the confusion on some level––I might even share it if I hadn’t spent time with so many Trump supporters who are good people, not “deplorables” (though there is a faction of deplorable Trump supporters). Still, the answer I’ve started giving Clinton voters is probably as effective for similarly confounded Trump supporters. Without further ado, here it is:
Imagine that you were conceived by different parents––that your very brain was shaped by different genes. Nine months later, you were born into a different household. Different people raised you, teaching you different values, both by word and example. They shared different religious beliefs with different intensity than your parents. And they instilled different loyalties, prejudices, and emotional ticks.
In grade school you excelled and struggled in different subjects.
You had different strengths and weaknesses in high school, took part in different activities, had different friends, and either much more or much less romantic success, which had a lasting impact. When some folks went off to college, others joined the military, and still others got jobs, you took a path unlike your own, spent your late teens and early twenties in a totally different subculture, and escaped most major traumas you’ve ever faced... but experienced totally different setbacks that were even more or somewhat less traumatic. If you’re now a parent, you never had kids. And if you’re not a parent, imagine two of them calling for you right now.
You live in a totally different state, city, and neighborhood, work a totally different job in an unfamiliar field, make a very different income, and look ahead at hugely different career prospects for the next decade, and perhaps for your whole life.
You haven’t read any of the books you’ve read.
Your opportunities for personal contact with people from different racial and religious backgrounds are totally unlike the opportunities afforded to you in your real life.
All your friends are totally different in their personal backgrounds, education levels, and political leanings. You’ve never once read any of the newspapers or magazines that you read, let alone the individual articles that have influenced you the most during this election cycle; in fact, you get almost all your news from television, mostly from channels or shows that you’ve almost never watched in your current life. The unfamiliar hosts highlight totally different stories than the ones that shape your views. Finally, imagine that your social media feeds are populated by media content and commentary from friends that is 97 percent different. You believe multiple lies you now know to be true and know truths you regard as lies.
Did you really try to imagine life as that person at every step?
And if all that were true, would it be fair to say, as the bizarro-you described in the last few paragraphs stood in the election booth on November 8, that his or her vote for Trump or Clinton would mean something totally different than you voting for either?
That’s how millions of good people can reach a conclusion different than yours. What their choice means is very different than what it would mean for you to make it.