‘Trump’s America’, day 103…
People back in Ireland and Northern Ireland ask me a lot of questions about Trump’s supporters, in a tone that’s similar to what they might ask someone who’s seen African elephants- incredible creatures they’ve seen on TV, but still wonder what they’re like close up.
Talk to any political scientist or polling strategist, and they’ll tell you that Trump voters actually covered a pretty broad spectrum- young and old, ignorant and intelligent, poor and well-off, and their views on the issues are actually pretty varied;
a lot of them voted for Obama- twice- and were disillusioned with the Democratic Party and its ties to Wall Street and the neo-liberal global elite;
some were normally-faithful Democrats who are struggling to keep their heads above the economic water, and saw Hilary Clinton and her close ties to Wall Street and didn’t trust her to do anything about it;
some were Bernie Sanders supporters who felt betrayed by the Democratic Party’s disregard for their desire for root-and-branch reform and for the back-room sabotaging of their candidate;
some are usually-center/right Republicans who would have preferred Jeb Bush, Cruz, or Rubio but were never going to vote for Clinton so held their nose and went with ‘the Donald’;
some were Evangelical Republicans- anti-liberal, anti-abortion culture warriors- who would have voted for anybody the Republicans put forward, and saw in Trump a mechanism to get at least one (and perhaps as many as three) conservative justices on the Supreme Court;
and then there are the die-hard Trump supporters.
I know some of them. I work with them. That poster in the above photo is off my workplace wall (depressingly, I work in a school). Socially, politically, and culturally, we have almost nothing in common. But as long as we steer the conversations away from politics, the media, or the Standing Rock Rising (I made the colossal mistake of mentioning that I was going), we actually get along fine.
They’re not stupid and they’re not lazy. They got a basic high school education, but didn’t go to college. They went to trade school, got truck driver licences, boiler certifications, or certificates to work with heavy machinery or cleaning chemicals. They started a painting business with their brother. They all believe their taxes are too high, and resent the welfare system. Why, they say, should they pay for lazy people to sit around all day collecting government cheques? They’re impervious to notions of ‘white privilege’ or ‘structural racism’.
These people loathe liberals, and particularly Hilary Clinton. Without any doubt, they believe her to be a criminal with blood on her hands, and the fact that she was even allowed to run for President they see as a sign of how biased the liberal media is.
Their views about other countries tend to be a bit fuzzy; they’ve never been outside the country- unless it was for military service- but they have a friend who went to Italy once and told them how people there urinate in the street. They love America, and have no doubt that the USA is indeed the greatest county. They all think that America’s been carrying the rest of the world for too long, and everybody else should start being more grateful and pay their own way.
They don’t hate gays, but they wish that gays weren’t, you know, everywhere now. They don’t hate transgender people, but why the hell did the media have to make such a big deal about Bruce Jenner, like he was some kind of hero? They don’t hate Muslims, but why can’t they stay where they come from? They don’t hate Native Americans, but… Well, actually, yes, they do hate Native Americans.
They own guns- lots of guns. They support the police, and think that if these ‘Black Lives Matter’ types burn down convenience stores, they should expect to get shot.
And make no mistake: in the minds of his supporters, Trump’s first 100 days were a roaring success. It would have been an even greater success if liberal judges, liberals in Congress, and the liberal media hadn’t thwarted him at every turn.
They don’t resent his wealth, his ego, or his bragging. The man’s a success, they say! He lives large! Deal with it! Hell, they say, if they had that kind of money, they’d buy a gold jet, too!
They don’t have an ounce of ‘buyer’s remorse’. Every aspect of Trump that makes liberals recoil in outrage and horror his supporters find a wonderful breath of fresh air. Indeed, that very outrage and horror they see as positive proof that Trump’s on the right track.
If the Democrats want to regain the levers of power, they’ll need to win back the aforementioned erstwhile Obama voters, concern themselves with the normally-faithful Democrats, truly engage with the Sanders voters, and (who knows?) maybe grab an open-minded centrist Republican or two. Like any establishment party in the thrall of wealthy donors and globalized companies, it’s going to be uphill work. But it’s vital they try, and success is possible.
But I truly doubt they’ll ever reach the bulk of my co-workers.
Living and working with people who hold the views I’ve described can be exhausting. But we manage. If they notice my ‘Refugees Welcome’ badge on my jacket or my ‘I Stand with Standing Rock’ T-shirt, they don’t bring it up. They give me good-natured ribbing for calling garbage cans ‘bins’, saying floors need to be ‘hoovered’, and that lunch is at ‘half twelve’. They want to get along with me on a daily basis as much as I want to get along with them.
After all, it’s going to (probably) be a long four years…
Jon Hatch is a theologian, educator, and post-conflict expert. He blogs at http://reflectionsforthursdays.blogspot.com/