Who voted for Trump?
A snapshot of working class America
I’ve just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J. D. Vance. Vance is a 30 something lawyer, who graduated from Yale Law School. His present circumstances are far removed from where he came from, which is the subject of his book.
Vance grew up in Ohio and Kentucky. He spent most of his youth in semi-poverty and throughout the book is grateful for the guiding hand and support of his grandmother “his Mamaw”.
It is a well written and fascinating read but I was most taken with its insights into working class America. Vance says the following (my summary).
Much of their identity is derived from love of country. His Mamaw had two gods; Jesus Christ and the United States of America. Vance’s neighbourhood is famous for being the only county in the entire country that filled its World War I draft quota with volunteers.
Vance was taught that he lived in the best and greatest country on earth. This fact shaped their lives. As kids, despite their circumstances, they dreamed about better days ahead.
However, the incredible optimism of ordinary Americans has faded away. The decline in the blue collar economy and the GFC have reduced their stocks.
They have no heroes. Obama is viewed suspiciously. George. W Bush had a handful of fans. Clinton was popular but probably a symbol of America’s moral decline. Reagan was a long lost memory.
They loved the military but could probably not name one high ranking military officer. The space program and its astronauts were a source of tremendous pride but it was now only found in history books.
They felt trapped in two unwinnable wars where a disproportionate number of soldiers came from their neighbourhood.
Many white conservative voters believe Obama is either a Muslim or foreign born. Despite accurate reporting by the major news services on his ancestry, many simply refuse to believe the news, opting instead to accept the conspiracy theorists on the Internet. Many blame racism for this perception but this is not necessarily the case.
Many in Vance’s neighbourhood and like communities did not attend an Ivy League school. Obama attended two and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy and speaks like a law professor. His accent, clean, perfect, neutral – is foreign. He conducts himself with confidence knowing he succeeded in the modern American meritocracy that was built for people like him.
Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people Vance admired growing up. Many believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them.
Obama strikes at their deepest insecurities. He is a good father when many of them are not. He wears a suit while they wear overalls, if they are lucky to have jobs.
His wife tells them what they shouldn’t be feeding their children and they hate her for it, not because she is wrong but because they know she is right.
Mistrust is rife. With no check on the Internet, they believe the “fake” or sensationalist news-feeds. They don’t trust the evening news, or the politicians, or their universities, and the list goes on.
Group belief is key to the survival or demise of these communities. When people believe that hard work is rewarded they will work hard. If they think it is impossible to get ahead; then why try. And when people believe the system or society is against them or cannot help them, then they refuse to accept personal responsibility for their choices. Blame society instead.
One friend quit his job as he was tired of waking up early each morning. Vance later read his post on Facebook complaining about the Obama economy and how it had made it impossible for him to find work.
It’s little wonder that Trump’s rant of “Make America Great” or “Let’s drain the swamp” appealed to these people.