When it’s over, Trump voters will need our help, not our scorn
Three weeks out, it’s looking pretty damn likely that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump in the upcoming election, and by a margin that seemed unthinkable throughout the entire campaign in such a polarized country. I voted for Clinton (absentee FTW!), and very much against Trump, who is the most critical threat to our blah blah you’ve read this 20 times today already.
Like Clinton herself undoubtedly is, it’s time for us as Americans to look towards the transition, and towards the path we as a country will step on the day after the election.
For anti-Trump voters, the temptation to gloat, to mock, to demean, is going to be absolutely overwhelming, and beyond understandable. By nature humans love winning and aren’t very gracious winners. Of course we want to shriek with ecstasy at the top of our lungs that “WE BEAT THOSE ASSHOLES!!!!!!!” That happens after every election, and I’m always down for a teaspoon of it. Rubbing your opponents’ noses in it is almost as sweet as the victory itself in the most trivial of cases. And this is anything but.
The coming election is poised to be a historic victory over the would-be rise of fascism in America, a movement that had been quietly building over the last half-century and probably only ever had one chance to become the country’s dominant political ideology. It might have succeeded, too, if a loudmouth circus clown hadn’t come along and blown the cover off the whole thing too early, revealing it to the world for what it really was before it was ready.
We’re about to push it back. We’ve long looked forward to demographic change that is likely to sweep away most of the popular support that Reaganomics has enjoyed, but now it seems almost as if there’s no more lengthy period of deprivation we have to endure first. We can envision a future — a near future — in which the Republican Party disintegrates, or at the very least is forced to drop robber baron plutocracy as its centerpiece in order to maintain national relevance. We can see the last bulwarks falling that have kept social and economic conditions decades behind where they should rightfully be.
And on top of all that, the (ahem) trump card: this victory isn’t over just anyone, but over a group of people that have redefined moral reprehensibility in the modern age. Who have embraced hate and fear and ignorance as their defining political identities, and spew seemingly limitless bile at anyone they perceive to be in any way different from them. Who would put the country and the world at risk by giving the nuclear codes to a toddler overdue for a nap. (There are also a great many people who, regardless of the opponent, would madly celebrate the election of Hillary Clinton. Whether that’s cause for celebration or not I leave unaddressed.)
So yeah, on November 8th we’re going to show these idiots who the big winners are, and gleefully call them out as the pathetic, ignorant losers we know them to be.
Um, let’s not. That would be a huge and tragic mistake. They turned to fascism out of hurt and fear and anger, and if we want to take the country to a better place we need to address their hurt and fear and anger with conversation and conscientious governance — answering it with derision and a superior attitude will just drive them to the next charismatic demagogue.
There’s just more going on in the mind of the modal Trump voter all across the country than just racism and ignorance. David Wong, product of small-town Southern Illinois and editor of Cracked.com, writes as eloquently on the subject as anyone. His recent article How Half of America Lost its Fucking Mind is a must-read for liberal and forward-thinking Americans who love our country more than we hate our opponents. In a nutshell, we have to understand that Trump voters wouldn’t turn nearly so many people off if they had the level-headedness and articulateness to emerge from one of his rallies, grab the nearest salivating cameraman, and rather than spout something from a white nationalist message board, say “I’m voting for Trump because:
Basic, obvious truths that have gone unquestioned for thousands of years now get laughed at and shouted down — the fact that hard work is better than dependence on government, that children do better with both parents in the picture, that peace is better than rioting, that a strict moral code is better than blithe hedonism, that humans tend to value things they’ve earned more than what they get for free, that not getting exploded by a bomb is better than getting exploded by a bomb… The foundation upon which America was undeniably built — family, faith, and hard work — ha[ve] been deemed unfashionable and small-minded.
Of course Wong knows full well that these beliefs are only possible in ignorance of most of our national history, and he says so just as succinctly in his next paragraph, but it shouldn’t be impossible for any of us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who believes them, ignorantly or otherwise. This is why I say I hate Trump, not Trump voters. Their way of life is falling apart and no one seems to want to realize it — not the right, made up largely of Wall Street stooges, and not the left, made up largely of… well, the type of person that would read this article.
As part of a list of reasons not to vote for Trump, former Jeb Bush Communications Director (now that’s an establishment Republican post if there ever was one) Tim Miller writes:
“For all of you who hate ‘the establishment,’… let me offer you this: If you are an average person with an education and a genie offered you the chance to live in any country, at any time in the history of the world, you would be a moron not to pick the USA in 2016.”
Wong’s retort is simple and devastating: “Try telling that to anybody who lives in Trump country. They’re getting the shit kicked out of them.”
Well, he’s right. The traditional American small-town life has indeed collapsed, and the combination of hard work, family, and faith has left the white, working-class occupants of flyover country destitute and broken when it used to guarantee them and their children the world’s highest standard of living. And yeah, it’s our failure on the left for being crappy salespeople who have utterly failed to convince them that our agenda would help. The cause of their suffering isn’t the point — the point is the suffering, and the frustration.
Despite what progressives and establishment conservatives seem to want to believe, neither Trump nor his voters are stupid (seriously, follow that link). When Trump tells his crowds that the last 30 years’ parade of plutocrat Republican hacks, the Bushes, Romneys, Ryans, have repeatedly sold them out to wealthy interests, we can tell ourselves they respond to that message because they’re racist — or we might consider that they respond to that message because he’s absolutely right. They’re smart to (however belatedly) realize it, and he’s smart to both realize and exploit it. (Presumably this is the part of the article where the nation’s Tim Millers start disagreeing with me vociferously — fair enough; let’s continue that conversation right after we take care of business in November.)
Are we as victors just going to pile on and become yet another wing of the political system that they can see regards them with contempt? On the left, you might argue that we are and have long been fighting for policies that would help them if only they would listen instead of declaring us the enemy. Sure. But even if that’s true, how do scorn and smugness help to do anything but widen that chasm? Scorn and smugness are just going to confirm in their minds everything they think they know about everyone their Trump vote is a rebellion against. (Did you follow that last link yet?)
Is there racism endemic to Trump fanaticism? Is there xenophobia? Of course there is. Since the caveman days we’ve been genetically programmed as a species to separate ourselves by arbitrary distinction and then insist that The Other Guy doesn’t deserve the limited food and water and shelter available. Whoever mastered tribalism the most got to maybe survive the winter. It’s now that those resources have grown more limited by poverty and post-industrial decline that the tribalism in America is breaking out all over our nether-regions like genital herpes. And if we use this unique opportunity to reshape America instead to laugh and point fingers at the 40-odd percent of the country ready to vote for this guy, we’ll be doing nothing about the fact that they turned to fascism because they had nothing else left to turn to.
So let’s all agree right now — beat Trump, have a sober, brief celebration of our survival as a nation, and then quit with the gloating. Instead, invite Trump voters back into the conversation without delay. There are poised to be tens of millions of them, and we need their input on the state of their lives and the lives of their families to have any idea how to govern for the benefit of the entirety of America. And yeah, a lot of their “input” is likely to start out as hate — let’s be patient. Below the hate are hurt and insecurity, and beyond them are real conversations about policy that we need to have at a critical juncture in our political history.