An Open Letter to Those I Grew Up with in Central Pennsylvania:
I grew up in Central Pennsylvania, the vast swath of the Keystone State between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Sometimes known as “Pennsyltucky” or “the Republican T,” it’s also the region of the state that provide a lot of the new Republican votes that flipped Pennsylvania from the Democrats to the GOP.
1. I know this election has demonstrated a lot of resentment about “coastal elites,” but if you want to call me “elite,” I’m not just any “elite.” I’m one of you too. I grew up with you.
2. I know that not all Trump voters are racist or prejudiced people, but I do know that some of you are. I know because I went to school with you guys. I’ve heard the racist jokes you’ve told. I’ve heard some of you use the N-word. I’ve heard some of you use “Jew” as an all-purpose insult. I remember hearing “chink” and anti-Asian slurs as a kid. Even if you personally support Trump for reasons you view as non-racist, you can cannot deny that a non-trivial portion of his supporters are & if you tell me otherwise, I’d ask you to stop peeing on my leg & telling me that it’s raining.
3. One reason that I viscerally dislike Donald Trump for reasons that go way beyond partisanship is that Donald Trump is not only a bully but he is a King of the Bullies who emboldens other bullies (e.g., the mini “white power” march at York Vo-Tech). I was bullied as a kid. I don’t know if everybody who tripped me in the halls or knocked books out of my hands ended up as a Trump voter, but I have to wonder if there’s a correlation.
4. Even if you think I’m exaggerating about how much I was bullied, my autistic brother had it way worse than me & way worse than you can imagine. (I’m high-functioning autistic too, but wasn’t diagnosed until my 40s, which probably helped make me a bully magnet as a kid.) Around the time I went to college, my brother was beaten up pretty badly by some local teens who ended up getting away with it with no consequences because my brother was too rattled to identify who attacked him. When I hear the reports about minorities & gays getting assaulted by people yelling “Trump!,” I wonder whether the bastards who beat up my brother cast the ballots in Pennsylvania for Trump too.
5. I’ve seen many people I grew up with refer to anti-Trump protesters as “whiners” or “losers” or “crybabies.” Or I’ve seen them tell the protesters they need to “suck it up” or “move on.” Well, I don’t know if you’re conscious of this, but this is exactly the same kind of language that bullies use when they are trying to get their victims to submit to their authority. If you think you can get people to accept Trump using that kind of language, you are sadly mistaken.
6. I moved out of the Central PA area when I was in college, but I still keep up occasionally with the Harrisburg Patriot-News and pennlive.com. Many commenters at pennlive.com never accepted the legitimacy of the Obama presidency, despite Obama winning the popular vote & Electoral College in 2008 and 2012. If you want immediate respect and deference given to Donald J. Trump, I’m afraid you’re about 8 years too late.
7. I think I understand some of the economic anxiety behind the Trump phenomenon. It used to be that there was a social contract. If you were a white guy with a high school degree and a pulse, as long as you were capable of showing up on time every day, you could get a job. It might be a really crappy job, but it was a job & in many case, it was a job that could pay you a good livable wage capable of supporting a family. I can see why the disappearance of this social arrangement might make some people lash out at black people or Jews or immigrants or “political correctness,” but the deal is that black people or Mexicans or Muslims or immigrants are not the culprit who took that away from you. The culprit is trade deals, outsourcing factories overseas, & corporations that saved money by automating people out of jobs. Black people, Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants didn’t have any more control over that than you do.
8. One of my autistic brother’s obsessions is keeping up with the obituary section for pennlive.com, which he often provides me with updates about in phone calls about every 1 or 2 weeks. It used to be that I’d hear about how somebody’s grandfather or great aunt died or maybe somebody’s dad, but gradually I began to learn about all my classmates dying, a reflection of the trend of increasing mortality rates among white men without a college degree. You hear rumors. You read between the lines of obituaries. Methadone poisoning. Drank himself to death. Was it suicide? Were the drugs involved? These are guys I went to high school with, guys my age, guys maybe even a few years younger. I get chilled to the bone hearing about this, because it makes me reflect on my own mortality, like the Grim Reaper is looking over my shoulder too. A lot of smart people have noticed this issue & thought about this issue, but nobody & I mean nobody has figured it out yet. This is a bipartisan problem, an American problem, but neither Trump nor Clinton talked about it. We need to work together to solve this, not as Trump vs. Clinton, red team vs. blue team, but as united Americans.
9. One of the divides in the 2016 election was people who moved away from home (who voted for Clinton) vs. people who never moved away at all (who voted for Trump). Liberal and urban people have been blamed for living in a “bubble” that isolates them from “real” Americans, but we also need to talk about the “bubble” isolates some Central Pennsylvanians from the rest of the world. How many of us know somebody who has never left Cumberland County & has no desire to the learn of the world happening anywhere else? How many of us know somebody who has never cracked open a book since high school? There are some Trump voters who never watch any TV news except Fox News & never read any online news except the conservatives websites that circulate on Facebook, yet I don’t necessarily see them making an effort to read the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any other news organizations deemed “liberal.” Similarly, there’s a lot of conservative news that just isn’t news, but rather lies. News with a conservative slant is OK. Outright lies are not.
If you want to heal, let’s heal together. But if you want pick at old wounds & scabs, you’ve got a fight on your hands.