It seems like an easy question to answer. How did Donald Trump win the election? And the answer, on the face of it, seems easy also. He pandered to the racists, the sexists, the xenophobes. The anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, crowd who want to roll things back to their perception of the 1950s. The 1920s, really, if they can manage it.
And no doubt, Trump did indeed appeal to those groups. But despite what most on the left want to think, not everyone who voted for him fits so neatly into those categories.
What Trump really did was to appeal to a broad base of Americans-largely white, largely rural, largely poor-who feel neglected by the Democrats and the Republicans both. From the Republicans they got pandering, followed by promises of a bright future. This always fails to happen, because Republican policies are exactly the opposite of what many of these people need.
Democrats, though, tend to ignore these people, and when they pay attention to them, it’s only to mock them. Ever made fun of a certain subset of American by posting a Facebook meme like the following?
If so, you’re part of the problem. This may come as a surprise, but people don’t like to be mocked or condescended to. Everything you say could be absolutely, 100% correct, but if you’re making fun of the way someone talks, or their interest in NASCAR, or the fact that they love their sister in a way best described as Lannisterian, then you’re part of the problem. Even I do these things; in fact, I did it just now, by assuming that everyone in white, poor, rural America talks like a Hollywood stereotype, loves NASCAR, and fucks their sister. Every time we on the left made one of these kinds of jokes, it was a small nail in the coffin.
Trump managed to present the image, accurately or not, of someone who was willing to listen to these people and who had a real desire to make their lives better. I doubt that he actually listened or has any real plans to make their lives better; steel manufacturing isn’t coming back and coal is dead for economic reasons more than environmental ones. But he did a good job of seeming like he listened. And that’s a good part of why he carried white people in rural counties at a 2:1 margin against Hillary.
People in impoverished rural America are desperate, and feel like no one is looking out for them. When someone comes in with an outsider’s siren song and promises them the moon, is it any wonder they listened and voted?
This doesn’t explain all of Trump’s success, of course. He somehow managed to carry the vote among college-educated white women in places like Florida (and let’s not make any Florida jokes here, either. That also doesn’t help). I’ll admit that one stuns me. but if they’re older, retired women, it makes more sense. And we can’t ignore the fact that, yes, there are people out there who voted for him out of racist, sexist, xenophobic beliefs. But this does explain why Trump won in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. These are places with large rural populations that have been left behind in the economic recovery, and have felt for decades like they’re being screwed.
People care about God, guns, and…other things…that begin with G, I suppose. But they really care about the economy, and more to the point, they care about whether or not they fed their family yesterday, can feed them today, and can expect to feed them tomorrow. Promising that you’ll strengthen relations with our allies and let trans* people use the bathroom they need to doesn’t resonate well on an empty stomach.
So if these people don’t have their basic needs met, is it any wonder they turn to someone who can promise them all that? It might not be true, but the experiences that too many have had with the Democrats and Republicans both have convinced them that those two don’t have the answers. Can you really blame them for turning to Trump?
You and I know that the plight of poor Americans is at least marginally better under Democrats than Republicans, but try telling that to an Appalachian family on their third generation of food stamps. They want out of that lifestyle, and don’t see anyone providing them the out. So maybe Trump, they think. Maybe Trump.
Next time: The Game of Blame