One of our jobs as progressives is to figure out how to have these conversations in a way that presents acceptable alternatives but doesn't scare away the Trump voters of the world. I know that some of my views would not be acceptable to my co-worker, but I also know we don't have to agree 100% in order to have a conversation.
/By Dave Bazell/ The other day I was talking with a coworker about our plans for the weekend; I'll call her Jane. Jane is a millennial, the same age as my kids. She is a well-educated ex-ROTC member doing graduate work in engineering. She is very smart and thoughtful and I enjoy working with her.
I told Jane that I was going to a friend’s house for dinner but didn't have any other major plans. She said her grad advisor was having a party and she had to bring something, probably beer. She added that she didn't think that her advisor's girlfriend liked her very much. She thought that was because Jane had voted for Trump.
"Oh my God, you did?" I blurted out. I immediately regretted my uncontrolled outburst. I backtracked and said I really didn't know anyone who had voted for Trump and I was really interested in knowing why she did.
I have been harboring a model of Trump voters in my mind. In my model there are basically two camps. One is the white, blue-collar, poor, working class, "Hillbilly Elegy" group. This is a group of people who have seen hard times as lots of labor intensive jobs have evaporated, perhaps taken over by automation, or perhaps due to a shifting economy that has moved away from coal to renewable energy sources. This group is relatively poorly educated and doesn't identify with college educated folks. They also don't have the means to afford an education even if they wanted it. This camp supported Trump because he was different, a non-politician who promised them lots of good things. Trump talked directly to this group of people and, somehow, they identified with him. They looked past Trump's shortcomings because they hoped he would provide them with the better life he promised.
The other group of Trump supporters, in my model, falls at the other end of the spectrum. They are generally well educated and very wealthy--the plutocrats. This group supported Trump because they saw him as a wealthy businessman with their interests at heart. They were not bothered by Trump's lack of moral compass because they had no moral compass of their own.
But Jane doesn't fall into either of these groups. She is well educated, smart, conservative, well off but not wealthy. She certainly doesn't strike me as amoral in any way. I really wanted to understand why she voted for Trump. We only had a very short conversation since we were at work and she was more than a little reluctant to discuss politics. But I did get a few insights from her and I hope to have a chance to follow up soon.
I had always viewed Jane as conservative, so some of her views were not surprising on the surface, but many things she said in our short conversation left me with more questions. She told me that she felt that having a strong stance on foreign policy was important to her. She mentioned something in passing about North Korea. I don't see Trump as having a stance on anything so I want to know how her views can be reconciled with who I see Trump as. She also told me she supported Jeb Bush originally. OK, he seemed to me to be a much more moderate, establishment Republican. After Bush dropped out of the race, she said she supported Kasich. That relieved me and made me feel that she was just a traditional Republican. However, Jane also suggested that she went with Trump because she couldn't vote for Hillary. We didn't have time to pursue that, but I want to know what she meant by that. Was it that she thought that Hillary was corrupt in some way, perhaps because of the email issue, or was it something else? While I pressed her a little on some of these questions, she didn't want to talk any more at the time. She did say she wasn't really very political. That might be another clue.
This whole encounter with Jane has made me realize that my model of the Trump voter is incomplete and that we probably have more in common with the "Trump voters in the middle" than we imagine. The key points I got from our too short conversation were as follows. Jane is a traditional Republican, with some traditional Republican values like a strong defense and a conservative social agenda. She would have voted for a more traditional Republican candidate, but Trump ended up with the nomination and she felt that she had to support the party nominee. It would have been too much of a stretch for her to break with the party. That would have been a political statement that she was not interested or willing to make. Jane did say that she was not happy with "the ways he acts," which I took as a reference to his tweeting, his off-the-cuff remarks, and his comments about women. But I am just speculating since we didn't talk in any detail about her views.
Perhaps I am just being hopeful, but I sensed that Jane was open to a discussion. I felt that at some level she didn't like what was going on in the country and that if someone could convince her that there was a better alternative, she might take it. She wasn't going to search for that alternative by herself, but she was open to having the conversation. One of our jobs as progressives is to figure out how to have that conversation in a way that presents acceptable alternatives but doesn't scare away the Janes of the world. I know that some of my views would not be acceptable to Jane, but I also know we don't have to agree in order to have a conversation. And I don't think we have to agree 100% to make her an ally on some issues. I hope to have a chance to talk more with Jane about her reasons for supporting Trump, and hopefully to open her eyes to the promise of an alternative to the world she has lived in and supported all her life.
Bazell is lead volunteer organizer of Progressive Howard County and a frequent blogger in this space.