We live in an unusual time.
We are about a month into the Presidency of Donald Trump and it seems that we have a White House that is dysfunctional. He rolls out a travel ban that wasn’t vetted by government agencies like Homeland Security or State and creates chaos in airports around the country, causing immigrants and refugees to feel unwelcome here and flee to Canada. He has a press conference that is…well, there aren’t any words to describe how vastly different a Trump presser is from Barack Obama or George W. Bush. And you have a man who has only been President a month who is already campaigning for the next presidential election in less than three years.
I haven’t talked about the disturbing connections between Trump and Russia that led to the first head of the National Security Council to be sent packing or his tweets about the press being the enemy of the people or his moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.
There is more, but let’s just say that Trump is not the normal holder of the office of President. While I don’t fear that we are living in Weimar America awaiting our Reichstag Fire, I do think that there is much to be concerned about with Trump and what he might be doing to our democratic experiment.
This is a time when people should come together to present a defense of who we are as Americans and also to be an effective check against Trump’s power. It is a time when ideology should be at times minimized for the sake of the greater good, that is preserving American democracy.
But that’s not happening. Part of the reason I think it isn’t happening is because of the nature of the American left and the #resistance movement.
The #Resistance is basically the response that progressives have had to the surprising election win of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. The best way to describe it is as a movement whose goal is basically to oppose everything that Trump is doing. In some ways this is understandable. Trump is, in my view, someone who could damage American government as well as the world system that has granted relative peace for 70 years. He does seem to have an anti-Muslim bias that could have consequences for millions of Americans whose only crime is that they share their faith with a number of vile extremists.
Progressives have the right to oppose anything and everything that Trump proposes. But if their goal is to reduce the damage Trump may do by limiting him to one term, you have to reach out beyond the base. Trump was able to get a number of people who voted for Obama twice because they didn’t think the Democrats were offering anything new. These “Trump-curious” voters are the people that progressives should be persuading in order for their objective to become a reality.
But they aren’t reaching out to them. Instead they are viewing any and all voters who dared to vote for Trump with contempt. Progressives have a hard time understanding why anyone would vote for someone like Trump who seems to be anti-Muslim, bigoted and sexist. Of course there are valid reasons why someone would vote for Trump, but for progressives, voting for someone whose sins are beyond the pale is hard to swallow. But giving them the cold shoulder might actually make Trump stronger instead of weaker. The New York Times recently broached the subject in an article called “Are Liberals Helping Trump?” Here’s one Trump curious voter explaining his vote.
Jeffrey Medford, a small-business owner in South Carolina, voted reluctantly for Donald Trump. As a conservative, he felt the need to choose the Republican. But some things are making him feel uncomfortable — parts of Mr. Trump’s travel ban, for example, and the recurring theme of his apparent affinity for Russia.
Mr. Medford should be a natural ally for liberals trying to convince the country that Mr. Trump was a bad choice. But it is not working out that way. Every time Mr. Medford dips into the political debate — either with strangers on Facebook or friends in New York and Los Angeles — he comes away feeling battered by contempt and an attitude of moral superiority.
“We’re backed into a corner,” said Mr. Medford, 46, whose business teaches people to be filmmakers. “There are at least some things about Trump I find to be defensible. But they are saying: ‘Agree with us 100 percent or you are morally bankrupt. You’re an idiot if you support any part of Trump.’ ”
The response to this by liberals is…well, let’s just say they are running low in the sympathy department. Here is one sample:
I won’t speak for other libs, but I am not out to persuade Trump voters. Leaving aside how condescending the notion is that Trump voters need to be persuaded, they are not persuadable, period. Secondly, it is not my aim to work with these people; it is my aim to work around them.
The belief that Trump voters aren’t persuadable harkens back an article by Ordinary Times-alum Jamele Bouie in the fall. The article was titled “There’s No Such Thing As Good Trump Voter.” In that piece, Bouie said that in light of the recent outbreaks of hate-based violence against persons of color, Muslims and others it is the former people that deserve sympathy not those who knowingly voted for a racist.
…more than 300 incidents of harassment or intimidation have been reported in the aftermath of Trump’s election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. NBC News confirmed several, including incidents where vandals spray-painted slurs (“Heil Trump”) and swastikas on churches serving Hispanic or LGBT communities. At San Diego State University, a hijab-wearing Muslim student says she was confronted and robbed by two men who made comments about Trump, and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a Muslim student says a man approached her and threatened to set her on fire unless she removed her hijab. At the University of Pennsylvania, black members of the freshman class were added to a racist social media group, where students were threatened with lynchings.
Millions of Americans are justifiably afraid of what they’ll face under a Trump administration. If any group demands our support and sympathy, it’s these people, not the Americans who backed Trump and his threat of state-sanctioned violence against Hispanic immigrants and Muslim Americans. All the solicitude, outrage, and moral telepathy being deployed in defense of Trump supporters—who voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes—is perverse, bordering on abhorrent.
Listen, as someone who also didn’t vote for Trump (I voted for Gary Johnson), as someone who is African American and Latino, I get why people might be bothered by Trump voters. I don’t know about Bouie, but I actually have friends who voted for Trump. These include a woman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that I’ve known since college and I was an usher in her wedding. Another one is the mother of two sons on the autism spectrum that I can talk about autism issues with since I’m on the spectrum as well. None of these people are hateful bigots. Bouie also ignores the fact that millions of people who voted for Obama twice voted for Trump. Did they magically become racists overnight?
The answer of course is no. Yes, there are racists that did vote for Trump, but the over 60 million that did vote for him are not all Klansmen.
But calling Trump voters racists makes it easy for liberals. They don’t have to examine their own beliefs. They can feel energized coming together and marching without having to dilute their purity. Just like conservatives, they can stay in a political bubble that is safe and reinforces their beliefs without having their views challenged.
To understand Trump voters you have to look at three states that moved over to the Republican column, costing Clinton the election: Michigan (my home state), Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. These were solidly blue states that changed. Macomb County, a suburban working class county outside of Detroit, went for Obama in 2012 and then switched to Trump in 2016. How do you go from voting for the nation’s first black President to voting for Trump?
What binds these three states together is that they have faced deindustrialization over the decades. These were states that produced steel and made cars. They employed millions. When those industries changed, it meant the loss of jobs and diminished futures. I know this from experience since my hometown is Flint, Michigan, the city now known for contaminated water – but before that, it was known as a city that has borne the brunt of deindustrialization in America. The Democrats were the party that best reached out to people in these states, but in 2016, they went for Trump. In one of her last stories before leaving NPR, reporter Asma Khalid talked about how long time Democrats were supporting Trump instead of Clinton:
David Betras realized Hillary Clinton’s odds of winning the presidency were in peril — back in March of last year.
Betras, the chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, lives in an area of Ohio that traditionally votes for Democrats. But during the Ohio primary, Betras saw 18 people on his own precinct committee defect and cross party lines to vote Republican.
“Why did they vote for Donald Trump?” Betras asked rhetorically, and in the next breath answered his own question, “’cause Donald Trump — I don’t get it, but, amazingly, a man that s**** in gold-plated toilets — was talking more to working people than the party’s standard-bearer.”
Betras and others think the party has become more coastal and less concerned about the needs of people in middle America:
“The people here thought — wrongly — the national Democratic Party cared more about where someone went to the bathroom than whether or not these people had a job,” Betras said. “And so, we’re off-message.”
Betras insists for most voters, the economy is the primary concern. And he is worried the Democratic National Committee doesn’t understand that — that it has become too coastal, too elite and too disconnected from middle America. His prime example of the elitism he sees in his own party is the criticism he heard from some Democrats when Trump misrepresented the number of jobs in the Carrier deal.
“I don’t care if it was a bad deal,” Betras argued, “he was fighting for someone’s job. That’s what we used to do, right?”
To put it in a visual sense, the New York Times made two maps to show the areas where Trump won vs. the areas where Clinton won. This is the map of Trump’s America:
Now here’s the map of Clinton’s America:
Now most of the Clinton “Islands” are heavily populated and allowed her to win the popular vote. But since we determine the winner by states, you can clearly see you can’t win with just the islands.
Now look at this electoral map of 1992, when another Clinton won the White House:
Finally, here is the 2016 electoral map:
The most basic reason that Democrats and progressives have to reach out to Trump voters is because they were Democratic voters. They were the reason the party won some of its most recent successes in the White House.
The left can can go and talk about the #resistance all they want. But they need to work on reaching out to Trump voters and even at times working with conservatives who are wary of Trump and get over the anger of people voting for someone like Trump.
So the left needs to start working on building a strong anti-Trump coalition and get over themselves, because at the end of the day what counts is how much damage Trump will do to American democracy, and how those opposed can best stop or reverse the injury.