I was really worried I might not get the opportunity to really know what Trump supporters want. Thank you, every major outlet. Now I feel I’ve really explored the lives of folks in Northampton County or Bucks County or deep Louisiana (calling cliche seekers, I think Nye County hasn’t had their blip yet!). I now know that Trump supporters distrust the media, don’t care about Russia, and still hate Hillary (though more on that…). I know they’re worried about their jobs, they blame Obama for some strange transgression, and everyone is related to someone hooked on opiods.
Unfortunately, this anthropological view of Trump’s supporters doesn’t really match up with reality. Trump was elected on the backs of wealthy, white surburbanites–they did the heavy lifting, while, yes, a galvanized rural cohort delivered the final blow. This much richer cohort leans Republican, and simply couldn’t look past the (R) on the ballot. Interviews with local Party leaders support this; many weren’t initially for Trump, but when push came to shove in after he won the nomination, they went all in. Because party matters more than, well, anything: Mocks veterans and the handicapped–fuggit, he’s our guy. Advocates sexual assault–what about Bill?! Incites hatred and diviseness–he’s telling it like it is.
Now, this is only looking at Presidential elections, where voter turnout is much higher. In recent special elections, shifts have occurred to lean districts towards the Democratic Party for a number of reasons–lower turnout means those who do vote are typically better informed, take their candidate more seriously, and are less influenced by the party machines. But for President, especially one who creates such a binary environment–who were those fencesitters on November 1st?–you want your party to win.
In the past few years, the Republican machine has become leaner and more effective, thanks to a number of influences: the Tea Party, Fox News and the campaign against reality, and big piles of money from folks like the Koch brothers. In strolled Trump, the right man at the right time. Globalization is a current, powerful and unfathomable and frightening, and Trump positioned himself as the man who could stand against it. Jeb Bush wasn’t going to do that, nor Rubio, nor Kasich–they all would have captured the same typical party votes, but not that last third of angry voters. So Trump benefited from a number of coinciding trends: Presidential election turnout, Republicans vote (R), the machine’s streamlining, and, yes, inciting a strange but vocal base.
He also had the luck to face Hillary, who did little to excite large swaths of Democratic voters. If we make the argument as Dems seeking one who would confront globalization, Hillary was not the candidate to do so. I, personally and without anything but anecdotal evidence, also believe that some of that still seething anger at Hillary (beyond misogyny, which is very real) is that the Democrats didn’t deliver a better candidate, forcing voters to turn to Trump. We must also remember that Hillary won the popular vote–Dems will vote (D) just as much, but it doesn’t matter when we cluster in cities. The Democratic machine failed on a deeply strategic level; Dems needed to galvanize youth, and Pelosi and Wasserman fell apart there.
But why rehash the election? It’s over, and Trump won, kinda. Well, because the majority of stories right now are returning to rural counties to see if Trump has delivered on his promises. BUT THAT’S NOT HIS CONSTITUENCY. How can he deliver on promises to rural counties that made zero sense in light of who his supporters truly are? Elite suburbs don’t want to see protectionism, their money is tied up in stocks and bonds that benefit from trade. They don’t really care what happens with health care, they’re covered by good employee plans or already have private insurance, but they would like a tax break. Immigrants aren’t taking jobs in the broken littoral of the Rust Belt, but gated and segregated communities do worry about “immigrant crime,” which is the job Fox News sold them. However, both groups–the rural and the rich–like to see their party smack around the other. Who cares about Russia when you can turn on Hannity and see the “left’s hypocrisy?” Maybe Pepe the Frog is the best mascot for the times…”Feels good, man.”
But we will continue to get the stories on Trump supporters and failed promises because we keep thinking we are logical, rational beings. Trump made promises, he hasn’t fulfilled them, how does that make you feel? But these stories reveal a good amount of simple kookiness that is almost endearing, were it not for the stakes: Russian interference can’t be true because no FSB agents called directly to voters or it is true and is a good thing; no media is honest and it’s all a conspiracy; Clinton is evil–the list goes on. The inconsistency of a President who touts stock market gains, those gains made by eliminating jobs and safety nets in the Rust Belt, doesn’t compare to that feeling of a President who is finally “proud of America.” And these soundbites and quotes are good–it’s more enticing to sit in some broken-down Main Street cafe and chat with “real Americans” than get harangued by a suburbanite housewife living on a golf course on the dangers of taxation and immigration. So we’ll beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to Northampton County.