The people who talked to me in late March and early April of this year do not constitute what scholars call a representative sample—not of Trump supporters, of Southerners, or of lower-middle-class and blue-collar Americans, much less of American society. They are just a few people I met while driving along a few American roads. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did it, because I do believe that I learned, or at least convinced myself of, a few meaningful facts about U.S. politics in 2016.
I learned that people who describe Trump’s supporters as ignorant haven’t talked to them.
I learned that many, possibly a majority, of Trump’s supporters vote for him not because, but despite, his frequently outrageous comments.
I learned that many of Trump’s supporters don’t necessarily trust him.
I learned that, although much of the country today appears to be brimming with anger, very little of that anger seems to take the form of class resentment. Trump’s self-proclaimed status as a billionaire appears to be an unambiguous plus for him as a candidate. Non-affluent Americans seem increasingly to detest and mistrust politicians, but far fewer seem to detest or mistrust rich people, big corporations, or the growing concentration of wealth in the upper tiers of U.S. society.
I learned that very large proportions of Southern and of blue-collar white people, especially men, hold Hillary Clinton in utter contempt. In all my conversations, I met exactly one woman, and not a single man, who said anything positive about Clinton. In the movie The Grifters, the son can’t understand why his mother detests his girlfriend so intensely. Frustrated, he asks, “What’s your objection to Myra?” Her answer: “Same as anybody’s.” That’s how nearly everyone I met seemed to feel about Hillary Clinton.1 I’ll leave it to others, or perhaps to myself on another day, to explain why this is so.
I learned that, in addition to a steadily growing partisan divide—liberals vilifying conservatives and vice versa—the United States is also experiencing a growing governing divide, such that millions of Americans find themselves voting for candidates that they can’t stand and don’t trust. The overwhelming majority of those I interviewed simply do not believe that their elected leaders, including those from their own party, are honest or can be trusted even to try to do the right thing. In my view, this sentiment is toxic, particularly in a democracy, and, probably more than any other factor, explains Trump’s rise. He’s an alluring candidate for the large and growing proportion of Americans who believe that the core problem with our politics is politicians.
I learned that many non-affluent Americans fear that the hour is late and that “we’re losing everything.” I learned that many decent, sincere people who feel disregarded, disrespected, and left behind—in ways that I do not feel and have never felt—can disproportionately embrace political opinions that I view as bigoted or paranoid. And I wonder, if there is fault here, whose fault is it?
I learned that possibly the most significant divide in American life today is the class divide. Much current scholarship, and certainly the interviews reported here, suggest that the approximately one-third of Americans with four-year college degrees are essentially thriving, while the other two-thirds fall further and further behind on nearly every measure.2 And to make the matter worse, today’s upscale Americans are less and less likely even to interact with, much less actually give a damn about, those other Americans.3 Again I wonder, if there is fault to be assigned here, where should it be assigned?
Source: David Blankenhorn, Listening to Trump Voters – The American Interest