Dear Nicholas Kristof,
In your April 6 column, you implore progressives to “be nice to Trump voters.” Why? Because these supposedly passed-over voters in flyover states feel they are not being listened to and because liberals don’t understand their positions. Also because we need their votes to win.
You write: “We’re all complicated, and stereotypes are not helpful — including when they’re of Trump supporters.”
Well…no. To all of that. I live in Kansas where — save a few short stints on the coasts — I’ve spent most of the past several decades. Let’s be completely clear: these voters have not been ignored. In almost every meaningful way, their world view has populated the US mainstream for over a century. Their experiences have been adopted as the representative US experience.
Their way of life has been accepted as the norm. Yet the very minute a slight, very slight, social liberation occurred to shift that norm a fraction, they panicked.
This panic turned quickly to rage; a rage Donald Trump gave loud voice to in propagandist rallies all through 2016. Many of us looked on and did not want to believe in the worst of America that Trump and his followers embodied.
We watched as his supporters screamed with glee, as they applauded unrestrained, when Trump mocked, belittled, and threatened truly marginalized groups.
We watched as Trump supporters overlooked their hero’s business failures and reports of thousands of his workers going unpaid in favor of a foolhardy belief that the government needed an outsider who knew how to run a business.
We watched as they ignored the reality of declining immigration numbers, the increased safety of sanctuary cities, and lower likelihood of immigrants to commit violent crimes, in favor of feverishly chanting about building a wall.
We watched as they willfully overlooked Trump’s boasting about sexual assault and years of dehumanizing comments about women while plunging themselves into an anti-Clinton conspiracy fervor steeped in foul misogyny.
We watched as they denied climate change and scientific fact, as they asked for the coal mines and unregulated industry that killed their grandfathers to be revived.
As they screamed concern for fetuses while stripping basic health care from grown Americans.
As they indulged in white supremacy and the ideal of a “pure European” culture.
As they embellished their Twitter bios with tiny frogs that say nothing more than “I hate Jews” to those in the know.
I know these people well. Some are my family members. Some are my neighbors. Some are my co-workers. Most are hard-working, and most are Christian and carry with them a firm belief in their own righteousness.
If you talk to them face-to-face, will they be nice to you? Sure, for the most part, provided you’re not a person of color on the street at night, or transgender, or wearing a hijab in their grocery store, or asking for a “government handout”, or walking into Planned Parenthood.
Many believe absolutely that their rights and their experiences are the rights and experiences of all. There is no room for nuance in this world view. As such, these voters fail to understand that the US doesn’t actually offer a level playing field for all. That many, many people lack the capacity to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” because of their race, or gender, or (lack of) personal wealth. In asking to “Make America Great Again,” they are really asking all of us to—for their own comfort—narrow or eliminate what it is actually the multiplicity of experiences that make America America.
So, Nicholas Kristof, do I think it’s essential to be nice to them? Do I think, as you suggest, that “coastal elites” should spend a junior year in rural areas learning about Trump voters? Hell, no.
People who voted for Trump need to spend a year living with Syrian refugees or Mexicans who walked a thousand miles to reach safety, or a trans kid who has been beaten up by straight dudes more than once, or a woman who has to get an abortion. It is not our responsibility to teach Trump voters empathy and the diversity of the American experience.
What is on us—the resisters of the Trump regime —before the next electoral cycle, is getting to those people who did not vote, those people who might have endorsed Bernie or who otherwise might have felt disenfranchised by “the system”, or who work three jobs and can’t vote on a weekday, or who feel their vote simply doesn’t matter.
Let’s focus on those people. They are the ones we need.
Photo Credit: Alice Teeple