I attended a fund raiser this week and bumped into an old friend, for whom I have great affection and respect. We found a small table in a quiet corner and over a beer caught up on what each of us had been up to over the past couple of years. I was not surprised that his life has been going well—two handsome teenage children, a strong marriage and a successful business career.
Nor was I surprised when he turned to me and commented, “And can you believe how outrageous all this stuff about Trump is?”
I nodded and acknowledged that I was obsessed by the whole situation.
Then he said, “ It is all the press’s fault. They won’t leave him alone. They won’t just let him be Trump. The Democrats and the elite liberals are just a bunch of sore losers…”
This was when I felt my heart sink into my stomach.
He surely must have known that I would not agree but continued, “Joe, as you know I have voted for Democrats more than I have Republicans and am an Independent. But I have to tell you until the Democrats figure out the hurt that exists in this country and the genuine admiration people have for Trump–especially the white working class and the Evangelicals– they will never take back the Congress or elect another president.”
I had two choices. First, I could take him on and in fact made a feeble effort to argue that tax cuts for the rich, cutting 30 million people off of health insurance, and ripping apart the social safety net was not the answer for the problems of the white working class. He shook his head and held his ground, “The liberal elites just do not understand and don’t get it. Until they do, the situation will continue to be hopeless…”
So I moved to Choice 2. We changed the subject and talked about the Nats.
My friend is college educated. He grew up in a working class family and today by any standard is a success. He and his wife both have good, high paying jobs. They live in a beautiful house in a very nice neighborhood. He supports charities, attends church regularly and is community-minded.
And he supports Trump.
So do something like 40% of the rest of the country.
Why am I not able to understand this? Perhaps I have lived in Washington for too long and associate mainly with like-minded people. Perhaps it is because I do not recognize my own prejudices. Maybe I am one of the hated elites.
I still do not have an answer. As some of you may know, my book on the white working class, Hard Living on Clay Street, has just been re-released with a new banner on the cover, “If you want to understand why Trump got elected, read this book.” I am doing a book talk on Sunday when I am supposed to offer insights about why the white working class voted for Trump. I will offer the suggestion that the people I wrote about in my book had very difficult lives and did not perceive how the federal government did much to help them out. In those days the emphasis was more on race issues than class issues, and they felt looked down on and abandoned.
I suspect some of the same feeling is behind the support for Trump today. Now the culprit seems to be immigrants and the elusive global economy, which sends jobs overseas. I sort of get that.
But what I do not get is how solid middle and upper income people with good jobs and nice houses can support Trump and the policies which he is promoting. I do not get how many genuinely seem to love and admire this outrageous narcissist and self absorbed egotist. How can Evangelicals, of all people, who are deeply religious and say that they want to follow the example of Jesus, see Trump as their hero? Why do they hate Hillary so much? Why do they hate Obama?
But what I do know is this: The 40 percenters who are sticking by Trump as his presidency seems to be unraveling are not all bad people. In fact I am sure the vast majority are good people, like my friend. When you aren’t talking politics they would not appear to be all that different from people who can’t stand Trump. They want the same thing out of life that we all want—decent jobs and good careers, loving families and relationships, decent homes and neighborhoods, financial and health care security and opportunities for our children. But I also know that when you do start talking politics there is a deep divide that somehow we have to figure out a way to overcome.
And I also know this. We are in a very fragile situation right now for which there does not appear to be an obvious happy ending. In my view Trump is a disaster and not fit to be president. If he is impeached or quits, the 40 percenters will push back. If that were to happen, my friend warned me, “It’s Katy bar the door.”