The Other Side

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.”

What?

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.”

 

 

12 thoughts on “The Other Side

  1. Oh Joe, I feel your pain. Our best friends who live in TX are Trump supporters and like the friend you described are wonderful people. These friends came clear across the country to grieve with us in NY when our grandson died. I could tell you many stories about their goodness and generosity. Politics had to be put aside which I did. It is puzzling however to understand this divide. I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and I still don’t get it!

  2. My understanding is that evangelical support for Trump is based on one issue: abortion. They believe, probably correctly, that if Trump is president for long enough, he will appoint enough anti-abortion justices to reverse Roe v, Wade, abortion being for many evangelicals the number one public policy issue. And this is probably correct. What they don’t seem to understand is that if Pence becomes president as a result of Trump’s ouster, he would probably do exactly the same thing with regard to the Court. There is also an emotional attachment to Trump. “Yes, he is a sinner, as are we all. He is, in some profound sense (which I do not and probably cannot understand) one of us.

  3. Joe, A THIRD SIDE
    Glad you had a chance to talk directly to “an old friend, for whom (you) have great affection and respect.” Everyone should spend time with Trump supporters; it’s like they said in college (in 1960): everyone should meet the athiest in the dorm.
    I have been in contact for the past year (exactly) with a college roommate whose parents escape the Holocaust in 1939, who has a BSc in engineering, ran a very successful lighting firm and is now retired. Before the election, he pummeled me daily with anti-Hillary and anti-Washington emails; since the election, it’s been daily emails about: 1) why liberals won’t accept that Trump is president and 2) why so many people were against the progressive establishment. Here are some ‘lines’ from the most recent diatribe, worth reading if only to see how what comes out of their mouths and mailboxes:

    ” I’m noticing that a lot of people aren’t graciously accepting the fact that their candidate lost.
    In fact you (sic) seem to be posting even more hateful things about those who voted for Trump.
    Some are apparently “triggered” because they are posting how “sick” you feel about the results.
    How did this happen you ask? Well here is how it happened!

    You created “us” when you attacked our freedom of speech.
    You created “us” when you attacked our right to bear arms.
    You created “us” when you attacked our Christian beliefs.
    You created “us” when you constantly referred to us as racists.
    You created “us” when you constantly called us xenophobic.
    You created “us” when you told us to get on board or get out of the way.

    You created “us” when you attacked our flag
    You created “us” when you took God out of our schools.
    You created “us” when you confused women’s rights with feminism.
    You created “us” when you began to emasculate men.
    You created “us” when you decided to make our children soft.

    You created “us” when you decided to vote for progressive ideals.
    You created “us” when you attacked our way of life.
    You created “us” when you decided to let our government get out of control.
    You created “us” when you began murdering innocent law enforcement officers.
    You created “us” when you lied and said we could keep our insurance plans and our doctors.
    You created “us” when you allowed our jobs to continue to leave our country. . . ”

    And we became fed up and we pushed back and spoke up.
    And we did it with ballots, not bullets.
    With ballots, not riots.
    With ballots, not looting.
    With ballots, not blocking traffic.
    With ballots, not fires, except the one you started inside of “us”
    “YOU” created “US. It really is just that simple.”

    You get the point. I’ll stop here. Irwin

    1. Point taken. Chilling. Reminds me of one of my close relatives in Nashville who upon occasion rants about the federal government because it helps poor, undeserving people and has abandoned the middle class. He has taken mortgage interest rated deductions in the past from his taxes, has Medicare and now Medicaid, and has also lived in HUD subsidized seniors housing. What is wrong with this picture?

      1. Joe, you are to be praised for your patience, forbearance, and other Christian values that make it possible for you to remain friends with this individual. It’s certainly more than I could do. We all know what’s wrong with the picture. Is there any way that you could explain it to him?

        1. Wanting to preserve our friendship and being naturally conflict averse, I wimped out. That said, I have not had much luck trying to rescue people from the dark side.

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