Talking with a friend about Trump voters and how to reach them

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Dear Garrett: Yes. I’ve been having this nagging thought that while it’s important to resist, we’re still not getting the message that an awful lot of people voted for Trump and think he is doing a swell job. I still can’t see them. My former brother in law is one, but I have no idea how one would find common ground with him. But clearly, we lost all three branches of government, so what’s the message?

Abrazos, S

February 26, 2017

Dear S: Sorry for the radio silence – I have been tied up with various little projects that always seem to grow once you get into them.

Also I was thinking of how best to respond because I have been thinking about all this, the same as everyone. So, I will try not to go on and on, but I did want to reply about a couple issues.

I think there are multiple groups among the 63 million Trump voters. About half – 30 million or 10% of the US population – are straight-up racists or white supremacists or male supremacists or neo-fascists. These people are unreachable for us, and I am not that worried about that 10% of the population. If your former brother-in-law is in this camp, then I don’t think there is anything to say to him.

But the other half of Trump’s voters – another 30 million people – include various groups including people who voted once or twice for Obama and people who voted for Bernie. I do not consider these people to be white supremacists or neo-fascists, as much as I disagree with their votes.

What they did do was to overlook, tolerate or excuse-away the racist/misogynist/xenophobic campaign Trump ran. It is something worth pondering: how is it that things we think are automatically disqualifying and completely unacceptable, are somehow not that way for millions of people “who should know better.”

Reality is always 100 times more complex than theory, and we all know people who can and do hold conflicting ideas and attitudes in their head at the same time, which they often act on as well.

Having read 20-plus different articles and profiles on Trump voters, especially white working class voters rather than the right-wing ideologues, I think I had not really appreciated what the last 20-25 years of corporate globalization has meant for millions of working people in the “Rust Belt” and rural areas.

With the plant closures (due to automation and technology as well as “free trade”), with the decline of the union movement to its current 7% of the private sector, with the absence of any jobs with decent pay and benefits, and the tax base to pay for government social service – formerly Democratic working class people have seen their own lives, their families and their communities torn apart at the seams.

Moreover, all these communities were completely abandoned by the political class – Democratic as well as Republican – for years and years; left to twist slowly in the wind and told it was their fault that they were missing out. Some of the people interviewed said that they might have accepted that for themselves, but the thought that their children would have worse lives and a bleaker future than them was too much.

All they were promised by Democrats in this election was more of the same, with a slight technocratic tweaking that would do nothing to change the trajectory of corporate globalization that is immiserating working people in both developing and developed countries. Clinton epitomized the privileged, corrupt elite that is responsible for the destruction of their own lives, families and communities – which are now consumed by drug addiction, economic stagnation and early deaths.

It rang out from all the interviews that these people – Trump’s 30 million “reachable” voters – that they were convinced they are screwed, no matter which candidate won the election, so they might as well vote for the non-politician, “successful businessman,” who had the entire establishment lined up against him. This was a “hail Mary pass in the 4th quarter” – as one of them said – that was the “last, best chance” for a revival of their communities and families.

Their vote was in spite of the things that Trump said that were automatically disqualifying, unacceptable for us. So, while I understand the rationale for voting Trump – it ends up with a regime that will be worse for everybody, including the white working class voters who once belonged to a union, or who voted once or twice for the first black president, or voted for a self-described socialist.

On another point you raised, I also don’t think that the 30 million reachable Trump voters think he is “doing a swell job” – the racists, misogynists and fascist wannabes no doubt think he is not evil enough. But the polls – with whatever caveats are necessary – indicate:

Trump’s transition had only a 45% approval rating;
Trump started out his presidency with a 42% approval rating – the lowest of any president in the polling era;
Trump made history again in generating a majority disapproval rating – again the polls may not perfect but the same questions have been tracked over years – in only 8 days as president. It took Bill Clinton 573 days, Reagan 727 days, Obama 936 days and George W. Bush 1,205 days to slip below 50% approval rating; and
a majority of people polled from both parties (59% of Republicans and 76% of Democrats) say they are “stressed” about the future of the country under Trump.

At the same time, the Resistance is getting majority approval for both activities and issues:

60% approved of the women’s marches, with 33% strongly approving;
60% are opposed to building a wall on the southern border;
53% are opposed to halting refugee arrivals;
70% are in favor of offering illegal immigrants a chance to apply for legal status;
more than 60% want the EPA’s regulatory powers maintained or strengthened; and
56% believe Wall Street is still a threat to the US economy.

Also the “bet” that the 30 million reachable voters made that their lives are going to get better with Trump is clearly not going to work out for them. Trump’s Cabinet of millionaries and billionaries are interested only in more inequality, and their policies can only bring more poverty, illnesses, and lives with no future.

A few thousand new manufacturing jobs – at reduced pay and minimal benefits – is not going to replace the 8 million good manufacturing jobs with decent pay and benefits that have disappeared over the last 20 years. Their families and communities will still be in the race to the bottom, invisible and abandoned – all so that corporate profits continue ever-upward.

So, for me the question about the 30 million reachable Trump voters is how long does it take for them to realize they have been snookered, who do they blame (could work our way or the other way), and what do they do about it.

Part of having it go our way when the Great Disillusionment occurs for the 30 million, I think is for us to pay more attention to and look for common ground with these 30 million and their families.

Obviously, we have to fight to protect all those vulnerable, and to fight every “turn back the clock” proposal out of the White House and Congress. But I think if we do not adopt the smug, patronizing, condescending attitude of the liberal elite toward working people, we can find common ground for discussion (for a start) and perhaps joint action on issues like:

decent jobs with livable wages and benefits;
access to quality health care, especially for diseases affecting rural and working class communities (of various colors);
real retirement and pensions so people don’t have to work until their dying day;
quality care of veterans (who are mostly working class of various colors in the “volunteer” military) – in terms of health care and jobs and homelessness; and
the future of their and our children – most people care more about their kids than themselves, and this is something we can try to connect on in terms of the items above but also the environment and climate change (for those who have not gone back to the 13th century on science).

Sorry for being so long-winded, but I think we should not give in to the “fake news” that we lost, or that all Trump voters are unreachable, or that we cannot expand our majority with people (regardless of their 2016 vote) whom we actually share common ground, and need to win over if the country we want to live in and pass on to our children is to come about.

Un gran abrazo,
Garrett

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About the author

Garrett Brown

Garrett Brown has worked in a chemical plant, been a journalist and Cal OSHA inspector in addition to consulting and teaching with a number of groups on health and safety around the world.

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One thought on Talking with a friend about Trump voters and how to reach them

  1. Thanks for sending this analysis Garrett. Very thoughtful!
    I agree with you. I too wonder about the timing of the realization that they have “been snookered”. Can it happen by mid-terms and maybe more importantly will there adequate alternatives for Congress by that time?

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