by Brendan Kennedy
With polls, demographics, and early vote results painting a desperate picture for the Trump campaign, the media has already shifted its focus to what will happen once the election ends. For a lot of people, priority number one once the polls close will be for liberals to reach out to Trump voters and make them feel included. This sentiment has largely developed from white Christians who feel increasingly threatened by social and demographic changes within the country. That anxiety has translated into an insistence that the concerns of white Christians be addressed first and foremost Anything less will tear the country apart, with liberals held responsible. Trump’s ascendance has been blamed on the people who oppose him: liberals who were too PC, were too critical, or were not critical enough. A widely-shared Cracked.com article painted Trump voters as poor, simple country folk who are tired of urban elites peering down on them, a view mirrored by USA Today and others. The New York Times recently published a comment from a voter that seems to sum up these attitudes: “What about the sizable portion of the portion of the population that supported [Trump]?” he asked. “I hope Hillary Clinton will be committed to their needs and, in that way, heal the painful divide in our country.”
Let’s say that Clinton does win, and all of this happens. Let’s say that Hillary begins her presidency with a concerted effort to enact her plan for the middle class, and that the Clinton coalition works to extend a hand to Trump’s voters to try and bring them into the fold. Let’s say that Clinton takes her mandate and embraces a future that affirms that Muslims, Latinos, black people, immigrants, and refugees all deserve a shot at the American Dream. Would Trump’s supporters embrace that vision? It’s a question that only they can answer.
For the country to truly move forward and heal its divisions, the very first step must be for Trump supporters to fully and unequivocally accept the American-ness of the groups that Trump has targeted.
Our country recognizes the struggles of rural and working class voters, and a Clinton administration will work to help them achieve prosperity, because America recognizes that each person deserves that opportunity. If Trump supporters want a seat at the drafting table, they will need to embrace that vision by rejecting the exclusion that Donald Trump represents.
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First, let’s make like Marco Rubio and dispel with some fictions: that Trump supporters are just disaffected rural voters, that their support for Trump is almost entirely based on a distrust of “urban liberal elites”, and that the Democratic coalition which rejects Trump is made up of snooty urbanites who don’t understand struggle.
Trump voters are certainly more rural than Clinton’s: he wins rural voters by over 25 points, about what Clinton wins urban voters by. But Trump also wins among suburban voters and pulls over a quarter of urban voters. In addition, his lead amongst rural voters is no greater than Mitt Romney’s, a man whose candidacy certainly didn’t seem to be built around appealing to country folks. Analysis has only found fair-to-middling evidence that support for Trump is linked with rural economic distress. None of this points to a candidate who is uniquely tailored for rural voters.
Besides, if rural resentment is the end-all-be-all of Republican motivation, then why did the GOP not nominate Scott Walker, whose success was built on that very phenomenon, or Mike Huckabee, who literally kicked off his campaign by writing a book about how much better country folks are than the urban elites who look down on them? If this movement was caused by snooty, politically correct liberals who ignored the rural working class, then you would think it would have elevated a candidate whose campaign was explicitly built around that cultural clash.
Republican voters did not nominate a candidate who uses rural frustration to attack liberal elites. Instead, they nominated a man whose candidacy has been built on denying the American Dream to certain people based on their heritage, religion, or skin color.
Trump rose to political prominence by promoting the slanderous lie that the country’s first black President was a secret Kenyan Muslim. His campaign has linked immigrants with murder and mass rape from day one. He blamed the entire American Muslim community for the mass shooting in Orlando. Trump’s supporters either approve of this or don’t see it as much of a problem. If the anger of the GOP base is toward snooty urban elites, then their attacks have found strange targets.
The groups that Trump attacks have faced. As I’ve mentioned, that connection is much more tenuous for actual Trump voters. For minority groups, those struggles have been magnified by Trump’s candidacy, which explicitly promises to use state power to deny their American identity, demonize them, and prevent them from accessing the American Dream. They have not turned to authoritarianism or racial resentment as an expression of their frustrations. So why are they the ones being held responsible for bridging the divide with people who unrepentantly want them out of the country? Why aren’t they the ones most deserving of understanding and sympathy?
There is a path forward from this point, and Hillary Clinton has demonstrated how to bridge these gaps. Voters who feel ignored or attacked by liberals point to Clinton’s “deplorables” comment as evidence of her disdain for them. In mid-September, Hillary Clinton was rightly criticized for stating that “to just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” including people who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.” The very next day, Clinton came out and said that she regretted her generalization and apologized. While she continued to insist that Donald Trump promoted ways of thinking that she characterized as “bigotry and racist rhetoric”, she recognized that “many of Trump’s supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them.” She made it clear that she includes such people in her vision for America, stating that she was “determined to bring our economy together and make our economy work for everyone.”
Clinton put her foot in her mouth and offended a number of Americans, but she quickly realized the need to apologize and make it clear that their struggles were heard and they were included in her vision for the future. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has explicitly promised to use his power to target certain groups with dire consequences. He has refused to apologize in the face of outcry from the people he seeks to exclude. Instead, he has made it clear to those people that they are not included in his vision for the future, and will never be.
Everyone needs to do a better job of understanding and accepting one another. But that sympathy and understanding needs to first be extended to the innocent Americans who faced demonization, exclusion, and the threat of state action this election, not to the people who encouraged those threats.
Our nation is colorful and diverse, and it will continue to embrace a number of groups that Trumpism tried to reject. It is apologist and gross to argue that those targeted groups are equally, or even more, responsible for the current divide that we face. We know what the problem is, and we know who is supporting that problem. If we are going to move on, the onus must first and foremost fall on the shoulders of the people who perpetrated that sense of rejection and fear. Trump voters must embrace their fellow Americans before healing can begin.
Brendan Kennedy is a senior at Trinity University from Dripping Springs, Texas, majoring in Political Science.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The picture above was taken by Andrew Salinero at a Donald Trump rally in San Antonio in Summer 2016.