We don’t know each other. But today, on the occasion of Donald Trump’s inauguration, there were some things I wanted to say to you as one American to another. (I’m willing to listen, too.)
Let’s get this out of the way first: I think Donald Trump is dangerously unstable, morally objectionable, and has tendencies that represent a threat to our democracy. You may be starting to feel the same way, like this Trump voter, but chances are you still feel pretty good about him.
I’ll be honest about something else, too: It’s hard for me to accept the idea that so many of my fellow Americans voted for somebody who bragged about sexual assault, especially when so many women came forward to say that he assaulted them. It’s hard for me to accept that so many of you voted for somebody who made fun of a disabled person, who threatened to ban people because of their religion, and who maligned immigrants — or the children of immigrants — just because of their background.
But here we are. Like the saying goes, we’re in the same boat now.
Who are you?
We don’t know each other. It’s possible that you come from the relatively small percentage of Latinos and African Americans who voted for Trump, but chances are you’re white.
You may be wealthy. If so, we don’t have much to discuss. Your vote can’t be excused by fear, or deprivation, or desperation. But if you’re a lower-income person, especially in a rural area or small town, your fear is understandable.
If you’re from the industrial Midwest, political scientist Josh Pacewicz believes that your vote helped put Trump over the top. He wrote:
“Donald Trump won the 2016 election largely because he carried Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, doing especially well in small cities and towns.”
Pacewicz also said:
“Until this election, this group of voters had not followed other regions’ rural, uneducated whites in moving Republican. In overwhelmingly white Iowa, for example, Barack Obama swept the industrial corridor in 2008, winning 53 of the state’s 99 counties and some factory towns by almost 2 to 1.”
I come from a Rust Belt city myself. The manufacturing jobs that made it prosperous when I was a kid are long gone. The house where I spent my early childhood is boarded up and collapsing. Whole sections of the city look bombed out and abandoned.
Neither party has come up with a good plan for my hometown. To be honest, neither party seemed very interested in trying.
You could be thinking, “Maybe Trump will do something about that.”
He’s going to let you down.
It gives me no joy to say this, but no, he won’t. You’ve been conned. Trump hasn’t come up with a single concrete proposal to create jobs. His Carrier factory deal in Indiana is likely to give away billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks in return for less than 1,000 jobs. The government could have used to billions to create a lot more than 1,000 jobs.
If you’ve been watching the Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s appointees, your positive feelings may have started to fade. They should. His nominees are politically extreme, most are clueless, and at least one of them should be criminally investigated.
There were many different reasons why people might have voted for a populist candidate, even one I dislike as much as Trump – especially when the experts were telling us that Hillary Clinton had an 85 percent or even a 99 percent chance of winning. You might have thought, why not use this vote to tell the elites exactly what I think of them?
And now you’re probably still thinking, “Why not give him a chance?”
Here’s why: I’m pretty sure you didn’t vote for a government that’s run by Goldman Sachs and other Wall Streeters, people who care more about their own wealth and self-interest than they do about your well-being. (Some of them are already reaping the profits). But that’s what we’re getting.
By deregulating Wall Street and hiring the bankers who looted the economy, Trump could very well be setting the stage for another financial crisis. We already know that banks will be able to shaft customers like you and me out of billions of dollars more, once Trump and his team have gutted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
You won’t hear about any of this on Fox News, the most popular news outlet among Trump voters, because they’re lying to you. You deserve the truth, so you might want to change the channel.
If you’re a woman, you may have been one of the female Trump voters who said “you get through the bad and you focus on the good,” or the woman who wrote, “my vote for Trump was not a vote against Planned Parenthood,” or the woman who hoped that Trump’s daughter’s prominent role in the campaign meant he wasn’t as sexist as he seemed.
But his policies are going to hurt women in many ways, leaving them with less control over their bodies and less ability to provide for themselves and their families. Don’t take my word for it. Tragically, you’ll find out soon enough.
I don’t assume that I understand you.
I don’t agree with the people who want to judge or dismiss you without knowing you. Anyone who’s ever fallen on hard times knows that people will do unexpected things, and will sometimes take big risks, trying to provide for their families.
I don’t assume you’re racist, either. To be sure, a lot of you are. A surprisingly large percentage of several candidate’s voters, including Clinton’s, expressed racist sentiments to pollsters last year. But Trump voters were far more likely to express those racist opinions.
Still, racism doesn’t explain the shifts Pacewicz described among Midwestern voters. They weren’t too racist to vote for an African-American candidate, after all, so how does racism explain their abandonment of Hillary Clinton?
I am particularly offended by commentary like this, from blogger Markos Moulitsas, who contemptuously dismissed coal miners because they voted for Trump and now stand to lose health coverage. “Be happy,” he wrote of the miners, many of whom suffer from the horror of black lung disease. “They’re getting exactly what they voted for.”
That’s indefensible and brutal, but please understand: people like that don’t speak for the great majority of us. You may hear harsh things from other Americans too — voters, not commentators or activists — but then, a lot of people are hurting right now.
Moulitsas’ commentary has already been ably dissected by Adam Johnson, Sarah Jones, and Dan O’Sullivan. I will only add that people who dislike large groups of voters – especially when those voters are people we should be fighting for, like coal miners – are temperamentally unsuited for either politics or activism.
Dr. King’s lesson.
They should learn from the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy we celebrated just last week. Dr. King said:
“Black and white, we will all be harmed unless something grand and imaginative is done. The unemployed, poverty-stricken white man must be made to realize that he is in the very same boat with the Negro. Together, they could exert massive pressure on the government to get jobs for all. Together they could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all.”
Dr. King knew that everyone who struggles under an unjust economic system – and that’s millions of us nowadays – could benefit from that kind of alliance. And he knew that the politics of identity were inseparable from the politics of economic justice.
What do we do now?
You should know that even harder times are coming. Trump’s administration is planning deep government cuts that will hurt millions of Americans. You may be excited about his victory now, but you’re facing some big disappointments in the coming months and years.
Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Barack Obama was a far better president than Trump will be, but he was not nearly as good as he might have been. Whether we backed him in the primaries or not, many of us felt our own disappointment when Obama began appointing Bill Clinton’s Wall Street allies to serve in his administration.
But at least Obama got us out of a ditch, while Trump’s headed toward another one. I’ll be honest about something else, too: Some of us will be fighting the new president from the get-go.
Here’s the kicker: I think there’s a chance you’ll join us eventually.
You see, Dr. King understood economic pain. He said:
“… (T)he rapid rise in long-term unemployment is a portrait of human loss, the outline of human beings cast out of productive, wage-earning lives into an existence of hopelessness and deprivation.”
If we create a movement that addresses that kind of pain, you’ll have something better to believe in. And if politicians run on that agenda, it’s likely to bring out a lot of the voters who stayed home this time around.
We’ve spent a lot of years in this country, on both the sides of the aisle, waiting for someone to come along who’ll save us. Maybe now it’s time to realize we need to do the work ourselves, by organizing that “grand alliance” Dr. King spoke about all those years ago.
Please think about that in the months and years to come.
Here’s one thing we can already agree on: With this inauguration, our nation and our world are about to change forever. Good luck to you, and to all of us. We’re going to need it.
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