On Saturday, I had the opportunity to sit in the audience of journalist Ben Bradlee Jr. as he spoke at a fantastic local book festival. It was a solid speech, but I was in awe at the tone of the event. There we were, a group of Democrats, talking about Trump supporters as if they made up a foreign breed.
Bradlee presented on his new book, The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America. And the questions from the audience surprised me.
“Of all the people you interviewed who voted for Donald Trump, how many have changed their opinion?” The book focuses on 12 people living in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, a former Democratic stronghold.
“Of the dozen people I feature in the book,” Bradlee said, “11 would enthusiastically vote for Trump in the next election.” The shock in the audience was palpable, but all I could think was, Duh.
Even in the suburbs of D.C., the crowd is largely Democrat, which for whatever reason has surprised me since I moved here. Most people I meet have clear left-leaning inclinations. And for Democrats, it’s hard to understand how a person could support a president who is so crude. It’s hard for me, too, sometimes. Really hard. But at the same time, I know it’s not black and white. Because of where I grew up, I know a lot of people who did vote for him. And I refuse to dehumanize them.
The next question asked by the audience made me clench my jaw in anger.
“How do you suggest we talk to Trump supporters about things like racism and anti-immigrant sentiment without sparking a defensive reaction?”
Don’t ask questions like that, for starters. The message delivered by this question is clear: All Trump supporters are racist while no Democrats are. It is Democrats’ job to teach lowly Trump supporters how to act morally.
I call bullshit. Just because we vote blue doesn’t mean we don’t harbor deeply ingrained prejudices toward people of other races. Or people of other genders. Or people of other classes.
Bradlee said that his research found the voting divide to be more rural/urban than poor/rich. And yet a lot the discussion focused on how to get the white working class back on the side of the Democrats. Sarah Smarsh has written extensively on this, finding that is was not the white working class who boosted Donald Trump to the top. Trump voters are middle class, and yet there is an ever-pervasive blaming of the poor.
This hurts me, since I grew up in a poor area of the country. And this mentality also isn’t doing Democrats any favors. If winning elections is our real goal, these words aren’t going to get us there.
I wanted to raise my hand and say a lot of these things. I have done that, at previous events or in private conversations. But I had already made a complete and utter fool of myself about an hour earlier by trying to introducing myself to an author, so I was feeling too vulnerable to raise my hand.
Instead I am sharing my thoughts here. We all need to do better, including Dems.
Until next time,