Many journalists, political scientists, and historians (and quite a few psychologists) have already offered their expert diagnosis of how America ended up with the disaster that is Donald J. Trump. I’ll add my non-expert insights to the mix as someone who lives in a formerly blue Trump state (Wisconsin), worked in politics here and now advises clients on change management and communication strategies as they transform, merge or embark on strategic initiatives.
I think it important to understand the mix of the 46% of our fellow Americans who voted for Trump, (47% in the Dairyland) in order to defeat him. It will help frame the right issues, choose the right language, determine the right policies and pick the right candidate to end the most disastrous presidency in American history.
Some might argue that 2020 is only about turning out voters, especially in communities of color, or avoiding a third-party candidate (#ThanksJillStein!) While those things will be helpful, particularly inspiring diverse voters, so will understanding those who voted for Trump (even if they won’t admit it). By doing so, it’s clear to see that there are very different groups with different motivations on why they supported his Orange-ness. I am going to bucket his supporters into three multi-dimensional (3D) groups; those who are deplorable, dependable and disgusted. Only one is open to change.
A deplorable (as coined by Hillary Clinton, though they don’t actually come in baskets) is in the easiest group to typecast. Often overtly racist, these are America Firsters. They make up a good percentage of his rallies, hate the media, have very loose grasps of facts, and little interest in political discourse. They have never had a voice on the national political scene, and love that their President speaks their language. Each run-on sentence, misfired tweet or un-presidential comment is like music to their ears. They get a lot of attention from coastal elites, the foreign press and those trying to understand a Trump voter. Not only is this a waste of time, it actually could hurt the cause of defeating Donald Trump to shower so much attention on these folks, as it paints all of his supporters as deplorables. They are not. These voters are as unreachable as they are unredeemable.
A dependable is a tried and true Republican, and very institutional in nature – whether that institution is a country club, elective office, neo conservative think tank, or evangelical church. This group is a dependable Trump voter because they have gained mightily in his Administration. While some are embarrassed by his brashness and ignorance, they are helping him wage a long-term battle to change the American political landscape … and they are winning. They are getting their taxes cut, their foreign policy shifted, and their judges confirmed. They are on the precipice of getting even more – think entitlement reform for Social Security and Medicare. Those in this group get a fair share of attention, too. Some appeal to their “better selves”, noting how Reagan would never have been in bed with Putin, or how Ike, Goldwater or ‘you name it’ Republican would never be as crass as the Donald. The problem with this logic is that it fails to take into account all the benefits they’ve gotten from this President, with the hope for even more on the horizon. For the sake of common sense, forget about this voter, too.
A disgusted is the voter I am most interested in – because I have seen a lot of them. They are not bad people. Historically, they are not even a Republican. They do have short fuses, long memories and a healthy appetite for shaking things up. They may have voted for Ross Perot in 1992, Bernie Sanders in 2016, or a Jesse Ventura type of candidates in state and local elections. Think of your high school classmate who was downsized a decade ago, and never found another real career. Think of someone so fed up with the system because they have been historically left behind – either individually or in whole communities. We used to think of rust belt locales, where many still are, but that hopelessness has spread to rural areas and small towns where jobs are scarce, health care is hard to attain (both in terms of distance and cost) and life has not turned out how it should or could have been.
A disgusted voter opted for Trump not because they are a racist (many actually voted for Obama) or benefit from his policies (they don’t make enough money). They supported Trump because they wanted to send a message. They wanted to shake things up. They wanted to be heard.
My unsolicited advice is for Democrats to listen to them. Pay more attention to infrastructure, more attention to the heartland. Focus more on health care, tech schools, and other things real folks worry about day in and day out. Focus less on President Trump and his behavior, and only do so to point out that the deplorable rhetoric from the commander in chief is a bait and switch. It provides cover for the harmful policies that enrich billionaires without rebuilding one crumbling bridge or creating one family supporting job.
Stop painting all Trump supporters as dumb, racist and deplorable. Some are, most aren’t. It’s important for those who feel left behind to know they are not deplorable, that much of their disgust is justified and most of it should be aimed at those who have always benefited – the 1%.
Turn that disgust on those who benefit – those with power, those who are winning in all of this madness. It may be the only way to stop it.
This opinion piece reflects the views of its author and not necessarily those of Madison365, its staff, funders or board of directors.