On November 9, we woke up in Donald Trump’s America, an America that many well-meaning people have sadly blinded themselves to for far too long.
To recap, when Donald Trump won last night, it was in spite of overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton in the cities and many inner-ring suburbs, in spite of increased Latino turnout and high African-American turnout. It was in spite of an increasingly politically powerful Asian-American community, and slipping GOP numbers among college-educated white voters, especially those in the suburbs.
Donald Trump was expected to win the smaller, more conservative, rural counties, and the exurban counties that often trend Republican. But it seems that most pollsters didn’t take into account that he would win there by so much. Yes, he flipped a few Obama counties, like traditional blue-collar, predominantly white Macomb County in Michigan, and that certainly helped him. But more than that it was his unbelievably margins in many of the counties he won that put him over the top.
But this piece isn’t just about urban America versus rural or small-town America. This is about the bubbles we all live in, for better and for worse, which are just as much ideological and cultural as they are geographic. From time to time, I read articles online and actually go through the comments section. Masochism aside, one of the most common things I’d read would be things along the lines of “Oh yeah? I don’t believe these numbers. Everyone I know is voting for Trump!” or something to that effect. And I’d always move right past it, maybe smirking a little, knowing that virtually everyone I know was voting for Clinton, with a small group of Stein people, and a couple of Johnson folks. When it came to Trump supporters, there simply weren’t any in my social circle. Perhaps one or two relatives, or a former acquaintance or two from high school, but that was it. Almost everyone I have worked with, hang out with on weekends, attended college with, or even grew up with, seemed to be anti-Trump, at least if my social media is to be believed.
But then again, I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the New York liberal cliché. I grew up in diverse, liberal Teaneck, New Jersey. I’ve spent most of my career working at non-profit organizations in New York City, with a brief sojourn to a large-size law firm where, coincidentally, most of the lawyers probably thought of themselves as moderate-to-liberal as well. Many of the people around me, like me, tend to be the type of folks that criticize even so-called “liberal” politicians on a regular basis for failing to live up to the ideals we have assigned to them. These folks are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, and atheist. So clearly, my reality has a bit of a bias, even if I do have friends and people in my circle with whom I often disagree.
If I am being honest, this type of bubble is the kind of bubble I want to live in – a world where people want to do something about police militarization and racial and economic inequality, where we care about the educational and residential segregation that exists in our city. And maybe it’s a bubble I’ve chosen, and that many of the folks reading this (if anyone) have chosen.
I’m sure something analogous can be said about the folks in the red “Make America Great” hats, out in the exurbs an d the small towns and the suburbs surrounding crumbling Rust Belt cities. I don’t begrudge them that. They have their values and their worldview, much as I may disagree with them. And they are trying to remake America in their image, much as we are attempting to remake it in ours.
For all of this talk of the “browning of America,” our nation’s changing demographics that are making it increasingly diverse and increasingly non-white, this election was white as hell. From what it’s looking like, enough aggrieved white voters came out of the woodwork to counteract any surge by black, Latino, Asian voters in places like North Carolina and Florida, and almost enough of them showed up to vote in Virginia that we couldn’t rely on the increasingly diverse and progressive DC suburbs to deliver the state to the Democrats. White nationalists on the far-right have increasingly tried to make the case that, if a candidate gets enough of the white vote, they don’t need to worry about attracting voters of color. On November 8, they may have been proven right.
In short, there’s a hell of a lot of Trump voters. And I keep coming back to the question – are there enough of us to beat them? Sure, there’s a lot of our people, too, in and around the big cities mostly. I’ve seen many of my political and activist friends say the solution is “organizing,” a typical progressive activist answer to a problem like this. And in part, they’re right. We need people out there making a case for the issues and people we care about, and we need more voters getting out in the next election. But is organizing enough?
What worries me most is an increasingly radicalized and isolated white population (both geographically and ideologically), which is now asserting an aggressively white nationalist agenda, or at least being attracted to it, throughout the country. Can we reach these people? Perhaps. Our political agenda should include economic policies that will benefit many of the sections of rural and Rust Belt America that are suffering economically, which have pushed many voters there to such despair that they are giving in to their worst instincts. But as many have said before me, we cannot abide their hypernationalist and hateful world view, and we cannot compromise our values in order to reach them. And I won’t condescend to them and act like they’re just a bunch of ignorant rubes. For many people, the embrace of this hateful worldview is an entirely conscious and thought-out process.
So do we try to reach them? Sure, at some level. We want people to change. We want people to embrace the view of America that we have embraced, the more inclusive vision of a country wherein all communities are safe and have access to opportunity, a country where nobody is left behind. But don’t believe that we will reach all of them, or even most of them. This Trump revolution was a long time coming, and has been an undercurrent in this country since day 1, much as those of us in our bubbles have tried to isolate ourselves from that fact. And things may get even grimmer.
So, knowing that, what do we do? How do we protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities? We organize, sure, in order to build power. But on top of that, we need to build the resources and infrastructure to ensure our rights and our safety are ensured, at least at the local level. And then we fight back. Because this is our country, not just theirs.