As if any further evidence was needed, the last few weeks have provided ample proof to arrive at a single conclusion: There is no such thing as a good Trump voter. This may be a hard pill to swallow for those with loved ones who voted for Trump. “But she’s such a sweet grandma,” you might think, or, “My father spends his spare time rescuing kittens from trees.” In the best-case scenario, Trump support is the result of extraordinary gullibility, massive ignorance of how the world works and disenchantment with the system. But we know by now that none of those excuses get to the heart of the matter. Trying to rationalize the Trump voter is what good people do. And good people do not vote for Trump.
The rationalization appears in a million editorials. Almost minutes after Trump won the election, out came a veritable cavalcade of think pieces about why the rural working class voted for him. (Trump actually won every economic class of whites, which makes this a perversion of the term “working class.”) These articles mostly focused on white men, ignoring the fact that vast swaths of the working class are neither white nor male. (In fact, long-term labor force projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict people of color will become a majority of the American working class in 2032.) Regardless, one question remained: what could possibly have made “working-class” people vote for someone who has shown nothing but utter disdain for the working class and never worked a day in his life? Having grown up in a county populated mostly by the working class—and the fairly religious—I can tell you exactly why they voted for Trump.
Crawford County, Pennsylvania, the town where I spent the first 18 years of my life, first voted in a presidential election in 1888. Twice it went for the Grand Old Party before going Democrat for William Jennings Bryan in 1896. In 1912, the people of Crawford voted for Teddy Roosevelt, eschewing both Democrat and Republican parties, but by 1916, the county went blue again for Woodrow Wilson. Beyond that, Crawford has never not voted for the GOP presidential candidate. In fact, even when neighboring counties, or the entire western part of the state went purple or blue, Crawford has remained steadfastly Republican. (Case in point: In 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected, of the 23 counties in Western and Central Pennsylvania, only three voted for Bush and only one had a higher percent of voters going to the GOP. Clarion County’s 41.2 percent was higher than Crawford’s 40.8 percent but with far few people: 6,477 to 14,112.) For the most part, it hasn’t even been close. Hoover got 71 percent. Eisenhower got 65 percent and 66 percent. Trump garnered 66 percent as well.
In a post-election study by The Nation, race, gender and sexual orientation predicted Trump support, independent of partisanship, ideology, education levels, and any other factor. Looking at the 2010 census, where of the 88,765 people living in Crawford County, 97 percent are white, it’s not hard to connect who these people voted for with the reason why. The argument could be made that if anyone other than Hillary Clinton had run, Trump would have lost the county, but that proposition only strengthens the study results. Presented with a woman, voters in this county (and counties around the country with the same ethnic make-up, voting history, median household income, etc.) went with their base instincts: If there is a choice between a man and a woman, vote for the man. If there is a choice between a white man and a black man, vote for the white man. (Just 43.8 percent of Crawford County voted for Obama in the historic 2008 election and a measly 39 percent pulled the lever for him in 2012.)
As numerous election post-mortems have shown, this trend has nothing to do with economic anxiety. An analysis of post-election survey data conducted by The Atlantic in May found the exact opposite: financially troubled voters in the white working class were more likely to prefer Clinton over Trump. Trump voters did not choose their candidate over Clinton because of her emails. Most didn’t even care about the subject until it became an easily chantable slogan. Likewise, they didn’t vote for Trump because of the border wall. Even now, as Trump waffles on who will pay for a wall that will obviously never be built, his voters aren’t pressing him on the issue.
The county I grew up in, like so many others, pulled the lever for Trump because the people who live there are generally sexist, racist, homophobic and resentful of any minority group who has even dipped a toe into the pool of equality. Trump’s approval numbers may be historically low, but he’s still in the 30th percentile. This is after months of scandal, mishandlings, a clear lack of honesty, and what appears to be a profound indifference to governing. He supports neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, pardons inmate-killing sheriffs in Arizona, and gives the most pathetic “Good luck!” to the state of Texas as it is swallowed by floodwaters. Trump is unfit not just for the presidency but probably to do your job. And yet, his core supporters still back him.
There will be no pivot by Trump’s core supporters or by the man himself. When given the chance to pretend to be a rung above bottom-feeders, he has failed time and again. Trump only wants what’s good for him and doesn’t care who he crushes on the way. Those who cheer him—who admire his absolute lack of morality and empathy—are cut from the same cloth. There’s a body of evidence both wide and deep warning the rest of us they should be grouped right alongside him.
Plenty of us hoped the hate, racism, misguided contempt and pure ignorance of many Americans was dying. Progress on gay rights, transgender acceptance, and the election of a black president suggested we were possibly as little as one generation away from so much more harmony. But each generation’s liberals are regarded as conservatives by the generation that follows. That progress is unbearable to white men and women who, despite never having to bear the yoke of slavery, genocide, racism, Jim Crow or interment, have convinced themselves they are this country’s true downtrodden.
The GOP likes to claim it’s the party of Lincoln and that the Ku Klux Klan was founded by the Democrats. Relying on these tropes allows them to play to racists and sexists, promising much, delivering nothing and then blaming minorities and Democrats. History will judge this Congress and whether it acts to bring down this wannabe despot. If they truly care about this country, all of us, there is still time to remove Trump from power peacefully. The GOP can say enough is enough and bring sanity back to our government. That will send a clear signal to Trump’s base that America is a country for all people. And if they don’t like it, as they themselves are prone to advising the rest of us, they can leave it.