Today’s post comes by way of Jeffrey Bouley who, as you might guess from the last name, is my co-parent (and editor of most things BGIM). He went on a bit of a Twitter and Facebook tear in the days immediately following the election, so I figured I’d recruit him to write about white people, class issues and the blind spot regarding Trump.
Watching the U.S. presidential elections into the wee hours (I switched off the TV once Hillary Clinton had conceded and Mike Pence was about to take the stage, lest I break something), I was dismayed. Disheartened. Distressed. Disappointed. Hell, pick a few other “dis” words.
However, I won’t say I was surprised. It’s not like I was predicting a Donald Trump victory, but neither was it totally unexpected. I always knew there were enough frightened, clueless, gullible, prejudiced and/or strongly conservative Americans—white Americans mostly—to give him the edge if they turned out in sufficient numbers.
And give him the edge they did, with the help of a majority of white women. Now, that surprised me. It’s not that I don’t think many white women will side with their race’s concerns (whiteness) before their gender’s concerns (feminsism)—they will and they do—but given how foul Trump’s misogyny is (including ogling underaged women and boasting about sexual assault), I figured they’d rather have their first woman president than a crude and vulgar pussy-grabber-in-chief. I was wrong.
What was also astonishing to me was how white people across the board, regardless of class or educational level, fell out to support Trump. He got a majority of the white vote across all demographics. Mind you, with a Black co-parent, two Black kids and plenty of meals and Sundays with Black in-laws, I’m fully aware there is a huge amount of racism in this country, from the personal kind to systemic racism to institutional bias. I just didn’t realize how much worse it was than I had ever imagined. That that many white people would rally to a man who’s fanned the flames of bigotry toward so many groups, not just Black and Latinx/Hispanic people but also Muslims or people from anywhere near a Muslim nation and LGBTQ folks, among others.
This all confused me in particular because regardless of whatever haze of suspicion and mistrust there was around Clinton, she was consistently the most articulate and commanding in the debates, she has far more experience in the things presidents need to know, she doesn’t sexually assault or sexually objectify people, she’s calm and level-headed, and so much more. I’m not a Hillary Clinton fan, but I recognize that she was the clearly better choice between them. Among other things, Trump was consistently and verifiably the most dishonest person by far among all the candidates from the primaries to election day, and his business/political dealings are at least as shady, if not more so, than Clinton’s. She might be evasive, but he was outright pathologically dishonest and making things up and being caught at it constantly. She might not be warm and friendly, but he’s a hothead, thin-skinned dissent-crushing orange bully with no tact.
So why did even the college-educated white people mostly tilt his way? I get that the working-class/blue collar types are angry and looking for a savior (though the levels at which some of them abandoned the Democrats shocked me) and I know that poor whites have long been easily led down the path (or go down it willingly without encouragement) toward blaming any group of “other,” be they Black, Muslim, Mexican or whomever. But even the white people who theoretically have broader awareness of the “high-fallutin” stuff that pisses off so many blue-collar and poor folks (and I come from blue-collar parents and a whole host of blue/pink collar extended family) were undeterred from the many, many, many traits and behaviors of Trump’s that make him a dangerous, divisive, volatile choice for president.
So what the hell happened?
I know I tried to get a handle on that online, not just from reading but from interacting with some folks who voted for Trump, and it comes down to this: Ignorance.
The blind spots people have toward Trump vary, but it all comes down to ignorance in my opinion.
Let’s break down the major Trump supporters:
The chronically ignorant: These are the loudest people you saw at Trump rallies and the ones who were happy to manhandle any person who was anti-Trump or perceived to be, especially if they were Black. These chronically ignorant people are the ones who simply don’t care about facts. No matter how much obvious truth you give them, no matter how irrefutable the info, they will ignore it. They say Trump didn’t say something and you show them a recording, and they still dismiss it. Show them proof of his racism, his instability, his lack of knowledge about almost any issue, and they will tell you it’s lies, no matter how trustworthy or nonpartisan the source. These people cannot be reached, because reality, logic and common sense are rejected in favor of believing Trump is the smartest, most successful, most unifying person in the world.
The willfully ignorant: These are the people who can theoretically be swayed one day, but you have to catch them in a very open and receptive moment. These people, if you point them toward truth, will avoid reading it because they know it might pop their happy bubble about Trump and force them to self-examine. That’s painful, and they want to remain in their comfortable fantasy world where Trump will fix things and where he’s presidential somehow, so they will avoid listening to you too closely and they will not answer questions when cornered that would force them to admit you’re right that Trump is a vile buffoon.
The blissfully ignorant: These people just don’t know what they don’t know and don’t know they need to know it. They think because Trump is wealthy, he must be a good businessman, when in fact he started with his father’s money, has performed worse than if he had simply invested his money in the market, has a multitude of failed businesses, and is really just good at manipulating tax loopholes and bankruptcy law. They think the women claiming sexual abuse are lying because it doesn’t occur to them how risky it can be to accuse your abuser, especially when he is powerful, rich and connected. They don’t see his racism, because they assume he’s right about the vast majority of Black people being poor, desperate denizens of the “inner city” (or rural South)—he isn’t, but the many working class and professional Black people are invisible to them and they don’t realize the true risks faced by most Black people overall aren’t gangs and drugs. It’s possible to get these people the knowledge they need to open their eyes, but it’s hard work, and even once you get them on the path, you often have to hold their hand the entire way to keep them from veering back to more familiar and comfortable beliefs that are farther from truth.
Now, these three groups alone might not have given Trump his win, and almost certainly wouldn’t have given him such strong numbers across all socioeconomic groups of white people.
So who tipped the scales so strongly in his favor? These folks:
The dangerously ignorant: These are the people who simply “held their noses” while voting for Trump. In looking at people’s posts and interacting with them and trying to sort out how Trump fared so well despite being so vile a person, I am convinced these people are responsible for his win ultimately.
These are the people who didn’t have some accidental blind spot with Trump. They deliberately put on blinders. These are people who had one or two big issues of concern (composition of the Supreme Court, illegal immigration, bringing back manufacturing jobs, etc.) and believed Trump could deliver on those one or two issues. Or they are sick of the status quo and the “establishment” and just wanted to shake things up. They know and understand how unqualified he is to lead and admit to his many faults. They acknowledge that he is a horrid person. They might even admit Clinton was more suited to the Oval Office. But they deliberately voted for Trump knowing he would be a hot mess and potentially horrible for this country because of their very specific concerns and/or their desire to “energize some change.”
And that’s why they are dangerous. They are—and I have used this example frequently online lately—the people who are willing to burn down the entire house to kill a few big, scary spiders they saw.
Or they are the guy you might have known when you were in high school or college who would come over and suddenly decide it would be cool to smash in your TV screen because he wants to see if sparks will fly out and shit. And then wonders why you’re mad, because the TV was old and cheap anyway.
But why, you might ask, are they ignorant? Dangerous, sure, you might say, but ignorant? They know how terrible Trump is, after all. They aren’t blind to his faults. They don’t like him.
But that’s just it. The willingness to put an entire nation at risk for a handful of concerns is itself ignorant. These are people who are willing to sacrifice Black, Latinx and Muslim people if it means less pain for themselves or solutions to a few of their problems. They are willing to risk having an unstable man in charge of our military on the hope that it will all turn out all right.
And that hope, too, is ignorance. They make a wild throw of the dice knowing the consequences are likely to be bad but no longer caring.
The irony is that their hope isn’t entirely misplaced. As white people, they will fare better than everyone else under Trump. They are likely to be able to hide in their bubbles and not think too hard about what they’ve done until he’s gone from office.
But in their shallow, self-centered, purposeful, calculated ignorance, they have decided they don’t care what any marginalized, minority and/or non-mainstream group will face under Trump or accept that the long-term consequences of their vote will almost certainly outweigh their short-term gains.
And that, I think, is why Trump won. And everyone else but white people lost (though, to be honest, he’s probably gonna screw most of them over too…it’s just they’ll mostly find a way to make other groups the scapegoat after the fact).
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