Who’s voting for Trump? It seems every publication has asked this question—from The Week to the Wall Street Journal to GQ. But when we read these articles, we—along with the authors—are usually asking this underlying question: why in the world would anyone vote for Donald Trump?
Because these two questions, who and why, have dominated the media over the past few months, I’ve really appreciated Rod Dreher’s commentary on Trump voters as of late—especially his post Monday about the ethics of the working class, particularly those in the older generation. Rod notes the virtuous kindness of his father, the way he reached out to everyone in his community—yet adds that many of his father’s political inclinations would put him in sympathy with Trump supporters.
Rod’s blogpost reminded me of a conversation I had with my grandfather back in Idaho, on my last visit home. He said he was voting for Trump. When I asked why, he said many things I’ve heard repeated by others regarding Trump’s political incorrectness, the fact “he says it like it is,” is “not afraid to stand up to the establishment,” the fact he cares about American jobs, et cetera. I recognize in my grandfather many of the attributes Rod saw in his father, attributes that push him toward Trump’s message. My grandpa doesn’t really use social media; I doubt he has seen Trump’s controversial Twitter posts and retweets, hasn’t been fully exposed to the most controversial comments he’s made.
My grandpa is an incredibly hard worker. He grew up on a farm, started his own dairy, helped open a local bank. Since his wife died, he’s spent quite some time connecting with others who’ve experienced loss, letting his sociability and warmth minister to others. He’s the sort of man who knows everyone, loves deeply, and feels a strong loyalty to place. He’s also the kind of person who speaks his mind unashamedly, and is not afraid to express politically incorrect opinions.
Of course, we disagree on quite a few issues. He’s a Fox News fan, and with that, taps into some of the more belligerent voices of the Republican movement than those I would care to identify with. But when it comes to the local sphere of government, culture, and community, we agree on most things. We have the same vision: for a land well-tended, a vibrant local economy, limited and accountable government, healthy churches and schools.
Even though I share the concerns of many others regarding Trump’s candidacy, I have grown frustrated and saddened by the belligerence this discussion has caused between groups of people. I appreciate, so much, the thoughtful commenters here at TAC—who even when they disagree, present thoughtful and honest opinions without maliciousness. When Trump supporters have commented on my anti-Trump stories, they’ve been thoughtful and respectful. I owe them the same deference.
But the #NeverTrump movement has often encouraged attitudes of disdain, scorn, and contempt not just for Trump, but also for Trump voters. When Donald Trump’s Chicago rally erupted in violence last week, I felt indignation and frustration: indignation at Trump, because he’s garnered tremendous power over the past several months, and it’s a power he seems to wield thoughtlessly. When he encourages violence at his rallies, he’s not the one who ultimately suffers the dangerous consequences: it’s the elderly, the families, the children in attendance who then become targets of violence by angry protesters. But I also felt frustration with those protestors—who “call candidates’ supporters names like ‘racist’ and interrupt their speeches … [who] have climbed onstage uninvited in order to promote their own political causes or, in at least one instance, possibly to assault an office-seeker,” as Newsweek notes. I read this account of the Chicago rally protests, in which the writer describes some of the particular violent instances he observed:
- A single white Trump supporter who held up a sign and stood quietly as three dozen people surrounded him, smiling and screaming, snatching and pushing at him until he had to run for police cover. Someone grabbed his American flag and threw it on the ground and he fought to recover it. The police escorted him away.
- Two young men, perhaps 17-19, standing quietly as they waited for a ride home. They were wearing their MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hats, looking terrified as people cursed and swore at them, and occasionally threw furious challenges for debate. The two young men held their ground. Only once did one of those hats come down, and it quickly went back on again.
Reading this, I had a picture of my grandpa in that crowd. I could see him proudly sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat. I could see his troubled face, looking out at a sea of angry young people, none of them willing to listen to his side of the story—none willing to consider the point of view of a man who’s dedicated his entire life to place, family, community, and feels as if his world is slipping away.
I don’t want to make presumptions about my grandfather’s allegiance to Trump. I don’t really think he’d be the sort to go to a rally—but there are many people out there who have, and I don’t think all of them are bad people. I don’t think all of them are misogynists, or racists. So the anti-Trump stories, memes, and videos in the media have started to frustrate me—not because I like Trump, by any means, but because I do love some of his supporters. And while I intend to keep noting my many concerns about him as a presidential candidate, I don’t want to join in the jeering. This is why Michael Brendan Dougherty’s writing about Trump has been so refreshing—he’s not a fan, but he’s thoughtful and sympathetic toward the candidate’s supporters.
The world we grow up in, the political context we’re surrounded by, helps form our characters and opinions. Each generation seems to have its weaknesses and vices: mine (the millennial generation) is often prone to attitudes of entitlement, laziness, skepticism, moral ambiguity. But we’re also more likely to exercise a certain set of virtues: mercy, empathy, kindness, tolerance. Many of us support Bernie Sanders, it seems, because his political platform complements both our virtues and our vices.
My grandfather’s generation has a different set of virtues, a different set of vices. Donald Trump’s platform and political rhetoric sits well with some of their natural inclinations. When I get angry and frustrated with the Trump voter, I have to remember that the world I live in is very different from the one known to many of them. I am called to show them tolerance and empathy, to try to understand them, despite our differences.
This could be my millennial leaning toward “softness” and “tolerance” coming out. But it’s also, at root, my love of community—and desire that, in the end, our presidential election won’t destroy opportunities for important political discourse. Because there are many other things worth talking about, many other important battles worth fighting—and if the Republican party as we know it is going to be forever changed by this 2016 election (as some believe it will be), it seems best to consider how best to harness this change in a productive fashion. How to work with those who are different than us, so that—whether some or all of us are disappointed by the results of the election—we can use that disappointment to foster a conversation, cohesion, understanding, rather than letting it foment into bitterness and anger, as it has this time around.