We are left-leaning Democrats, and both firmly in the camp of people who believed Hillary would win. Like many of our peers we were shocked – astonished, really – by the election results.
One of the most surprising (to us, anyway) pieces of information to surface during the election postmortem is the giant number of white women who voted for Donald “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” Trump. Seriously, in this day and age, white girls declined to vote for the first ever female candidate, a woman well-qualified for the role? And instead they chose to vote for the guy who bragged about sexual assault and who has been credibly accused of sexual assault by no fewer than twelve women? How did this happen?
We really can’t oversell how badly this caught us off guard.
When our kids started asking why people voted for Trump – why moms voted for Trump – we didn’t have ready answers. That’s how deeply we were ensconced in our liberal lefty bubble.
That was a huge mistake on our part. We freely admit it. And now we’re trying to correct it.
So we decided to directly ask people we personally know why they voted for Trump. Our inquiries resulted in us having many respectful (if sometimes tense) conversations with smart white women who are Trump supporters.
To be clear: no one tried to change anyone’s mind. We just agreed to hear each other out. If you are here because you feel like reading something political to stoke your anger or elation about the election, you’d be better served elsewhere. We’re sharing this anecdotal information in the spirit of listening to the other side. Here’s what we learned.
Some Women Hate Hillary Clinton.
We deeply, badly underestimated the amount of vitriol much of America has for Clinton. Democrats need to reckon with this: we nominated a candidate who was hated by half of America right out of the gate. As much as we personally believe in her and wholeheartedly supported her candidacy, that was a tactically misguided thing to do.*
In the days since the election, dislike of HRC has been widely discussed, but here’s what a lot of the media coverage is getting wrong: this hatred is not straight-up sexism.
Here are some examples of reasons she’s despised; this list is not exhaustive: She was being investigated by the FBI. Some of the Wikileaks emails and excerpts from emails looked terrible. There’s the Whitewater stuff. Benghazi. The stories about her once laughing at a rape victim. Stories about her taking money from anti-LGBT organizations. Those old allegations that she and Bill stole valuables on their way out of the White House.
We can hear Democrats screaming at us through the computer: there’s no there there. WE KNOW. But it doesn’t change the basic fact that the optics are bad. Valid or not, this stuff looks terrible. If you’re a Republican looking for reasons to dislike a candidate, she came prepackaged with a lot of them.
Many hate her for reasons that are plainly sexist: some women will never forget that when she was First Lady of Arkansas, she didn’t look or act like a first lady and initially refused to change her name. Some women will never forget her comments about focusing on her career rather than staying home and baking cookies, about “standing by her man” like the Tammy Wynette song.
But not all Republican women who hate her fall into this camp, and it’s an oversimplification to pretend they do. Many of these women dislike Trump, but they hate Hillary more.
Some Women Are One-Social-Issue Voters.
Two social issues repeatedly came up: abortion and immigration. No matter how distasteful some Republicans personally found Trump to be, they voted for him because of his stances on abortion or immigration.
We’re not going to do a deep dive on these because they’re complicated, and people have legitimate and profound differences of opinion. But we do want to say one thing:
These are issues on which we need real dialogue.
Women sharing their personal stories of terminating desperately wanted but unviable pregnancies leads to better understanding and more empathy from pro-life Republicans, and may even cause some to change their views. Really listening to stories from people who live in border states and hearing why there’s a perception that illegal immigration is on the rise (even if the facts show something different) leads to more empathy and maybe better solutions from pro-immigration Democrats.
Yes, there are deeply entrenched threads of sexism and racism running through each of these these subjects. They’re tough. But we can’t work through our differences of opinion if we’re reduced to name calling and screaming at each other.
Some Women Are One-Economic-Issue Voters.
Some highly educated, high-income white women voted for Trump primarily based on his planned tax cuts, regardless of what they mean for the middle class and the poor, and regardless of their personal dislike for Trump. Full stop.
Some People Got Left Behind.
Here’s the economic, urban-versus-rural thing. Life in America has become increasingly divided between big cities and rural areas. We each live in big cities, and we are absolutely guilty of not listening to or valuing the opinions of people in small town America.
Here’s one story:
“Take Kentucky for example. The Obama administration closed two thirds of the coal mining industry in the state. While Californians were congratulating the president on this environmental victory, a significant part of Kentucky’s citizens were suddenly jobless. It was the only life they knew. The government was more than happy to throw public assistance at them, but they didn’t want it. They don’t want it. They want to work and support their families themselves.”
We are as freaked out about climate change as anyone, and we’re not sorry America is reducing coal its coal consumption. But once again, this is a critically important topic on which the left and right are not having effective dialogue. It’s basically just screaming.
Trump championed and appealed to these voters while Democrats ignored them – or worse, called them “stupid” or “uneducated” for their views.
The “Liberal Media” Has Needled Middle Class White America for Years.
As much as Democrats may not want to hear it, the liberal media is kind of a real thing, and it’s been intensifying the urban-versus-rural divide for years.
No, the entire media is not liberal, especially not the news media. But it’s no secret that a lot of mainstream entertainment and entertainers themselves lean to the left.
One person who identifies as neither Republican nor Democrat explained to us, “small town Republicans go to bed angry every night because [Stephen] Colbert made a joke about something they hold dear, or Wolf [Blitzer] lumped them into a ‘racist’ category, or Matt Lauer sipped his coffee and laughed at a viewpoint they hold dear.”
That’s a very hard truth for us to take in.
“The ‘other’ side has a constant and unending reminder that they are forgotten, and it pisses them off. For years, for decades. And they found a candidate that could literally embody ‘fuck you’ to the liberal media and electorate that would dismiss them. If you want to experience the feeling of ‘the other side’, I encourage you to watch nothing but Fox News for a month. Think about that for a second. How would you feel if you watched nothing but Fox News for an entire month? Now take that, multiply it by 20 years, then go watch a Hillary speech. I bet that would feel like the best Hillary speech you ever heard. Refreshing, wonderful, empowering, validating…flip that around, and that is why the ‘others’ voted for Trump. He appeals to an electorate that hasn’t been heard, and has been actively ignored for decades.”
Some Women Don’t Actually Believe Trump a Sexist, Racist, Homophobe, and Xenophobe.
This one took us the longest to wrap our heads around, so bear with us here.
During his campaign Trump made seemingly endless racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic statements. Here’s a list of some of the worst. When Democrats heard these comments, we took them at face value and we were appalled. We felt these statements should effectively disqualify him from the presidency.
A lot of Republicans took the same statements as bluster. As showmanship. As saying something shocking purely for shock value and media coverage. As a refusal to be politically correct. As playing to his audience. They think he did not mean these things literally.
This is what enabled them to hold their noses and vote for him.
Some pointed out that Trump has female advisers and a female campaign manager, and one woman said, “He surrounds himself with people of all races and sexes.” (We don’t think Trump has many [any?] highly placed people of color on his staff; if you have evidence to the contrary please let us know.) (Editor’s Note: Thanks to the readers who informed us that Omarosa Manigault currently serves as Trump’s director of African American outreach.)
We are not going to pretend to know what’s in Donald Trump’s head, but in the spirit of really listening to the other side we also won’t dismiss this line of thinking outright. The guy hosted a reality television show for years. He clearly loves being in the public eye. He really might be saying stuff primarily for shock value and media value.
[And now we’re about to go full feminist liberal here, just so you’re warned.]
Even if we really stretch ourselves and give Trump the benefit of the doubt that he is not a bigot, his statements are not OK, for two major reasons.
First, some of what he said wasn’t implicitly offensive or innuendo. It was explicit, clear, and intentional. As just one lone example, Donald Trump said Gonzalo Curiel can’t be an impartial judge in the Trump University fraud litigation because “He’s Mexican.” That’s pretty much the textbook definition of racism. Even Paul Ryan agrees with us on that. PAUL RYAN. (We can’t believe there’s any subject on which we agree with Paul Ryan. We may need to lie down for a while to recover.)
Our guess is a ton of people who identify as Republican struggle with Trump’s overtly racist and sexist statements; it’s hard to dismiss these as Trump being a “typical cocky guy,” although some try. Many of the women with whom we spoke clearly wrestled with Trump’s more baldfaced statements and did some mental gymnastics to get around them.
Second, even if he’s not a bigot, he knows he’s playing to people who actually are. Trump’s entire campaign and election validated and empowered people who really are sexists, misogynists, anti-LGBT, Islamophobes, and xenophobes. He did that on purpose, and now we’re seeing the impact of his rhetoric. The horror stories already being told by women, minorities, and especially Muslims about being harassed and assaulted by Trump supporters are objectively bad and ugly (assuming you’re not a bigot yourself).
Yes, we’re Democrats, and if you’re a Republican reading this maybe you’ll dismiss our words on that basis alone. But we’ve admitted to some hard truths, and now here is one for your side: you voted for a candidate whose election is being celebrated by the KKK, white supremacist groups, and lots of overt racists and sexists who believe America is for Christians only.
To our Republican friends, if you truly view yourself as someone who values equality and diversity, you must stand with us in rejecting this bigotry outright.
This extends to objecting when he chooses advisors or nominates Supreme Court justices who would advance a bigoted agenda. And we know that’s coming. Our senators and representatives work for us. Republicans, let your elected officials know that if they back discriminatory legislation, they’ll be out of a job next election cycle.
And to all our friends, especially the Democrats, we need to be less dismissive, and much better listeners.
We’re all failing at kindergarten-level communication, and we need to take responsibility for that. We can do better, and we must do better for our children and the future of the country we all love. We believe America is already great, and we can make it greater. We are stronger together. All of it. All of it.
*We’re not going to derail this post by discussing Bernie Sanders and whether or not he would have done better. That is (i) completely hypothetical, and (ii) a giant discussion in its own right, and one we frankly don’t have the energy for right now.