What image comes to mind when you think of Trump supporters? If the stuff I see on social media every day is any indication, it looks something like this: older, white, poor, overweight, undereducated, slobbish, Bible-thumping, brainwashed, Confederate-flag-waving, gun-toting guys slumped on shabby couches with a can of cheap beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Sure, some of that is true, some of the time, but exit polls simply don’t support this stereotype— especially when it comes to age, education, and income.
Yes, Trump voters were mostly men. But according to CNN, they weren’t old: Among voters between 40 and 65, 52% voted for Trump (compared to Hillary’s 44%). They weren’t uneducated: Among white college graduates, 48% were Trump voters (compared to Hillary’s 45%). And they weren’t poor either: Among voters with an income of $50,000 or greater, 48% were Trump voters (compared to Hillary’s 47%). In fact, the median household income of Trump voters was $72,000.
These stats instead paint a picture of a class of successful, fairly well-educated, middle-aged voters with healthy household incomes (especially for rural Red State areas); some disposable cash; and a measure of power, influence, and prestige within their communities.
Despite these stats, liberals refuse to let go of the trope of the poor, dumb redneck Trump voter, clutching it as tightly as Ted Nugent’s stranglehold on guns and underage girls. And that’s exactly the way Trump and the GOP like it because the trope pushes their agenda of making conservatives look like victims and liberals look like elitists. It’s no coincidence that Trump’s campaign was built on a foundation of “economic anxiety,” or that his campaign managers pick the roughest-looking people they can find to put front and center at his rallies.
It’s the great GOP bait-and-switch: “Look at these poor bastards. They’re the dispossessed heart and soul of America. Democrats have failed them, and now we’re gonna save ‘em by giving tax cuts to our rich friends and benefactors.”
Meanwhile, they’re working behind the scenes to strip industry, public education, and financial institutions of the regulations that protect us faster than Stormy can make America horny again.
And Paul Ryan sits smirking in the corner, sticking his thumb in your social security and saying “Oh, what a good boy am I!”
Conservative media outlets help the GOP bamboozle us all by promoting another equally-useful trope: the “minority patriot” whose endangered way of life is about to be swept into the liberal abyss. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and their ilk make it seem like we’re all living in the movie 300. Conservatives are the spear-rattling underdog Spartans, testosterone-fueled sweat dripping off muscles earned through honest labor — patriots fighting for their country and values. And liberals are the perverse and grotesque Persians, freakish and pierced like Xerxes, a culture of effete, sexually-ambiguous, libertine degenerates who view the Spartans as primitive and barbaric.
In reality, the “underdogs” who voted for Trump aren’t seeing their way of life threatened at all. They hold all of the political power, a minority forcing its outdated belief system on the majority it’s holding hostage. And their vaunted family values and religious beliefs have proven as hollow and empty as Trump’s State Department during a Syrian missile strike.
Considering all this, shouldn’t liberals start taking Trump voters seriously instead of dismissing them as just a bunch of poor, dumb rednecks? Remember how well that worked in 2016? I’m looking at you, Hillary.
And isn’t it the height of liberal hypocrisy to simply accept these tropes at face value without bothering to deconstruct them? Liberals pride themselves on their ability to understand “The Other.”
I say this not only as a liberal professor who teaches humanities, but as someone who grew up and spent a good portion of her adult life in rural America. I know conservative communities about as well as anyone does, and I know how they tend to be viewed by liberals who have never lived in them.
Of course, Trump supporters are guilty of the same kind of stereotyping. They think liberals are coastal elites indoctrinated by universities to be godless gay/bi/trans gun-hating vegan socialists who expect handouts from the government.
The difference is that liberals are supposed to know better, right? They brag about knowing better.
It’s also a mistake to assume that all Trump supporters are brainwashed or low information voters. Did it ever occur to you that maybe lots of Trump voters have plenty of information at their disposal to make rational, educated choices but choose to endorse the Fox News worldview because it chimes with their own?
They live in the Information Age right along with the rest of us. Anyone with a smart phone has the world quite literally at their fingertips, and there are plenty of opportunities to be exposed to competing ideologies. Our conservative friends take the time to argue with us on Facebook and Twitter every day, right? We know they don’t live in a vacuum. The truth is, they’re not nearly as insulated as we want to believe.
Let me put it this way: I listen to Limbaugh and Beck’s radio shows twice a week; turn on Fox News a few times a week; check Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit every day; and read articles from dozens of publications that run the gamut from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative. Even though I consider myself a rational, analytical, objective person, and a voracious consumer of information, nothing I’ve been exposed to yet has changed my original, fundamental belief that America should be moving away from this half-assed attempt at democracy we’re deluding ourselves with now and moving instead towards democratic socialism.
Why should it be any different for anyone else?
Ultimately, the truth about Trump supporters is actually more insidious than the stereotypes, and that’s the real danger of believing in caricatures. What if they aren’t motivated by economic anxiety? What if they’re not low information voters? What if they just simply don’t want to let women have control over their own bodies and they don’t want brown and black people living in their communities? The poor, dumb redneck trope lets them off the hook and dismisses the very real power they have.
Okay, so maybe that mechanic who works at the garage where you take your car won’t bother to vote. But his boss who lives on the other side of town, who owns the garage and a car dealership too, probably will. And he’s going to donate to GOP candidates too. And he’ll be around for a while, influencing family, friends, and members of his community, because he’s only fifty. And his kids are probably going to grow up to vote the way their Daddy did.
And maybe that guy isn’t brandishing an AR-15, but he’ll send money to the NRA to make sure others can. And maybe he and his farmer friends employ immigrants, but he damn well wants that wall built. And maybe he doesn’t go to church every week, but you better believe he’s a goddamned Christian, so he’ll speak out against Muslims, gays, and Planned Parenthood and support candidates who do too.
Multiply this guy by millions of others like him and you see what we’re up against. Joke all you want about low-information rednecks too lazy to get to the polls or raise a militia because the only poles they care about are the ones at roadside strip clubs and the only thing they’ll bother to raise is fists full of Cheetos to their mouths. They’re not the biggest problem.
Nope. It’s the other guys, the ones with a little education, money, and power. The guys who are well-known and respected in their conservative communities. The guys who are going to outlast this whole Trump thing, and come out on the other side to support a candidate who will be even more conservative and competent at taking away your rights. The superficially-benign and blandly-evil Paul Ryans of America who want to take us back to 1950. And they might do it, too, if liberals don’t stop assuming that all Trump supporters are as mindless and inchoate as extras in a Romero movie.
Liberals, don’t you think it’s time to start thinking like strategists? This is a battle for our democracy, and when has a fight ever been won by those who underestimated their opponents?