Let’s say you’re a blue collar worker in an economically depressed town. Your pay is low, you worry about your job security, you’re barely managing to stay on top of your bills, you fear for the future. You can see that the political establishment consists of remote, callous technocrats indifferent to your troubles – a smug, privileged elite wallowing in money while you struggle to make ends meet. An elite that regards you and the people you know and love with, at best, condescension and, at worst, outright contempt. You have known for a long time – in fact, it was obvious to everyone from the start, this foregone conclusion – that the party in office is going to choose as its presidential candidate a representative of this smug, privileged elite, someone who’s a perfect embodiment of the soullessly centrist, opportunist, globalized political class which has as its primary aim the maintenance and expansion of corporate power. You also know that the opposing party will try to foist another such candidate on you; if it can’t do that, it will settle for someone who poses as an outsider willing to shake things up but who will cravenly follow the script once the dust has settled.
If pressed, you would probably describe yourself as a conservative – at least in some respects – but you’re adamant that you’re no bigot. You have non-white friends, co-workers, perhaps even family members. Hell, you even voted for Obama. You’re a patriot, a proud American, but not some ranting nationalist. You’re anxious about the effects of mass immigration, but if people come here and work hard, keep their heads down, you’ll welcome them with open arms. You’re a devout Christian, but you have no ill will towards other religions, although extremist Islamism is obviously something that scares you. You were a bit uncomfortable about gay marriage to begin with, but hey, it’s no big deal; you’ve got nothing against gays themselves. Hard-core feminism exasperates you, but it goes without saying that you’re fully supportive of equal pay and all that. Abortion may be a sin, but you’re not going to condemn women who make that choice and you certainly don’t want to remove their ability to make it, even if you think it needs to be curtailed a little bit. You’re a decent, tolerant, live-and-let-live human being who has been driven to desperation by the grinding misery that surrounds you. The whole system fills you with disgust and anger, yet there seems to be no hope of changing it.
Then along comes Trump. You’ve known about him for a while. You’ve seen him on TV. You didn’t take him seriously before, but now he’s saying things that chime with your experience of the world. Sure, he’s not perfect: he’s crass, he’s vulgar, he shoots from the hip. But in a way, that’s part of his appeal: that there’s no fakery about him, that he’s true to himself. You don’t agree with everything he says, but that’s not important. What’s important is that he’s offering an alternative to the rotten status quo, a glimmer of hope. And that’s why you’re supporting him: not because you’re a bigot, a racist, a sexist or the rest of it, but because he’s someone who’ll help you get back some control over your life.
There was a point – long, long ago, it now seems – when I might have bought this line. Of course, I’d have disagreed with your take on things; I’d have pointed out the ridiculousness of looking for salvation from a ruthless, filthy rich egomaniac with a history of dishonesty, buffoonery and prejudice. But I might have taken your stated reasons for supporting him at face value, as misguided as they were. As the campaign wore on, however, I’d have found those reasons increasingly difficult to accept. Right now, I don’t accept it at all.
At what point do you say to yourself, “OK, that’s it, I’m out”? Is it when the candidate you’re cheering for slanders Mexicans as criminals and rapists? When he says he’s going to build a wall to keep them out and make Mexico pay for it? When he claims a judge who finds against him is biased because he’s a Mexican (even though the judge in question was born in the USA)? How about when he says he’s going to ban Muslims from entering the country, or calls for a database of Muslim citizens? Or when he lays into a grieving Muslim family of a soldier killed in a war he supported (in spite of his lying claims to have opposed it)? When he lies and lies again about thousands of American Muslims having celebrated the attacks on the World Trade Center? Or is it when his campaign uses subliminal anti-Semitic imagery against his opponent? How about when he refuses to distance himself from the endorsement of a prominent white supremacist, and repeatedly retweets other white supremacists? No? You’re still with Team Trump? And you’re still insisting that you’re not a bigot?
How about his repeatedly making misogynist remarks? His leering, proprietorial attitude to women, exposed most graphically in recordings of him speaking about grabbing them by the pussy? The persistent allegations of sexual harassment, and worse? The threat to defund Planned Parenthood and to punish women for having abortions? When he selects as his running mate a religious fundamentalist well-known for his implacable homophobia? None of this makes you waver? Does his wholesale rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change not trouble you? Does his enthusiasm for torture and military tribunals for American citizens not give rise to even the slightest doubt? Does his continued refusal to release his tax returns not make you wonder if he’s hiding something? Do his calls for democratic protest to be restricted and his encouragement of violence against peaceful protesters not undermine his pose as champion of democracy in your eyes?
No? And yet here you are, still angrily denying that your support for this man has anything to do with racism, anything to do with xenophobia, anything to do with sexism, anything to do with any kind of bigotry or anything bearing even the slightest resemblance to fascism. It’s all about the economy, all about turning the ship around, getting the country back, making America great. Sure, Trump has some bad people supporting him, but neither he nor you can help that; you have nothing in common with them, and it’s outrageous for anyone to suggest otherwise. Well, I’m sorry, but the point at which your protestations retained even a vestige of plausibility has long since passed. You’re an adult. You have moral responsibility for your vote. Economic circumstances, no matter how dire, do not give you a free pass to vote for any sociopathic hate-monger who thumps a tub, and do not shield you from the criticism of those who stand to suffer as a result of Trump’s victory. Grow up and take a look at yourself. Take a look, too, at your fellow Trump supporters. You’re kidding yourself if you think the majority of them are people like you, facing the same hardships as you, enduring the same pain as you. They’re not. They’re prosperous, they’re comfortable, they’re doing nicely. A lot of them are doing very nicely. Yes, they’re angry like you, but when they try to claim that their anger comes from the injustices they have to deal with, they rightly get laughed out of town. There’s no obscuring the source of their anger, and it’s their anger that has propelled the great orange grub to victory, not yours. You’ve merely played along with it.
And now Trump’s headed for the White House and a lot of people are upset and they’re blaming you. And this makes you angry, because you’re not a bigot; really, you’re not. It’s so terribly hurtful to have this accusation hurled at you, because you’re a decent human being, not at all prejudiced. Your accusers just don’t understand; they’re snobby and bitter and out of touch. What they can’t get their heads around is the simple fact that Trump spoke up for millions and articulated concerns too long ignored. He’s speaking for you.
You’re right about one thing: he is speaking for you, and for your braying better-off fellow Trumpsters. We can hear you loud and clear, only the message you’re sending is not what you might claim it to be.
Now, let’s say you’re a middle-income worker with a stable job, a decent home, a college education and kids who can expect the same. You enjoy a fair level of material comfort, but that doesn’t mean you’re happy with the state of the country. On the contrary, you have a lot of anxieties and grievances. You voted Trump because… You know what? Just fuck you.