A note on this piece: writing is a way for me to process the results of this shocking Presidential Election. I have written something each day since the election and what is here represents how it takes shape and meaning for me. It is really for me and maybe my kids.
Lots of voices trying to make this seem like a "normal" transition. President Obama meets with Trump in the Oval Office. David Brooks takes his best shot at a "healing", responsible Op Ed in the New York Times. Try as he might, he can't quite pull it off (note last paragraph). The View From Trump Tower
The New York Times writes a long column about the 43% of white women who voted Trump. Their reporters claim that most of these women did not cast a vote against Hillary Clinton. They say "America is on the wrong track and only Trump can fix it." The article goes on: "Were they offended by Mr. Trump's vile comments about women captured on tape? Absolutely. Did they believe the women who came forward and said Mr. Trump had groped them? Not necessarily. Did any of it stop them from voting for him? No."
In short they embraced Mr. Trump's sales pitch that he was a successful businessman with a nice family and that he was the only person who could make America great again. Perhaps. It is also certainly true that the Trump Campaign's personal vilification of Clinton had an effect, an intended effect. The hatred of Clinton was especially strong among Trump's male supporters but, according to female reporters who followed the Trump rallies, this hatred was also often expressed by the otherwise seemingly "normal" women at those rallies. Katie Roiphe has a Financial Times article on this called: "Hillary Clinton's very being draws vitriol from both sexes."
Today in my paper, the Portland Press Herald, there is a letter from a man in our town of Cumberland, a comfortable suburb of 9,000 just north of Portland. Referring to those he calls "white guilt" liberals: "What those cowards, who hide behind the ACLU, forget is that we're the party of the Second Amendment and the rights granted to us by the US Constitution. We're also pro-military and overwhelming feel in tune with the majority of folks who attend County Fairs." (For the record I love our Cumberland Fair: "Every year in September".)
He goes on for a while from here about "snowflake journalists" from their downtown offices and concludes with "I am sick of these clowns in the media and our progressive government telling me I have to subvert my values to theirs. That does not make me a racist, bigot, xenophobe or fear-monger no matter how much they whine." And so on.
The very worst thing about the Trump candidacy is that his rhetoric inflamed many of our less attractive instincts, legitimized hate language, and emboldened the alt right (read White Nationalist) fringe. The irony is that the Candidate himself may not believe much of this rhetoric. According to people who know him well, Trump stumbled upon a message that resonated and then simply played it for effect. But now the bad genie is out of the bottle and those many groups who have been singled out for abuse are appropriately fearful. Whatever happens in the next four years we must stand firm in our defense of the fundamental freedoms of all Americans regardless of race, gender, or religion.
Let us not forget how close this election was. Clinton won the popular vote after all. This election turned on those rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin where Obama majorities among working class Americans in 2012 turned to Trump majorities in 2016.
What surprised me was not so much that Trump spoke to the white working class, but that he got so many of the "regular," normal Republican voters, including about the same proportion of white women who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and the same majority of white college graduates who voted for Romney then also.
Put simply how could white women support a candidate who denigrated women in all of the ways so publicly demonstrated? And how could white college graduates, who could so easily discern how unqualified, bereft of responsible ideas, and dangerous in his misunderstandings of foreign and military policy Trump is, vote for the man?
A big part of the answer to both of these questions probably lies with" Hillary Hatred" and the Supreme Court decisions she would make. This is no excuse for a Trump vote. Both of these groups put party loyalty above the best interests of the Country. All of us will pay a price for this, and I fear it will be a big and dangerous price. Donald Trump is not a bad man, but he is in no way qualified to be President, temperamentally or by any life experience. God knows where his instincts may lead us.
All this is not to say that we should disregard the messages we heard from the Rust Belt.
What I heard in this election was a cry from lots of white voters outside the towers of the "Eastern Elites" who feel the country has moved too fast to embrace economic norms like globalization and social norms like transgender bathrooms. We have not listened to the small towns and communities, to the Heartland. Trump did speak to them - powerfully and directly.
The most hopeful thing I have heard in the past couple of days was an interview by Terry Gross of NPR with James Fallows, correspondent for the Atlantic Magazine. Fallows and his wife have, for the past two years, been flying their small plane into small and medium-sized towns in the Rust Belt, trying to better understand what is happening in America.
What they found were people very concerned about the direction of the U.S. and about the assault on their values. However, they almost always discussed this as a national problem, not a particular problem in their community. It is a bit like the opinion poll findings that we have no confidence in the Congress but we like our particular Senator or Representative.
Fallows says these Americans do not seem bitter or difficult when you talk to them one on one. And yet these people sent us a clear message. You elites do not represent our values. We yearn for an America that we remember from years past when there were good jobs that didn't demand going to college, when we knew that marriage was a man and a woman, when people earned their way on their own merits, not with government quotas and handouts. "Make America great again".
Those who truly believe all that is implied in these last statements are likely to be disappointed with President Trump. He is not going to be able to bring all those high paying factory jobs back. He may be able to slow down some of the more difficult changes in social norms but we will still have gay marriage. We will still have immigration.
Many of the sixty million Americans who voted for Donald Trump understand this. That is a start. If Fallows is correct, perhaps there are ways to bridge the gap between the Coastal Elites and the Heartland. This is a long ground game. We can start in our own communities, where we have some common trust. But we will need to build longer bridges. How to do that?
Taking a lesson from James Fallows, my wife Sally and I are going to start a two person heartland excursion in our Airstream sometime in the New Year. One thought we have is to stay on the blue highways and focus on the libraries of the small towns we will visit. Who better to check the pulse of America with than our librarians. It is something we can do.