By Craig Bernthal
Most of the pundits I’ve been reading on the Democratic side who have decided to explain this election chalk up the Trump victory to an America which turned out to be far more racist and misogynistic than they’d ever believed. Among the most hysterical and bitter was Garrison Keillor in the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-voters-will-not-like-what-happens-next/2016/11/09/e346ffc2-a67f-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html, and any internet survey will find much of the same. Paul Krugman had a vision of the apocalypse,
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/opinion/election-night-2016/the-unknown-country, colleges across the country called out their grief counselors, people started wearing Brexit-inspired safety pins (another way of perpetuating fear and division), and riots, possibly pushed by MoveOn.org, are all over TV. The vitriol hurled at Trump voters by progressives is truly astonishing. It does not just show a hatred of half of America, but astounding ignorance about it. Racists! Half the country is racist! (And this claim despite Trump getting 29% of the Hispanic vote and 8% of the African-American vote, bettering Romney’s performance.)
I did not vote for Trump. After he called John McCain a loser for being captured, that did it for me early on. I found his comments about women particularly disgusting. I didn’t like what he said about Judge Curiel. I saw Trump as a thin-skinned narcissist, a bully, and a potentially dangerous loose cannon on foreign policy. May I be proven wrong. But I didn’t vote for Clinton either, and when the election went for Trump, I felt a vast sense of relief: relief that the corrupt Clinton machine, supported by 80% of the media, had been turned out once and for all, that they hadn’t gotten away with it yet again, that a progressive in the White House wouldn’t continue to talk down to me for the next eight years.
I watched the last two weeks of the election in Michigan visiting friends and relatives and fishing for steelhead. I grew up in “the Thumb” of the mitten and my wife’s family lives in Grand Rapids. I think I have a fairly good sense of what motivated the rural American rustbelt to turn out in droves to vote for Trump. I chalk it up to two things: the stagnant Obama economic recovery and a backlash against the Olympian condescension of our leaders in both parties and especially the media. In two days, as I drove from Grand Rapids to Bad Axe, I saw that Trump lawn posters vastly outnumbered the ones for Clinton. Even fishing on the Muskegon River, I saw Trump posters on the banks. And then, both campaigns flooded Michigan the week before the election. Trump rallies had a huge attendance. You could almost feel the state turning from blue to red.
People who live in the Michigan countryside tend to be independent. A lot of small farms still survive. They make their way in small businesses of their own or franchises. I fished with two guides. One was a high school teacher and coach, and one was a full time guide. Both were voting for Trump. One had a wife with several small businesses. They both thought Trump would be better for small business. Many of the people I talked to, including two old high school friends, one a civil engineer who had spent most of his career in the Middle East, the other a retired banker, were hoping Trump would get the economy moving. So, “it’s the economy, stupid,” Bill Clinton’s theme in the 90s, was very much on people’s minds.
But there was also an edge to a lot of this. People were sick of being called racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and being basketed as deplorables—one of Hillary Clinton’s rare moments of candor. They were sick of a condescending political and media culture which insulted them as “clinging to their religion and their guns,” (presumably instead of their safety pins), sick of being told they were incapable of rational thought. I talked with several Trump voters who seriously said, “I don’t think I’m a racist,” and would then lay out a mini-biography of their cordial relations with African-Americans, gays, and in the case of the engineer, the many Muslims he’d worked with and considered friends. They felt bad that they were being talked about in those terms. It was personal. But hoping to prove you are not a racist to a determined progressive is like hoping for a Lion’s Superbowl victory. If you are not consciously racist, then you are unconsciously racist. If you are one of the 54% of white women who voted for Trump, you have “internalized misogyny.” If you are white, you are the beneficiary of “white privilege”; even if you are an unemployed auto-worker or coal miner you are implicated in structures of oppression. People got sick of this, and they were not all white. I got a haircut in a Mexican-American barbershop in Clovis, California, during the primaries, and everyone in the place—all of Mexican heritage except me—were for Trump because “he’s not politically correct.”
The progressive post-election theme is, “See! We told you they (white knuckle-draggers) were stupid and insecure and racist. “Racism” for many academic and media progressives is a mystical term. It is the progressive version of original sin, inescapable, and something whites must grovel about for the rest of their lives. They must rake their conscience for sins and confess them at diversity consciousness-raising sessions, a diversity which includes everything but white. This was the “I’m not going to grovel anymore” election, the “I’m sick of being slandered” election, not a vote for David Duke and the KKK.
Way under-reported in all of this has been the vote of pro-life evangelicals and Catholics, a make or break issue for a lot of people. I went to a mass at a church in a middle class section of Grand Rapids. It had its own grade-school which feed students to Catholic Central, the mark of a substantial parish with a diverse congregation. The priest gave a homily, based on the torture and execution of the 7 brothers in Maccabees, under Antiochus Epiphanes. His point was that, if you want to know what people believe, watch what they do, not what they say. Tim Kaine was never mentioned. But the priest’s point was that there was no line in the heart between “personal belief” and public policy. People just do what they believe, and the subtext was that despite everything Trump had said, Catholics had only one choice about who to vote for. Evangelicals, 83% of whom supported Trump, were more in agreement on this than Catholics.
That this was the racist election, the misogynist election, the stupid election may provide solace to progressives who know nothing about the people they are slandering, but it provides nothing in the way of enlightenment. This election was complicated. If prejudice and racism is applying ugly labels to vast numbers of people you don’t know, then the left is as prejudiced and racist as it accuses the right of being. Hats off to the few progressives I know who are trying to think about this election in a complicated way.