… not so simple actually! If you had told me one year ago that Donald Trump would actually become the next president of the United States of America, I would’ve simply laughed and shaken my head. He would never make it! And yet that is exactly what he has done. How could so many voters disregard his scandals and racist and sexist remarks and still vote for him?
I believe we shouldn’t come to premature conclusions and label all Trump supporters with adjectives like “stupid”, “white”, or “uneducated” – because that way we be doing exactly what we are accusing them of doing. It is important to seriously acknowledge this majority of US citizens, and even with my opposing views I would like to attempt to understand them.
The US is characterized by an extreme urban-rural divide, which has become evident with the election results. Many journalists and foreign expats indeed live in a sort of “city bubble” surrounded by many well-educated people and without much contact to people that live in rural areas. While New Yorkers are utterly bewildered by the election results and now protesting on the streets against president-elect Trump (it will never not feel weird to call him that), the reality is a very different one far away from the metropoles. In the village is the deepest rural Minnesota, where I lived during a high school exchange in 2010/2011, more than 70% of the population voted for Trump. During this time I lived with a family (that I also visited again in 2013) that has fully supported Trump since he announced his candidacy. Many of my friends from that time think Trump is amazing and share their opinion in all forms of social media. How I could possibly feel comfortable and at home in such an environment, you ask? To be honest, I simply didn’t discuss all too much politics at that time – which was probably easier for me when I was only 15, in comparison to now. But apart from that, Trump voters are not simply people filled with hatred , as one might be inclined to imagine, and I also didn’t experience them as utterly bitter or discontent with their loves. It’s important to realize that in some aspects, US rural culture is vastly different than our German culture.
One central aspect continues to be the right to bear arms, which is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. For much of the rural population it is one of the greatest freedoms to go to the store around the corner and purchase weapons without any problems whatsoever. The main attraction for many Minnesotans is hunting season in the fall: People get up at the crack of dawn to hunt for deer with friends and family. The killed animals are hung in the garage where they are drained of blood, and whoever shoots the biggest deer with the most impressive antlers is celebrated. To us, this seems like a different (and perhaps long-gone) world – which it is! But to these people it is a central component of their culture and signifies fun and freedom.
The downside: weapon misuse and killing sprees. Second Amendment advocates argue that “guns don’t kill people, but people kill people!” – and blame these tragedies on lone and mentally ill gunmen. In the end one assumes that the probability of being a victim of such a shooting one day is so extremely low that one subordinates one’s safety to freedom. Hillary Clinton would have fought for a tighter gun control regulations, which would have resulted in a stark loss of personal freedom and recreation. In comparison, Donald Trump promised not to tamper with existing gun laws – and in this regard I find it highly probable that he will fulfill his campaign promise.
Another political topic that directly concerns many directly is military deployments and the handling of veterans. Many are or were soldiers themselves or have relatives, that “served their country”. Soldiers and veterans are held at a very high esteem in the US; they even have an entire holiday dedicated to themselves: Veteran’s day, which is actually today, on November 11! While Trump publicly appreciates and acknowledges veterans and makes financial promises, many think that Hillary will treat them with disrespect and doesn’t support them enough, and that she is even responsible for many of the fallen soldiers since she voted for and supported the Iraq war in 2003.
It is also known that patriotism is rooted deeply into US culture. It is completely normal to see an American flag at every corner, and it is part of daily life to recite the pledge of allegiance (oath of allegiance to the nation) at school every morning. To many people, Trumps principles and these values are a pretty good match. He wants to “make America first again” and not be primarily concerned with the world’s problems.
Unfortunately, it is also true that stereotyped thinking is very pronounced in rural regions in the US. In Minnesota, for example, you won’t see too many African Americans or Latinos, and especially members of the LGBTQ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) take refuge in the cities since they have to deal with prejudice and discrimination in the countryside. Open a drawer, fill it with all things and people foreign, and close it – this unfortunately happens relatively quickly, since many Minnesotans have little contact with other perspectives. The majority, especially large families with many children, can’t afford to travel. Most maybe made it across state lines once – my host dad for example has never seen the ocean before. This initial situation makes it hard for many people to question Trump’s racist remarks. Rather, many are happy that finally someone is jumping over the hurdle of political correctness.
What is also very difficult to comprehend is how many people can so easily overlook Trump’s blatant sexism. I’m pretty sure that there are only very few things that would’ve shocked and distanced his core supporters from him. Perhaps that is something that made him “more normal” or “approachable” for many – a man with mistakes.
It is very clear that none of these Americans could in any way whatsoever identify with “slick” Hillary. To them she lives in a completely different world (Trump actually does as well, but not quite so obviously), and voters have the feeling that she wants to take away everything that is near and dear to them. Hillary Clinton was too vulnerable herself due to her email scandal and several suspicious donors of the Clinton Foundation to pin Donald Trump down on the fact that he would not release his tax returns. In contrast to Trump, Hillary was not successful in mobilizing non-voters and undecided voters (the voter turnout was at the almost 20-year low of 55%). Unfortunately she was not able to credibly get people to see that, of all people, Donald Trump was absolutely unqualified to be “advocate of the ordinary”.
It remains to be seen how Donald Trump will actually shape his policies – at the moment, one can only speculate. In this presidential campaign, most voters didn’t seem to care for concrete strategies and arguments, but rather for “simple solutions”. Unfortunately, I also don’t have an approach to how to convince Trump-supporters with rational arguments, without them fearing for the loss of their culture and way of life. But perhaps I will rack my brain over this in over the next few sleepless nights!
Translated by Philip