There must not be, cannot be, two Americas. The discourse in the recent election dragged all of us into the mud, so much so that discourse itself, in the proper sense of sharing and honoring honest opinion, disappeared in a swamp of accusations and innuendo by both sides. If we are to come together out of that swamp, we need first and foremost to understand each other. So for me, a liberal, it means trying to understand why sixty million or so of my fellow Americans voted for Donald Trump.
I think the most important point is to understand that they did not vote for Trump. Judging by the polls, we are talking about a group of people who are hard-working, family-oriented and religiously devoted. (I am excluding from my considerations that small group of Trump voters who are pathological bigots or narcissists. If there is to be unity and understanding among all Americans, it must go without saying that these perverts do not compose in any way a significant segment of those who voted for Trump.)
This group, I say, did not vote for Trump. Their vote was primarily a vote of dissent. Their vote was an objection, a revolt, in a sense, against a world that seemed to reject, even insult, their very way of life. By and large, they want the same things that the Clinton followers want. They are just as committed to the equality and fundamental rights of all humans. They want a clean environment every bit as much as the Clintonites. They want basic health for all, equality of opportunity for all, affordable education for all — all as much as those who voted otherwise than they.
What, then, were they voting against? Well, pretty much everything. They voted against the legislature’s eight-year-long policy of do-nothing obstructionism against President Obama. In that regard, their vote said, “Okay, if you won’t cooperate with your opposition, then you run it, and let’s see how you do.” They voted against the bumbling that they perceive as characterizing healthcare and environmental and immigration policies. Most of all, they voted against what they perceived as the chaos brought to American shores by our financial, political and military involvement in other countries. They saw trade agreements, starting with NAFTA, as putting them in second place. They saw our military expenditures in the Middle East as an unjustifiable and unproductive drain on the economy. They saw our political commitments to other countries as only of advantage to others and of little or none to us. So they voted, like the British, to withdraw. They chose Amerexit.
It is, of course, all so much more complicated than that, but these good people hit on a solid kernel of truth. We have been generous to a fault. We have raised the global minimum wage. We have provided benefits and opportunities to people around the world. We have carried the burden of defense for any number of countries. At the same time, we have created for ourselves an unimaginable debt. We have lost the optimism of giving our children a better world than we inherited. Most of all, we have given ourselves over to squabbling about everything except what matters to them most, a peaceful world that honors and promotes the basic dream of productive and honorable lives.
There is a lesson here for politicians of all stripes. Every woman and man in public service must be driven by the same ideal, the ideal that defines all Americans. The only valid disputes are about the best means to work toward that ideal. No matter what means are chosen, we need first to serve the modest desires of those good people who form the backbone of this nation. They have announced, in the millions, that they have been ignored, and we ignore them at our great peril.