Letter to Trump voter
Dear Fellow American,
My earliest political memory was from the Bush versus Clinton election, 1992. I was with mom and Dad in the kitchen, watching CNN as the votes were counted. When the commentators officially predicted Clinton for president I turned to my parents, tears running down my face: “I don’t want Bill Clinton to be President!” I cried. They picked me up, hugged me, assured me that America would be OK and so would we.
I knew absolutely nothing about Bill Clinton or George Bush, the economy, taxes, or foreign policy. I just knew that mom and dad were sad because our team had lost, so I was sad too. After President Clinton’s election I felt that our small little orchard in Yakima, WA no longer belonged to us in the same way it had before. Millions of Americans feel this way during every presidential election, and that was my first taste.
24 years later I’m not sure that my approach to politics has changed that much. I try to make it about the issues, but I can’t get away from the fact that the whole voting exercise feels persistently like a matter of team and tribe. In my case, my tribe changed. Four years of elite education, nearly a decade in California, gay friends and family, and a two-year stopover in the UK molded my worldview through my 20s in ways that departed from my conservative upbringing.
I tell myself that I changed my politics because I’ve become more nuanced in my thinking and generally well-informed. The reality, however, is that I tend to vote just as much based on how I feel as on how I think. My conversations with friends are often just animated sessions of mutual agreement. Far more than I’d like to admit, my politics are more about identity than substance.
I’ve felt such deep conviction about how dangerous Donald Trump is for American civic and political life. And I’ve had a hard time understanding how anyone could possibly see things differently. Yet you do. Friends and family members of mine do. I’ve tried to come to terms with this, and while I’m usually not that good at listening, in the conversations I’ve had I’ve learned a few things about you.
I’ve learned that you are decent, hard-working, and love your family. I’ve learned that you’re frustrated by prevailing shifts in American culture that run counter to your most closely held beliefs. I’ve learned how infuriating it is for you to have progressives, many of whom hail from large coastal cities, dismiss you as an imbecile who doesn’t know how to think. I can only imagine how insulting that must be. I’ve learned that you’re worried about jobs and the economy, and you don’t hear Clinton or the democrats offering convincing solutions. I’ve learned that you’re fed up with politics as usual, and that even if Donald Trump occasionally says offensive things, well, goddammit, at least he calls it like he sees it.
In both my words and actions I have often embodied the self-righteous liberal elitism that you find so offensive. And though I know that words are cheap, I’m sorry.
I started this letter focusing on identity because I’m guessing that for you this election is more about who you are and what kind of country you want to live in than it is about Trump’s ideas or his policies. With your vote you plan to challenge an entire political establishment and cultural paradigm that looks backward. I get it. But here’s the thing: I don’t think Trump actually represents you like you think he does. On the contrary, I think his values run against yours. I don’t believe that his vision of American is actually a place that you want your country to become or your children to live in.
Trump uses a rhetoric of “us versus them” more than any American politician that I have seen in my lifetime. That, more than any other reason, is why I see him as dangerous — because you and I are in this thing together. I’m not just the liberal college boy I painted a picture of above. I’ve been a Naval officer and a small business owner, worked on commercial fishing crews in Alaska, and head to Sunday mass as often as I can manage. Like you, I’m hungry for a figure who represents conservative ideas that I have about how to manage the economy, taxes, and the role of government. But Donald Trump is not our man, he’s just taking advantage of your frustration. I’m encouraging you not to let him.
From one citizen to another, I see your identity as an American and affirm the proud individual that you are. I’d like to build a society where you and I can live comfortably next to each other. Where our friends and family can live comfortably alongside one another. I think Donald Trump takes us further away from that vision rather than closer to it.
I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I obviously have an opinion, and I hope you’ll consider it. I recognize how all of this is wound up in my core identity, and how badly I want to defend that identity. But I’m trying to be thoughtful, too, and to consider things for what they are rather than merely how I feel. I know that you’re in the middle of the same battle. If we ever meet in person, after all this craziness is over, I hope you’ll give me a chance to learn about what’s important to you and how you puzzle out your politics. We’ll just get so much further that way.
Tuesday is a big day. No matter what happens I’m wishing you — and all our fellow Americans — well.
Take good care. Hope I see you sometime.