The more I asked questions and argued on Facebook, the more I came to realize that everything they told me about why they were voting for Donald Trump was just coded words for their inherent racism, misogyny, and in the case of women, their internalized misogyny.
I live in Michigan, where I was born and raised, and, where for the first time in almost 30 years, the state has gone (by a single percentage point) to a Republican candidate for president.
Like many states, the rural areas of Michigan are “red” and the more urban areas are “blue.” Like many Americans, I was born in a rural area and left at age 18. I went to college and settled in East Lansing, the home of Michigan State University. East Lansing is like many university towns throughout our country—it is a mix of those who are highly educated and progressive, American students living in the city while doing their undergraduate or graduate work, and the citizens of many countries who come to study here. Because of MSU’s tremendous size (45,000 students) and proximity to Detroit and Dearborn (a little over an hour away), citizens of East Lansing work, eat, shop, learn, and walk every day with a diverse (black, Muslim, Chinese, etc.) population. My children went to middle school and high school mingling with children from over 60 different countries.
There are Americans who don’t know a single person who voted for Hillary Clinton, and Americans who don’t know a single person who voted for Donald Trump. I am not one of those people. Due to social media, my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds are full of a combination of people I grew up with, people I interact with now, and my family. During this vicious election cycle, I have struggled with what to do with my family and friends who were supporting Donald Trump.
There seemed to be two tactics my liberal friends and family took when dealing with their Trump-supporting friends and family: They either unfriended, unfollowed, or blocked them, or they said that listening to each other was important, it was good not to isolate oneself to a singular viewpoint, and to keep these friends and family in their real world and social media world. Because I know these people, I fell mostly into the second camp. Trump voters are not some caricature of evil. They love their families. They have challenges and problems. They are proud of their kids. They help their friends and family members in need. They have stories and dreams, just like us, their liberal counterparts.
There seems to be some sort of narrative developing in the media that the “liberal elite” isn’t listening to this angry and hurt electorate who voted for a hypocritical billionaire. I do not buy this. It may be true in places like New York and California where people can isolate themselves in larger cities, but it is not true in Michigan.
Every Trump voter I know is making a decent living (or has a spouse who is making a decent living, so that they can stay home with their children). The Trump voters I know are also not uneducated. Many have some community college or vocational training (truck drivers, journeymen), and many of the women I know who voted for Trump have some college, skill training, or a college degree (though their working class husbands may not).
If it is not economics driving their votes, I wanted to know (in my desire to listen) what made them support Trump. “Everyone should speak English,” they responded. “Hillary is a liar and a criminal,” they said. “I want change, even if it is for the worse,” they responded. “I don’t want to pay for other people’s abortions,” they said. In one argument I got into on Facebook on my high school biology teacher’s page, I stated why I was voting for Hillary. I said I believe that women were more than just tits and ass, that they should have control over their reproductive health, that I wanted my lesbian daughter to be able to marry and adopt one day if she chose to, that I believe we are a nation of diversity and immigrants and while sometimes challenging, diversity was a strength of America. The man I was arguing with responded, “I disagree with your beliefs top to bottom.”
The more I asked questions and argued on Facebook, the more I came to realize that everything they told me about why they were voting for Donald Trump was just coded words for their inherent racism, misogyny, and in the case of women, their internalized misogyny. They really hadn’t liked looking at a black president for the last eight years. It made them angry and uncomfortable. They had mourned the Supreme Court’s decision to allow gays to marry. Looking at two guys kissing made them angry and uncomfortable.
It has nothing to do with the economy. It has nothing to do with manufacturing jobs or the rural way of life. It has to do with the “other.” The other (black, LGBTQ, Muslim) scares the Trump voters and they can’t seem to do the basic internal work of admitting that fear, bringing it to the light, talking about it, and healing it. No one wants to admit to their less than attractive qualities (including me). I will lose something. This is not what I’m used to and it’s scary. How will there ever be enough? Who am I if I have no one to feel superior to? I have to do this work every day. I have to not always be right. I have to not always be sure. I have to listen.
I have listened. But I think I might be done listening to this particular group. What I have heard I cannot change and should not change. Black lives do matter. LGBTQ people deserve their civil rights. I will not support a whites only, cisgendered, heterosexual, abled America. In several “discussions” I pointed out that Donald Trump used to socialize with the Clintons. That he contributed to Bill’s campaign. I pointed out that Trump was pro-choice until recently. That how on earth with all his lies and inconsistencies did they really expect him to do the things he says he’s going to do? Their responses to this ranged from “Benghazi” to “emails” to “the whole system is corrupt and he can change it.”
I have spent the last eight years seeing and hearing offensive things on their pages about our First Family, who have been exemplary role models for every American. I have listened to Michelle Obama being called a fat ass. I have listened to sound bites from our President cut by Republican blogs out of context. I have seen pictures of Obama as a monkey. I have seen “Mexican word of the day” posted without any hint of cultural awareness or for that matter, self-awareness. I have seen Confederate flags as cover photos on Facebook and T-shirts. The people who wore these T-shirts were of my blood, the same blood of men who fought and died for the North in the Civil War. I have heard the codes of “government over-reach” with no sense of irony that it might also be government over-reach to tell people what public bathroom they need to use.
I think I’m done listening to this particular group of people. I think I will take that time and energy and instead direct it to listening to people of color, to LGBTQ people, to people with disabilities, to the people who will be most at risk as we face a Trump administration. I think that listening is a two-way street. And I don’t think Trump voters have heard a single word they haven’t agreed with in the last eight years.
Telaina Eriksen is the author of Unconditional: A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child (Mango Publishing, 2017) and an assistant professor in the English Department at Michigan State University. She runs a film review blog Catch Up Films with fellow Role Reboot contributor Chelsea Cristene.