I Talked To Some Trump Voters, Too

The Only Article You Need To Read About Why Trump Voters Are Angry

Because it’s the only article people are writing about Trump voters

Image: Roger H. Goun

Seemingly every day, Donald Trump violates a previously sacred political norm. By almost every measure, he’s a dangerous outlier in American civic history. And yet, though he’s on track to lose on November 8, he retains more than 40% of voters in most polls. As much as the rest of the country wishes it weren’t so, tens of millions of people still want Donald Trump to be president.

Who are these people? What drives them? And who are these people?

What’s become painfully clear this election cycle is that there’s a fundamental disconnect between national journalists — most of them based in New York City or Washington D.C. — and the white working-class Americans who are Trump’s most ardent supporters. But, except for roughly 7,200 articles on the subject, there has been scant effort made by the mainstream media to understand the kind of voters who say Trump speaks for them. So I set out on a road trip to the part of America most coastal elites don’t think about, except when they’re reading one of the fourteen daily pieces in the mainstream media where a journalist visits a town most coastal elites don’t think about.

Bleaksville, Kentucky (or maybe it’s in Ohio or West Virginia, I can’t remember) has seen better days. From the 1950s through the 1970s, it was home to two of the largest pillowcase factories in America, singlehandedly exporting 15% of high-quality American pillowcases all over the world. But beginning in the 1980s, many factory jobs began to be shipped abroad, mostly to China’s “Pillowcase Belt.” And when those silky ladders to the middle class vanished, so did the town’s social fabric. If Bleaksville was already on the ropes by the end of the ’90s, the Great Recession dealt it a knockout blow. It now ranks in the bottom ten in the country in crucial quality-of-life measures like social mobility, teen pregnancy, and Politico Pro subscriptions. Bleaksville’s Main Street was once a thriving hub of commerce; now it’s dotted with used-condom stores, with the husk of an old abandoned monorail looming in the background. There used to be fourteen bars along this stretch, where workers would congregate after a long day producing and assembling pillowcases. Now there’s only one, O’Briens, and it only sells opioids.

I spoke with Freddy O’Brien, a fifth-generation Bleaksviller who operates the bar. He told me he’d already talked about his support for Donald Trump to reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Daily Mail, The Hindustan Times, and Stormfront so far that day, but that he’d be willing to do one more interview before hosting an opioid and pizza party for the high-school football team (which I assume is the linchpin of the community). I asked him why he disliked Hillary Clinton so much, given that her tax and health care policies would directly benefit his family, whereas Trump had personally pledged to take away his father’s oxygen tank and burn it for sport. “People around here are tired of getting spit on, and Trump gets that,” O’Brien said. “I’m angry. We’re all angry.”

“What are you angry about?” I asked.

“Everything,” he replied.

I couldn’t help but notice that people in Bleaksville are angry.

My suspicions were confirmed when I spoke to Ed Sherman, a sixty-seven-year-old retired teacher who has a thirty-seven-foot-tall sign outside his house that reads “Barack Obama Is A Demogorgon From Hell.” Though he believes that Obama is a secret member of ISIS who has recruited Hillary Clinton to smooth the group’s transition into witchcraft, he insists his support for Trump has nothing to do with race or gender.

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re white, yellow, or colored. I’m just worried about these Muslims forcing Shariah Law on us here in Bleaksville. Trump’s gonna put a stop to that.”

When I pointed out that there wasn’t a single Muslim in the county, he cut me off.

“Trump’s a businessman,” he said. “We’re angry,” he added.

I wanted to hear more, but he explained that David Brooks had scheduled an interview with him to discuss whether he ate dinner with his family every night, and what it means for America.

While it’s tempting to pigeonhole Bleaksville residents based on small-town stereotypes, the reality is inevitably more complicated. I learned that lesson near the “supplies for visiting journalists” aisle at the local Walmart, where I ran into Alison Loudis, a twenty-nine-year-old lesbian folk singer who recently moved back to Bleaksville after earning a PhD in comparative literature from Brown. She, too, is planning to vote for Trump.

“I understand that Trump is a terrible person,” she said. “Everyone does. We’re not that stupid, and we know he’s out to con us. But people around here are angry. We’re so angry we want to be conned. And maybe while he’s destroying the planet, he’ll wipe out my student debt, too. Get it?”

The people of Bleaksville have a right to be angry. They see a corrupt establishment that has forgotten about their town. They see a Democratic Party that says it’s all about tolerance, but that…sorry, I lost my train of thought. Anyway, it’s easy to say their populist rage is all about race or prejudice, but it’s not so simple. Or is it? Maybe it is — I’m not really sure, but don’t feel comfortable going in either direction. And what does NAFTA have to do with all this? Once again, I’m not totally clear on that, but I needed to mention it at some point. Look, I’ll be honest: I left Bleaksville with no greater sense of understanding about anything than when I arrived.

The important thing to remember is that I talked to some Trump voters.

And they’re angry.

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