The stories and posts filling my newsfeed accusing those who voted for Donald Trump or third party candidates of being racist, sexist, homophobic bigots who care nothing for LGBT folks, or Muslims, or other minorities, reminds me of how we got to this place. I’m going to try and lay out my understanding of why normal people without great hate in their hearts voted for Mr. Trump.
The reason regular, hardworking, non-racist, non-bigoted Americans voted for Donald Trump was because of several factors. Included among those must be the fact that the political left laughed in the face of their problems and disenfranchisement. They looked at blue collar workers that have still not recovered from the Great Recession, who haven’t found good work or have seen their healthcare expenses balloon or have legitimate concerns about global trade deals and foreign policy, and they brushed them under the rug, assuming the traditional Democratic voters would simply grin, bear it, and check the box for Secretary Clinton. No matter how wrong Mr. Trump was on any number of issues, he was the only candidate that took pains to at least appear to pay attention to the problems and the undercurrent of anxiety these people faced, and they responded by voting for him instead.
Other people, also not white supremacist homophobes, simply voted against Clinton (whether by voting for Trump, Johnson, or Stein) because they looked at the bevy of very real issues with her and came to the conclusion that they could not, in good conscience, support her. I am one such voter. The left miscalculated in assuming that Secretary Clinton deserved our votes, and attempted to browbeat us into submission. This had the opposite effect they intended and reduced the likelihood of any of us voting for her.
In both of these cases, the people that did not vote for Hillary Clinton did not do so because they hate women, LGBT people, or ethnic minorities. However, this did not stop prominent figures in the political left and in the media from making sweeping generalizations about the opposition that Secretary Clinton faced, painting us all as rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth bigots. Being consistently denigrated and vilified by the left did not make us reevaluate ourselves or make grand changes to become good, kowtowing progressives. It made us angry, defensive, and drove us right into the arms of Trump and alternative third party candidates. The constant trope of straight white males being the enemy of progress and the root of society’s ills by virtue of being raised in some nebulous “patriarchy” caused these people to become fed up and lash out. We lashed out against the political and media establishment that left us in the cold yet expected us to vote in their favor come Election Day.
Further, the intolerance of intellectual diversity among the left continues even after they have lost. I have counted far too many posts saying, “If you voted for Donald Trump or voted third party, I hate you and we cannot be friends.” This kind of rhetoric accomplishes nothing. It serves only to insulate those who use it from any competing ideas or opinions. It creates echo chambers, groupthink, and false consensuses that lead to either ideological stagnation or increased Balkanization amongst differing political groups. For if you have no contact with those that disagree with you or hold opposing viewpoints, how can you convince them that your side is better or, at the very least, has a valuable perspective to add to the discussion? You cannot. And while it certainly is easier to let ourselves slip into this kind of in-group/out-group dynamic with finger pointing and vilifying of the other as something inferior, it causes the kind of political polarization and gridlock that we witness every day in our government.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the political right is often just as guilty of this kind of intellectual isolationism, and it must be combated wherever we find it regardless of who perpetuates it. But this election has shown it in stark detail in the allegedly more tolerant and open-minded left. If there is a lesson that can be taken from this election from hell, it is this: if we allow ourselves to be divided into our neat little ideological niches and surround ourselves only with those that agree with us, then we deserve the gridlock and the partisanship and the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons that inevitably result. It is only by actively engaging those that disagree with us in honest, good faith intellectual debate that we can expand our own horizons, find the common ground that unites us as American citizens, and develop real solutions to the problems that America faces. And there are many problems on the road ahead. As Abraham Lincoln once said, a house divided cannot stand. We must come together and restore the proper working order of our representative democracy. Our future depends on it. The question is, will we?