With the election less than two weeksaway, I am now able to sleep until 5 or 6 a.m. Last year, I would wake at 3 a.m. and worry that our country was going to end. I imagined that America would be lulled into letting a Know Nothing become president and take us to hell. Paraphrasing a famous quotation, “It is a short trip from Empire to tabloid,” as post-Brexit Britain is discovering.
Now I realize that the undercurrent of dissatisfaction among a third of the people who can vote will not succeed in taking down our republic if the rest of the voters cast ballots. The inward movement that has taken the shape of a raucous, bawdy party led by the braggadocios, self-centered, rich, uninformed inciter who many Americans feared would destroy our democracy will be halted (but not ended).
I am losing interest in analyzing the mindsets of Donald Trump’s supporters or of Trump himself. My interest is in whether these supporters will actually vote. On Election Day, they may have a hangover from their long run of high-energy antics. When they wake up Nov. 8 and realize that they have participated in a Jonestown-like crusade, they may realize their good luck that the clock ran out before the finale, when their self-proclaimed savior would have passed out the actual Kool-Aid, obliging them to drink up.
They might be too embarrassed to go to the polls, where they will see their neighbors quietly lined up to defeat the dangerous, mean, bigoted man whose displays we have endured for the past 16 months.
When he loses (and if God does bless America, he will), Trump and the other miscreants will nevertheless continue trying to poison our country with their hatred and the conspiracy theories they have promoted during the last two decades.
Many of my acquaintances in Northeast Florida are Trump supporters. Most do not know or care about the issues or even about the advantages that they possess because they live in America. Whatever Donald says today is OK, and when he says the opposite tomorrow, that’s also fine.
One common thread seems to be that most of Trump’s supporters have never attended advanced classes in economics, government, world history, philosophy, the sciences, psychology or world religion. Polls say that there are a greater number of men in these groups than there are women.
African-Americans have had economic and fairness challenges, but most do not support Trump. They know that racism is an electrifying keystone for Trump’s appeal.
My take-away after reading many articles in newspapers and in magazines such as The Economist, Newsweek and The Atlantic, and listening to many political analysts, is that there are three main groups of Trump supporters: 1) well-treated seniors of all national origins, 2) descendants of the Scots-Irish, and 3) descendants of Southern and Eastern European immigrants.
Well-treated seniors who contributed a maximum of $20,000 to Social Security if they worked in plants or offices full-time for 45 years (rare for the women of this generation) or were stay-at-home moms who contributed half that amount may each collect $240,000 in monthly benefits over their expected lifetime. They have been retired 20 years or more, are reimbursed 80 percent of most medical costs and may even live in government-subsidized housing. Their parents and grandparents probably infused them with good work ethics, but likely also influenced them to blame “them” for their problems. Paraphrasing Donald: “And we know who they are!”
Many of the seniors who back Trump fervently believe right-wing commentators to whom they typically listen and watch for hours each day. These prophets tell them that most current workers are not able to pay their bills, that immigrants will take their grandkids’ jobs and that jihadists are going to take over America (and probably behead them).
Among the descendants of the Scots-Irish who arrived in the 1700s and those who arrived in the 1840s during the potato famine, many earlier settlers were successful, including a number of our presidents. Others became farmers in Appalachia, ultimately suffering greatly, especially during the Depression. Some moved to Chicago to work in the meatpacking industry. Those who moved to Detroit to work in the auto plants were left in dire straits when manufacturers downsized and moved. Still others worked in coalmines and steel mills, industries that have shriveled, leaving them jobless. They are the citizens who are the target and sometimes the admirers of the ultra-right movements, including the “Alt-Whites.”
I remember a 30-year-old documentary that featured interviews of autoworkers – and their spouses – who were given buyouts, unemployment benefits and were offered training for jobs in the computer industry after manufacturers moved away. The unskilled workers had been making $24 per hour to do simple tasks that could be completed by lower-paid people or robots. A number of them raged that they were offered this training and would be expected to work in a different industry for only $10 or $12 per hour. Many felt they deserved to continue in their well-paid jobs and keep their pension plans.
The third category of Trump’s supporters are the descendants of the millions of Southern and Eastern European immigrants who came to America 100 to 130 years ago to escape religious, racial or political persecution or lack of economic opportunity or famine. Although life in ethnic neighborhoods usually was difficult and working conditions hazardous, they eventually were accepted in the mainstream, especially after serving in WWII. Many of their descendants apparently did not attend college. Workers without college degrees find it difficult to compete in our society. In addition, they worry that the newer ethnic immigrants will further limit their chances for financial stability.
These descendants of immigrants need to remember why their ancestors left their homes in Europe and worked so hard to become an intrinsic part of the fabric of America. Though life here was not great for them, their grandparents helped build this country and their grandchildren can have a good life if they stop following the angry crowd, learn new skills and support candidates who will work together as Americans, not as partisans.
I hope, for their sake, the younger Trump supporters will study more vigorously in high school and after graduation continue learning about our political and economic systems, world history, philosophy, and how they and all American workers can compete globally while treating the Earth more respectfully.
I also hope that Trump supporters’ hangovers will not hurt them too badly. Unfortunately, their misdirected political fervor has already destroyed a HUGE chunk of our country’s optimism and has given our children powerful lessons in crassness, sexual violence and other bullying and insulting tactics, including belittling women, the disabled and ethnic newcomers who may worship differently or are from countries other than Trump’s supporters’ ancestors. Our children have learned that a spoiled, rich celebrity can get his own way at the expense of all Americans. Repairing this descent into madness will take a long time. We need to begin today. As Pope Francis counseled, “Study the issues, pray and then vote your conscience.”
Sellers is a CPA in Jacksonville Beach.