Running down the San Andreas Fault, driving past Tres Pinos, through the Bitterwater Valley, on Highway 25, passing small ranches, most of them very poor, I remembered a facebook conversation in which I was peripherally involved. This is Red California, politically closer to rural Oregon or Texas than nearby Silicon Valley or San Francisco, and many of the locals are probably voting for Trump and one of the facebook writers said that anybody who voted for Trump was stupid. The problem is that dismissing Trump voters as stupid is counterproductive, it doesn’t build understanding, it makes them the other, not even worth understanding. The writer is really saying, “I don’t understand so they must be stupid”. When Curious Cindie says, “I wonder why people would want to vote for Trump.”, and Liberal Larry answers “Because they are stupid.”, nobody learns anything. I expect that from Conservatives, but when Liberals do it, I am bothered because I want to maintain the fiction that all Liberals are curious creatures and open to new input, new ideas, I want to believe that being willing to explore other points of view is the essence of Liberalism.
But, and this really should be the lead, even if they are stupid, that is not why they are voting for Trump. These voters are voting for Trump because their American dream has vaporized. They have been betrayed by the Republicans – and by the Democrats which is why many of the Trump voters are ex-Democrats, but that is another story – who have told them that the various Trade Agreements would bring prosperity, who have told them that rich people getting richer will make them more prosperous when the money trickles down, who have told them they will stop the immigration of cheap competitive labor, who have told them “Vote for us and we will solve your problems”. They have been told that everybody has the same chance to to become successful – if only the Democrats would get out of the way – but as I pass the small Bitterwater-Tully Elementary School, it is obvious that is not true. If anything, these Trump voters would be stupid if they still believed the Establishment line.
Rubbing salt in the wound, the Liberal Elite, and I am part of that elite, dismiss them as White Trash. Of course they are stupid, White Trash are stupid almost by definition, and that their poverty, unlike Black voters, is obviously their own fault. They are dismissed and marginalized, clinging to their guns and religion to quote Obama who I think said it in an understanding way. These are the people who the system has most failed. Blue collar labor and small businesses used to be a way into the middle class, now it is increasingly a dead-end. When Romney, with his air of superiority, says they should vote for Jeb! or Rubio, he is assuming that the Trump voters have goals that are in alliance with the Establishment goals and that those voters will change their vote once they realize that Trump is not promoting those goals. When even more voters are driven to Trump, the Establishment is shocked. “What is wrong with those people?” they ask, when the real question is “What is wrong with us, that we lost their vote that used to be so reliable.”
Driving by a small, abandoned, oil drilling operation, I thought how emblematic it was of one of the reasons people are pissed at the government and their party Establishments. In 1916, the government passed a bill that allowed oil companies to write off dry holes and other costs, in an effort to protect small drillers that were taking big risks. That has now morphed into tax breaks for yuge oil companies, $700 million per year for Chevron, for example, while small companies have been virtually wiped out. This has happened because big oil companies make big political contributions: Chevron contributed $2,122,682 to Congressional campaigns in 2014 to continue with the Chevron example and spent $8,280,000 on lobbying. Trump says that he is self funding – which is not entirely accurate but still very powerful – and will not be influenced by political contributions and lobbying. That is very appealing to his supporters (it is very apealling to me as a Bernie supporter).
Driving along, I realized I was in the same mental loop I have been in so many times before. It is inconceivable that Trump will get the nomination, he is crass, impulsive, and every party elite is against him and it is inconceivable that he won’t get it, every attack only makes him stronger, and he is a master at campaigning in this new, chaotic, internet-centric world. Hang on, it is going to be a bumpy ride.