As a loud and proud early member of #NeverTrump, I have focused very heavily on the obvious outcome of proto-fascist Donald Trump staying as far away from political power as possible. Once Trump loses the election (and there is no serious projection that shows otherwise), that means the work is over, right?
If nothing else, Trump has exposed that there are a lot of people who are furious about a ton of things and are willing to follow along with the first guy who promises to do anything about it. There’re tons of theories out there about why they’re angry, but so many of them seem to be disconnected and detached straw man parodies. “Well, they’re just uneducated racist redneck homophobes and we’re better off if they keep on ODing on opioids” isn’t too far off the mark as to how many of the left-wing reactions go. The right-wing ones are more muted, but it’s mostly one of “oh good gravy I can’t believe we relied on your votes for so long, would you please just sit down and stop embarrassing us” like they’re that one uncle that you have to invite to Thanksgiving even though you know he’s going to ruin the whole thing.
As with most things, the truth is far more complex. It’s worth slogging through the profanity-laden tirade (it is Cracked, after all) to read about someone who grew up in “flyover country”, moved to the city, and realized why there’s so much tension between rural conservatives and urban liberals. A liberal sociologist from Berkeley CA spent months interviewing people in “enemy territory” to understand where the anger was coming from and found some similar results: people feel like the system is rigged against them, that working hard and staying honest were no guarantee of living the American dream. Meanwhile, the weird city-dwellers are always crapping on them at every chance they get. I’ll admit to my own culpability in laughing at and mocking “Florida Man” stories that really should be tragedies and warnings, not regular pieces of entertainment.
Most of these Trump supporters have a justifiable amount of anger at their situation, and it makes me think of the town where my mother, her parents, and several generations before them grew up in rural Alabama. The town of Dadeville is the county seat and I can remember back in the 80s that it was a pretty bustling place. It is one of the largest stops on the road running between Auburn and Birmingham, has close access to a large lake used for recreation, and the nearby city of Alexander City employed people all over the country at the Russell Athletic Wear factory. Gradually, though, things went into decline. The Russell plant started cutting jobs and finally closed a few years ago. Younger generations went to the cities in search of jobs. Dadeville got bypassed with a rebuilt US-280 designed less to funnel people through small towns and more to get people quickly between the larger ones. Every time I would go back to visit, a few more businesses were closed and a few more houses had fallen into disrepair. Sagging real estate prices kept people in homes they could no longer afford without the jobs they no longer had.
In a lot of ways, I see this same story having played out in rural towns everywhere. Drive through Milford, UT sometime. Most of the storefronts are empty, the three-story historic hotel has been boarded up for years, and most of the trains now speed through town instead of stopping. It seems to describe many of the small, rural towns in Utah these days. Many of them are holding on with a tenuous mix of tourism and agriculture, dependence on the fickle land for sustenance. Even where there is some kind of plant, there so much automation that there aren’t nearly as many jobs created as there used to be. Meanwhile, you turn on the TV to see the worst possible parody of yourself coming from all directions. You go on the Internet to see a bunch of smug kids still living at home after college calling you every name on the planet and insulting everything you know about life. Meanwhile, it seems like the government is helping everyone but you. If you were there, wouldn’t you be mad as hell and not want to take it anymore?
So now a strongman comes along and says “you know what, things really suck and I’m going to fix them”. This is the first guy that seems to get it. Maybe you know you’re being conned, maybe you don’t, but you don’t care because this guy is talking about your problems. Your economic prospects suck, the people in the cities are always crapping all over you, and here’s this guy kicking them in the face in a way that deep down inside you wish you could. This is throwing a brick through the window of a system that you don’t feel works for you and hasn’t for decades. It’s not smart and it’s not right, but it’s understandable.
Once Trump loses, do you think his supporters just going to say “welp, we gave it a shot and that’s that?” Well, would you? Of course not. Trump created a flashpoint for them and this is an opportunity to reach out to them, figure out what their problems are, and do something constructive about it. The only question left is who is going to do it.