Alexandra Petri has a great summary of “Every story I have read about Trump supporters in the past week” in the Washington Post:
Next to her sits Linda Blarnik. Like the rusty hubcaps hanging on the wall behind her, she was made in America 50 years ago, back when this town made things, a time she still remembers fondly. She says she has had just enough of the “coastal elitist media who keep showing up to write mean things about my town and my life, like that thing just now where you said I was like a hubcap, yes you, stop writing I can see over your shoulder.” Mournfully a whistle blows behind her, the whistle of a train that does not stop in this America any longer.
Much as I appreciated the first couple articles in this genre, I’m getting pretty weary of them, and coming to see them as really pretty problematic.
First, they look like investigation, but they’re really condescension. Reporters who a year ago (and ten years ago) should have gone to rural Pennsylvania, or the former factory town in Ohio, or that corner diner in Kansas, are finally doing their jobs — or so it seems. But too easily the pieces fall into condescension, and turn into stories about people being hurt by the person they thought would save them. The stories could all be headlined,
Local Man’s Fate Feeds Our Confirmation Bias About His Political Stupidity
Second, they reduce politics to a narrow set of transactions: I vote for you, you give me a bridge contract, or a job, or deport my Spanish-speaking neighbors (but not the decent one who owns the factory, he’s okay.) Contrast this with the high idealism of Clinton supporters, casting their votes to shatter that final glass ceiling, and make America even greater.
Finally, they unintentionally reflect a world-view that is very, very Trumpian: they turn politics into the pursuit of personal gain, the satisfaction of tribal grievances, and the narrowing of a vision of America. These stories only work as irony (or tragedy) if the authors accept the premise that politics is about making great deals, not the expression of ideals.
But sometimes people vote to express their ideals, not to maximize their short-term interests. People with teenage sons in 1944 who voted for FDR probably weren’t hoping that their sons would be killed; but they recognized the dangers of fascism, and that its destruction was important. When people choose to make sacrifices for the long-term benefit of groups, or when they accept the burdens of doing things like defending their country, they’re not being saps.
And even if you enjoy stories of voters being hurt by the people they elected, you need to ask how the experience is going to affect their choices next time. Don’t take for granted that Linda Blarnik will switch parties next time; worry that her next vote will go to someone who promises to make Trump look like an scion of the Establishment.