Don’t underestimate Trump or his voters

Chicago Tribune

Since Nov. 9, I have heard people label President-elect Donald Trump’s voters as stupid, uninformed and cruel. I have heard people claim that they no longer recognize their country, that this America is not their America.

And that is exactly why he won.

Trump supporters can be split into four groups: the Never Hillary camp, the party loyalists, the “I just care about the Supreme Court” folks, and true supporters. To those who wonder how on earth Trump won, the answer is simple. Some people really didn’t like Hillary Clinton, some felt obliged to support the party, some wanted a Republican to nominate the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement, and some felt utterly alienated from popular political discourse.

It is the last group that pushed Trump over the edge, making his election a reality.

They watched a steady stream of jobs exit America and a steady stream of illegal immigrants pour in. When they listened to the radio or turned on the television or opened a newspaper, they didn’t hear or see or read anything that sounded like them. They came to see politicians as corrupt, not to be trusted.

They wanted their grandparents’ America. It doesn’t matter if they were right or wrong. What matters is that that’s what they felt, and that’s what they said, but no one listened.

Those unhappy with the results of the election — I’ll call them the #NotMyPresident camp — claim to have lost trust in their fellow Americans, as if the action of checking the box next to Trump on their ballots instantaneously transformed garden-variety Republicans and Independents into unpredictable beasts.

But in reality, the claimants’ own limited interaction with people who hold different views is to blame. They view this “other” as uninformed and objectively wrong, an evaluation sustained by ideological segregation and, more broadly, a lack of empathy.

For an example, look to the popular mass media, which was so unable to understand why someone would vote for Trump that it ignored signs pointing to his victory. Trump supporters didn’t spring from the post-election soil like mushrooms overnight. They have been growing slowly, quietly, for years.

The #NotMyPresident camp makes a mistake in writing off Trump and his voters as stupid. First, not all Trump voters are true supporters. The Never Hillary, party loyalist, and the Supreme-Court crowds differed from Trump on a number of issues. A vote for Trump was not an endorsement of his entire political agenda or, for that matter, his offensive personal comments on women and minorities.

Second, we can no longer pretend that Trump is stupid. He’s not. He’s a businessman, and he just sold himself to the American people. He saw what people wanted to hear, what would dominate the news cycle. And he said it, regardless of whether he believed it was true or whether he had any intention of fulfilling his promises.

Furthermore, he ran what has been described as the most sophisticated social media advertising campaign in history. He accumulated data on known supporters and used that data to identify potential supporters. He later did the same to identify potential Clinton voters. Both groups he targeted with Facebook “dark posts,” which are nonpublic paid posts revealed only to selected users.

Potential Trump voters saw pro-Trump ads; potential Clinton voters saw a cartoon Clinton repeating her 1996 comment likening youth gangs, presumably African-Americans, to “super predators.” This “depress the vote” campaign was largely successful; in key states like Michigan and Ohio, Democratic voter turnout was down from the 2012 and 2008 elections.

It is time we stop underestimating Trump, and it is time we stop ignoring the anti-Washington sentiments which led to his election. Instead of tweeting #NotMyPresident, please go have a conversation with a Trump voter.

I promise the next four years will be easier if you respect Trump as you would any commander in chief and if you offer up policy proposals rather than insults.

Eliza Jane Schaeffer of Lexington is a freshman at Darmouth College.