Years ago I went to rural Ohio years ago because my girlfriend’s family lived there. It depressed me. It was flat, and there were holes in the stop signs that someone told me were bullet holes. It was also winter – so that didn’t help. Her father was a hospital administrator, and her mother played golf. They were in the upper-middle class by the standards of the neighborhood. And they were probably Republican voters.
I hadn’t thought about it much, until just now when I came across an old New Yorker photo essay – from back in the waning days of the 2016 campaign – ‘”I Feel Forgotten”: A Decade of Struggle in Rural Ohio‘. And it made me remember the other Ohioans – who now are apparently Trump voters. The working-class unemployed, blue collar workers, low-ranking white collar workers, ‘mom and pop’ business owners – those on the first few rungs of the economic ladder.
They know what they know – and don’t have the resources to know more. Their destiny is in others’ hands. They feel as if every group but them, every racial and social minority, has had its needs addressed. Or at least talked about. And they take succor in religion and being considered ‘real Americans’.
Conservative politicians make hay out of portraying liberals (unreal Americans?) as coastal, urban elites. You know the usual put-downs. Quiche eating, white wine swilling, Subaru drivers. That kind of thing. Liberals, in turn, agree with the characterization – why not be thought of as intelligent people with taste? However, that smugness extends to an equally one-dimensional view of conservative America.
Ask a liberal to describe a Trump voter. The first thing they’ll say is that he’s dumb. Second, he’s racist. Third, he owns a gun. Fourth he’s anti every ‘enlightened’ (i.e. liberal) social position. Then add on anti-science, credulous, confederate flag-owning, etc. and so on.
What they won’t consider is that these are people who love their families, like their friends, get on or not with their co-workers. Liberals call them haters. Maybe, but their hate is only an extension of their fear. And why wouldn’t they be afraid? They have been taught by their parents, politicians, and pastors, since youth, to be scared.
It doesn’t make it right – but it does make it understandable.
Liberals scorn these rural conservatives as heartless bastards who lump people into groups and dispose of them without considering their individuality. But in doing so, liberals risk committing the sin they accuse others of.
I must admit it is hard to see how evangelical Trump voters fail to see the hypocrisy in their vote for a man who is the epitome of the immorality their religion stands against. But that is to misunderstand the role religion plays in their life.
Cynically it can be said that for these voters their religion is merely a flag of convenience. It is better seen as their crutch. It serves two purposes. It gives them hope. And it gives them membership to a group of like-minded citizens. In numbers, there is strength. Alone they might be dismissed, but together they count. Call it a political trade union whose dues are placed in the collection plate.
Bearing this in mind, their commitment to xenophobia, racism, and homophobia should be questioned. If evangelical leaders were made of better clay – and preached as Jesus surely would – they would produce a more tolerant congregation. But religious leaders have always known that appealing to man’s base instincts is an easier row to hoe. And infinitely more profitable.
And these mercenary opportunists have no better friend than liberals. Every time some superior coastal dweller sniffs at the stupidity of the unwashed hordes voting against their own interests – the object of their scorn will seek the comfort of the familiar even more strongly.
People are hierarchical and clannish. Humans naturally gravitate to leaders. If the leaders work for good – so do the people. If leaders are evil – that’s where they will take their true believers. And when they get them there, they fleece the flock.