I’ve spent most of the last year thinking – apparently – about the same thing as Hillary Clinton: What happened? How did the United States, fresh off eight years of its first African-American president, the land of changing demographics inexorably becoming browner, gayer, less religious, more liberal on every social issue, elect a man whose ran on a platform of pure nationalism? How did we hand an electoral victory to a man who explicitly wants to turn back the clock to a time that – as near as I can tell – never existed?
For readers who are younger than me – which is increasingly pretty much everyone on the planet – please pay attention to this question; your children and others are going to ask you what it was like to live in this time the same way my kids ask me about the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and 1968.
You could, of course, go out and buy Mrs. Clinton’s book on this topic; it’s a fine albeit look at the question through the eyes of – like it or not – the most qualified candidate to ever run for office. But, at 512 pages, you’ll be a long time getting to the payoff. After reading on this topic for nearly a year, let me offer another suggestion: “The Five Types of Trump Voters: Who They Are and What They Believe” by Emily Elkins.
While you can get through the summary article in 15-20 minutes, I actually spent a couple hours poring over the underlying study. Either way, I fully and enthusiastically recommend to all who – like me – have struggled to understand how anyone could have voted for Mr. Trump and – more relevant to the world we live in today – continues to support him. The analysis undercuts the notion that there’s a single type of Trump voter or a single set of issues that bind them to him. The five categories (and their share of the overall Trump vote) are:
American Preservationists (20%), Staunch Conservatives (31%), Anti-Elites (19%), Free Marketeers (25%), and the Disengaged (5%).
There are detailed descriptions of each type as well as lots of comparative observations. As the analysis notes, the motivations and interests of these subsets diverge substantially; in some cases so much so that they stand in opposition to one another on key Trump issues such as immigration, the travel ban, taxes and more.
Looking at the Trump voters through this sorting hat give some insight into why Mr. Trump has managed to drive his approval ratings to unprecedented lows – no one has gone this low this fast for this long – and why he hasn’t yet gone lower. It also suggests – as much as I hate to admit it – that Mr. Trump’s “throwing red meat to the base” may be a deliberate tactic instead of just the random spasms of a 71-year-old narcissist who can’t control his worst impulses. Racist, hateful divisive tactics but perhaps deliberate ones which suggests to me he can do far, far more damage than he has already.
Perhaps most interesting to me, though, was something not explicitly called out in either the article or the study and that is the size – and breadth – of the segment of the population that appears to be disconnected from the system. When you look at voters on questions like “elections today don’t matter” and “people like me don’t have a say” what jumps out to me is that large numbers of voters for both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton agree with those propositions. I think that augers poorly for our future, particularly if you believe – as I do – that Mr. Trump will inevitably break faith with even his most stalwart supporters.
My fear is that these citizens, betrayed one more time, might conclude – with some justification – that their next-best choice after Trump is the “Fuck it, lets just burn it down” option.
And could you entirely blame them? If I lived in a town hollowed out by economic dislocation, by an opioid crisis and other “diseases of despair,” if my kids’ school was failing and the American dream of a better life for each generation seemed like a bad joke, I might feel exactly the same way. It would be easy to look around you and say, “Yeah, maybe it’ll suck, but this isn’t working for me and mine; I’ll take my chances.”