“That’s why I voted for Trump” and other sad truths from the other side

While waiting for an oil change yesterday, I was privy to a conversation, one that occurred between people who aren’t, shall we say, part of my political spectrum. I really didn’t pay any particular attention until, at the end of a stream of disjointed and unproven observations, one participant said “That’s why I voted for Trump.”

He was a middle-aged black man, and I never learned whether he was a customer or a worker. I do know that in Trump’s world he would have been, by virtue of his skin color, unqualified to run for office (e.g. Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum), and yet….

Today he will vote for Bob Stefanowski, a Trump acolyte.

This middle-aged black man, who seemed apolitical and genuinely concerned about his civic duty, provided another wake-up call: Trump’s message, and on a local level Bob Stefanowski’s message, are getting through. The other man in the conversation, white and probably about the same age, cited job growth and Connecticut’s taxes. He did not say he was voting for Stefanowski, but he will. And if he didn’t vote for Trump two years ago, I’d be shocked.

For both of them the messages got through because they were clear and simple: Trump has created jobs; Stefanowski will cut taxes.

There’s no denying that Trump’s imagined immigrant crisis is having its effect, nor would it make sense to discount the efforts and enthusiasm of the pro-life contingent; but the simplest issues resonate. Neither man seemed interested in the proliferation of greenhouse gases or the Saudi genocide in Yemen. They may not have liked the separation of immigrant children from their mothers, but they wouldn’t be thinking about that in the voting booth. 

Coincidentally, the TV was on at the time, and shortly after the conversation ended, a Bob Stefanowski ad played—the one where he promises to cut taxes and bring back jobs. Anyone can say that: the trick is doing so without eviscerating the services that provide a decent quality of life for the greatest number of people. Beyond the soundbites, government is difficult. Unfortunately, we live in a sphere of soundbites.

“Make America Great Again.” Simple. Easy to remember. Abbreviate it and it fits on a hat. Say it often enough and people begin to believe it. Just don’t mention that the “great” America of Trump’s recollection was straight and white, church-going and English speaking. We don’t live in that country anymore, and neither do the 42 million black citizens, the 119 million Hispanics, the 250 million who don’t attend church regularly, and the some 15 million who identify as LGBTQ. Still, it’s mindlessly optimistic to believe that many of those millions will not vote for the Trump candidate today.

Yes the Democrats are emphasizing health care, a noble and vital cause, but “When You Have Your Health You Have Everything” doesn’t fit on a hat. Nor does WYHYHYHE resonate (though we may hear a sound like that from many Democrats if today goes sideways).

I was slightly more optimistic about the elections before that chance encounter. I still have hope of course, but even in this state where we progressives are usually blasé about voting because we always win, there’s a very good chance that the simplicity of the opposing message, and voters’ unwillingness or inability to parse it, may defeat us: the complexity of the issues may do us in, regardless of race, creed, or anything else.

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