I wrote this letter two days after Donald Trump was elected President, attempting to grapple with what I and most friends and family saw as a national crisis. But our anger at the results seemed to be ripping the country even further apart; it felt like an urgent moment to empathize and seek common cause.
Since writing this, I’ve been teetering between the view stated below—that the best intentions of many Trump voters (pro-labor, anti-inequality, etc.) merit attention, not shame—and the counterpoint that these voters’ tolerance of their candidate’s racism, misogyny, and xenophobia is a loud and clear endorsement of white male supremacy, with little to do with economics.
This letter makes no attempt to defend or normalize Trump’s and his voters’ victimization of marginalized groups. It is a message from the left—and to the left—that we can and must understand Trump voters’ concerns without assuming they’re tainted with bigotry. Without that, we will remain stuck. – KM 11/15/16
Dear Trump voters,
I hear you.
I was a Bernie Sanders supporter until he lost and, locked into Democratic Party logic and finding her a qualified candidate, I lined up behind Hillary Clinton. I believed her and Bernie when, at the DNC in Philadelphia, they said they’d worked together to lay out the most progressive economic agenda in party history. I believed, perhaps naively, that Hillary had heard the call for revolution and was ready to take on Wall Street, prioritize American jobs in our trade deals, and stand for the rights and dignity of American workers.
It was obvious that these issues struck a nerve in our country. And to me (this I guess is where I lived too deep in my bubble) it also seemed obvious that either Democrat would be more qualified to combat economic inequality than a billionaire-at-birth real estate mogul who has robbed his contractors, who hadn’t paid income income tax in 20 years, and who had spent his entire career making life harder for working Americans. As I accept Donald Trump as our next President, it is this irony—that Trump became the figurehead for a people’s movement of which he should be enemy, to which he only paid self-promoting lip service—that cuts the deepest.
But I hear you, and we all should. For years, D.C. Democrats have all but pretended that an immense, suffering sector of the American public either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist. (Republicans haven’t done much better, and the GOP should join Democrats in taking Trump’s triumph as a repudiation.) Washington has been working with the best intentions—to combat climate change, to stimulate the global economy, to promote international relations and peace via trade, to reduce costs for American consumers—but in many cases, the Americans who became Trump’s electorate were seen more as obstacles than as opportunities. Time and time again they were asked to take the hit in the name of an American progress that had yet to arrive in their counties.
I see now how wrong it was for us to write you off as racists, sexists, and bigots and demand that you show empathy for disadvantaged communities when we showed no empathy for the disadvantages we’d foisted on you. You were drowning, and when a man we deplored threw you a rope, we cursed you for climbing aboard.
We’ve been smug, our good intentions unaccompanied by empathy. You spoke, and I hear you.
But I’m not letting you off my hook, and nor should you let the President-elect off yours.
Your campaign cared deeply about the American people and vowed to renew working class prosperity, create and preserve American jobs, and have our nation’s wealthiest people pay their fair share. Many of us who voted for Hillary, believe it or not, share these goals. So can we work together to make sure this happens?
Your campaign was not inherently racist or sexist, just because its leader undeniably spoke and acted as such. So can we work together to ensure that racist and sexist laws are not passed, that racist or sexist Supreme Court Justices are not appointed, and that the advancement of American greatness does not discriminate?
Your campaign planned to clamp down on immigration in an effort to preserve the American economy and our security. I understand why this appears to make sense: that immigrants allegedly take American jobs, and that our immigration and border policies allegedly let in terrorists and criminals without proper vetting. I see where you are coming from and why you are concerned, but immigration is where Trump’s plans are at greatest risk of backfiring. Regarding the economy, immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes, create new businesses and jobs at a higher rate than American citizens, and provide labor for industries like agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and hospitality which the US-born workforce has fled in droves, allowing these industries to remain in our country. Regarding security, as already seen in the US and Europe, tougher immigration and border policies only create new routes for immigrants and human traffickers that are more difficult to regulate and more conducive to crime; invasive policing of immigrant communities only erodes trust and civic participation, breeding an environment of hostility and creating more crime than is prevented. On immigration, I hear you, but I urge you to exercise caution. Although Trump convincingly billed harsh immigration policy as crucial to his vision of American prosperity, beware; it risks being the flaw in his plan that undermines the rest.
I hear and completely respect the worries and frustrations for which you elected Trump to the White House, and I will urge my fellow Hillary voters to show the same respect. But neither of our battles is over yet. Will you keep fighting to make sure President Trump acts wisely to create American jobs and prosperity? Then I will fight with you. Will you stand against the influence of big money in politics and to make sure that the rich pay their fair share? Then I will stand with you. Will you watch to make sure that these reforms benefit people of all races, all religions, all sexual identities? I will be watching with you.
We have heard you, but don’t call it victory yet. The hardest battles are still to come. This will be Donald Trump’s first time in politics. For the next four years, he is going to need the attention, the input, and the high standards of the American people in order to do his job right.
Smugness, complacency, and lack of empathy didn’t work for us. I vow not to repeat that mistake. Will you vow the same?