- Trump has become a channel that enabled them to vent their own fears and biases without having to feel bad about themselves. Trump exonerated their own guilt to move away from the values that Americans held dear for centuries.
During our family road trips to New York and Washington D.C., we always drove by Pennsylvania. I always admired the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and the rolling hills around it. However, I never thought I will be in PA one day, actually knocking doors of American voters for the Presidential campaign. And yet, today, here I am in Reading, PA walking from one neighborhood to the other talking to voters about the most critical election in my lifetime on Nov 3rd, 2020.
Pennsylvanian neighborhoods and their political affiliations remind me of salt and pepper. When one neighbor has a big Biden sign on their yard, the next door has one for Trump. When one enters a small street, if the first half shares their loyalty to Biden’s values, the next half shares their frustration about us even knocking their doors. We knocked doors on the highly populated neighborhoods in the city as well as secluded farm homes in the wooded suburban areas. When the city dwellers had mixed thoughts towards Biden and Trump, people in the wooded areas were very clear about their loyalty to Trump. As a qualitative researcher myself, I became very curious about the core issues that bothered Pennsylvanian neighborhoods. Hence, I tried to engage as much as I can with people irrespective of their loyalty. Let me share some tough conversations I have had before I share my views.
A Hispanic woman loyal to Trump: “I am sorry that I will be voting for Trump because Biden supports abortion.” I share Biden’s policies on abortion and asks her views on children being separated at the border areas. She responds that they are illegal migrants who shouldn’t have been here anyways with their kids. Her lack of compassion for the living babies in contrast to the unborn broke my heart. Yet, I was respectful and so she shared her truth with me. She believes that “God has chosen Trump” despite all his craziness to protect Israel just the way it is narrated in the Bible. Although I shared how the U.S.-Israel partnership had been steadfast much before Trump, it fell on deaf ears. I wished her a good day and moved on with a heavy heart about the misinformation people hold in their minds and how it translates into actual votes that count!
A white woman in her 60s from a middle income neighborhood. “Biden is a pedophile and I can never support him.” I share with her what a family man he is and how he makes sure he calls each of his grandkids everyday as well as his genuine compassion for human beings in general. She didn’t believe it and we bid farewell to each other’s thoughts.
A white woman from an upper middle class neighborhood in the woody suburbs. She was well versed with the policies. She shared that she is voting for the security of her country. Trump is not great but not as dangerous as Biden whose son has strong ties with Communist China as evident from the laptop confiscated by the FBI. I politely listened to it all and asked what she thinks about Trump’s collusion with Russia, which was almost proven by non-partisan civil servants who were intimidated to even testify before the Senate. She was very clear that those were allegations created by media, which was disproved by the FBI. Trump’s tax payment of $750 was also an allegation, she says, since he pays millions of dollars through other ways. Although Trump has his issues, but his economic policies have immensely uplifted people. She couldn’t imagine a “progressive person” like Kamala Harris even having a remote possibility of becoming the future President, lest such an event occurs during her Vice Presidency. She shared that all the values the country believed in and was founded on would be destroyed under a Biden-Harris presidency. Finally, she blamed it all on the media that wouldn’t tell the truth about Trump and wouldn’t give credit to anything he does. We engaged positively and agreed to respectfully disagree.
A white man in his early 50s. “I vote for Trump because he is so real. He speaks his mind and people sometimes misinterpret it. He cares so much about black people and invites them to his White House. Biden makes racist comments about Black people always. My father and I vote for Trump because he cares about everyone”
A middle aged woman from a low income neighborhood living in a public housing shared that she will vote for Trump because of the money he gave her – “The Trump stimulus check.” She is so happy that he is going to give her another one. I enlightened her that it was House Democrats who had to recommend and passed it in the Senate. It is not his personal check for her because he cares for her as a person in dire need. Biden is focusing on middle class and families that are facing financial crises while Trump is supporting his wealthy friends. However, the “Trump” name on the check, for which he delayed the whole stimulus for the country is definitely winning him another vote from her.
The reason why I narrated my tough conversations with Trump voters than my zillion happy conversations with Biden voters is to show how misinformation plays a big role in this election. Whether truth matters or not has become a blurry question. I almost fell into an existential crisis thinking about how Trump’s blatant simplification of complex issues into “false facts” has been so shrewdly targeted at the audience that do not want to think beyond what they wish to believe. How his egotistic beliefs resonated with so many voters who found a platform to justify their own prejudices towards issues that they never thought they could express. Trump became a channel that enabled them to vent their own fears and biases without having to feel bad about themselves. Trump exonerated their own guilt to move away from the values that Americans held dear for centuries. When each Trump voter is ready to overlook the Russian collusion of their President, predatory behavior towards women, dispassion towards living babies separated from their parents at the borders, and any remote allegation about him, they are ready to pounce on the only straw against Biden, which is discovery of a laptop that supposedly proves a Chinese conspiracy.
One thing I noticed is the intensity of anger and frustration among the Trump voters. It was beyond a normal ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats. It was not an anger towards Biden as a person. It was an anger towards a scenario where they may lose the familiar world that they knew before. It was an anger towards fighting for the little that they felt belong to them exclusively. The openness and inclusiveness of Biden-Harris threatened their existence somehow. No one ever talked to me about fracking or losing jobs, but what they cared about is Trump knows ‘us’ and will not include the ‘other’. The anger was because they were losing their grounds within their own families and within their communities. Trump’s ‘othering’ of communities was not gaining momentum anymore because individuals who are supporting Trump are being challenged by their own kith and kin in their own homes and neighborhoods. They are now less capable of justifying Trump’s zillion misdeeds and in one way they are coming to terms with a bitter truth — it is not Trump that they are protecting, but their own fears of the ‘other’ and Trump is merely an excuse to ‘exclude the other’ audaciously in a legitimate manner.
At the end, after a few days of existential crisis, today I will walk towards many homes with renewed confidence. The world is indeed a better place. Human beings crave for good hearts. Those youngsters within the homes of Trump voters are challenging their own moms and dads and brothers and sisters and uncovering the prejudices and masks behind which they have been hiding all these years. Despite heated discussions on the dining rooms, people are coming to a middle ground slowly. The Indian motto of “Satyameva Jayate” rings louder than ever. Come what may, “Truth alone will triumph” at the end of the day.
Litcy Kurisinkal is a Research Consultant focusing on Human rights issues. Her research areas include Child rights, Labor rights, Migrant rights, and Civil and Political rights in democracy. She has worked as the External Research Support for the UN Special Rapporteur on Sale of children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. She has conceptualized the “Real time Crisis Tracker” and Global Mapping research project to create a visually accessible global database on commercial exploitation of children. She has worked on various research projects for the International organizations such as UNI Global on labor rights, CARAM_Asia – UNDP projects on migrant laborers and Health rights, Clean Clothes Campaign, Catholic Relief Services in Benin (Africa) and Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s Global March against Child Labor in India. She is a Public Policy Graduate from Harvard Kennedy School in Harvard University and a Mathematics Graduate from Delhi University. She has won the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Paper Prize in 2013. “