Trump voters deserve understanding and consideration — but not more than any other Americans
Attention Democrats and the media
As the Trump administration somersaults from scandal to screw-up to snafu, a subgenre of political reporting has emerged in which journalists from those coastal elite news organizations head back to the heartland to check in with Trump's voters. There they inevitably find that the people who a few months ago had Trump signs on their lawns and "Make America Great Again" hats on their heads are — you'll never believe this — still supportive of Trump.
Here's a recent example from Politico, in which a reporter heads to Terre Haute, Indiana, to find that "folks are still buzzing" about Trump's win. "And the grist of the coastal media's hot takes? The lies, the fumbles, and faux pas that have rattled the D.C. establishment and global allies? None of it seems to resonate here." No sir, Trump fans are hanging with him. Which tells us...what, exactly? That voters don't turn on a candidate they supported the moment he runs into trouble? Stop the presses.
It all has the feel of an act of penance, as news organizations try to make up for what they supposedly "missed" during the campaign, the anger and resentment that drove Trump's victory. But here's the thing: The media didn't actually miss much. We absolutely got where his support was coming from. We wrote hundreds and hundreds of stories about it. We certainly didn't predict that he'd assemble the perfect combination of votes in the Midwest to reach an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote — but almost everyone got that wrong. Even Trump himself seemed shocked by his win.
But didn't we misunderstand the beating heart of Trump's coalition, the white working-class voters who felt left behind by a changing culture and a changing economy? Give me a break. Forget Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads — there has never been a demographic group more poked, prodded, profiled, investigated, and listened to than those white working-class voters. For months you couldn't pick up a newspaper or turn on a cable news channel without hearing all about them.
Yet news organizations continue to be gripped by the feeling that they have something to make up for when it comes to these voters. Conservative accusations that the news media has a liberal bias may be overblown, but this is one thing liberals and journalists share: the belief that they're out of touch with "real" America. So even after innumerable stories about Trump voters, journalists still feel like there's more wisdom to be gleaned by heading somewhere in the Rust Belt or the South or anywhere else where Trump did well, and talking to some white people about why they still love Trump.
Likewise, Democrats are asking themselves how they can more effectively "reach out" to the voters who rejected them. It's an old Democratic disease, the desire to be loved by the voters who hate you the most. We heard it after John Kerry lost, and after Al Gore lost, and after Michael Dukakis lost. Every time Democrats lose, some in their party say it was because they were "out of touch" with whites in the South and Midwest.
But they don't need to "reach out" to them by changing the actual things Democrats advocate, because if you're a working-class person, there's only one party looking out for your interests. It's the one that advocates a higher minimum wage, and stronger worker protections, and greater access to health coverage, and more spending on public schools, and affordable college. The fact that a substantial portion of the electorate doesn't grasp that, or decides other things are more important, leads some to believe that if Democrats were only better at showmanship in the heartland — a few more hunting trips and appearances at stock car races, say — then the problem would be solved. And yet somehow, the most electorally successful Democrat of the last half-century was a black guy from Chicago with the middle name "Hussein."
Now don't get me wrong: There's nothing wrong with politicians reaching out to anyone and everyone, and journalists should certainly pay attention to the minority of Americans who voted for Trump. But if they really want to understand them, they should report on how those voters and their communities are actually being affected by the Trump administration's policies. See if they're getting scammed by credit card companies more when the Republicans eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Document what happens to their health care and their finances when the Affordable Care Act gets repealed. Check to see if Trump succeeds in bringing back all those coal mining jobs he promised.
One thing we don't need, however, is more specialized, value-free "empathy." Trump's voters deserve understanding and consideration — but not more than any other Americans.