Talking to Trump Supporters


W.J. Astore

Is it possible to talk to working-class supporters of Donald Trump?  Of course it is.  It’s just that Democrats from Hillary Clinton’s crowd have a very difficult time reaching across the social, economic, and cultural divide that often separates them from Trump’s (often reluctant) supporters.

This lesson came home to me in Arlie Hochschild’s recent article for  Arlie got to know Mike Schaff, a man whose home in the bayou of Louisiana was poisoned by an environmental disaster at the hands of big oil.  Despite this, Mike Schaff remains deeply skeptical of government oversight and says he wants to eliminate agencies like the EPA that help to prevent environmental damage.

Despite his bitter experience with corporate malfeasance, Schaff remains unsympathetic to the Democratic Party and its arguments for more government intervention in the name of protecting ordinary citizens from harm.  Schaff, in short, believes in individualism, hard work, and self-reliance, as well as working together with his neighbors in small communities.  He doesn’t buy the argument that big government is his friend.  He doesn’t want to be seen as dependent on welfare and other government handouts.  He mostly wants to be left alone, even as he professes belief in Trump’s sentiment that America needs to be made “great again,” in part by a government led by Trump.

I think I understand part of what drives Mike Schaff.  The “do-gooder” liberal Democrats don’t speak his language.  Their reliance on regulations, lawyers, and bureaucracy makes him feel out of sorts, inferior, even dumb.  Their talk about “victims” and government “rescuers” turns him off, even though he himself is a victim of an environmental disaster.  But the point is that he doesn’t see himself as a victim.  He sees himself as a self-reliant man, a man working through a tough time, getting by with a little help from his friends, with no need of help from the Suits in Washington.

A confession: I’m not the most mechanical guy (though I fix small stuff), but around a guy like Mike Schaff, a man who welds and spends his time constantly tinkering with machines, I’d feel a bit uncomfortable.  I’m used to slinging words, just as he’s used to working physically, with his hands.

But I could hang with him.  I did my time in the military.  I come from a working-class family.  I know guys like Mike Schaff.  I can empathize with him.  I can speak his language.

The message of politicians like Hillary Clinton will not resonate with Mike.  Guys like Mike prefer plain-speak.  Making America great again — hell ya, it’s about time!  As cynical and opportunistic as Trump may be, his message of self-reliance, his blunt talk, his braggadocio, and his calls for action (no matter how stupid) do resonate with Mike, even if his pro-corporate policies will only aggravate Mike’s situation.

What ever happened to tough democrats who could talk to guys like Mike?  Even Joe Biden, despite his hardscrabble Scranton origins, doesn’t quite fit.

Joe Bageant was great at this — his book “Deer Hunting with Jesus” told the story of a liberal gun-owning Southerner who lived the life of men (and women) like Mike Schaff.  But sadly Bageant died a few years ago.  (For some articles I’ve written about Bageant, see here and here and here.)

If Hillary Clinton loses in November, a big reason why will be that she simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) speak the language of working-class Americans, people like Mike Schaff.

5 thoughts on “Talking to Trump Supporters

  1. is Mike Schaff part of a dying breed? or is he just one of various kinds of Trump supporters? politicians need government as do citizens…what we need to do is change how we let the politicians control who runs for office, for how long etc….there is not enough competition…two party system is great for politicians but works against the interests of ordinary citizens.


    1. As much as possible, we need to get big money out of politics. Even decent men and women are corrupted by the need for constant money-grubbing in the name of winning elections. Public financing of campaigns is the answer.


  2. The great irony in this election is that Hillary Clinton represents the status quo stagnation while the majority of poor support her. She receives most of the corporate donations, mainstream media predominately support her including the TV network news “reporters” and of course academia. The most revealing and damaging charge against the mainstream media is their bias and lack of ethics by allowing Hillary Clinton’s dismal national record to be hidden and shielded. The mainstream media bashes Trump 24/7 while neglecting her damaging record in public office. Has academia neglected and abandoned ethics and fairness and facts in exchange for money and power? In reality, elected politicians are directly or indirectly involved in choosing many presidents of universities and dictate the flow of government funds to them.

    We have a system of elites, by elites and for elites without regard to race or religion. It is the American people who are bearing the brunt of a failing economy, failing educational system for too many throughout the United States, failed immigration policies that have added too much crime, chaos and economic burden to the nation and mismanagement of government resources well beyond waste, fraud and abuse. Between the Iraq War and the Wall Street meltdown and bailout (which is still affecting the economy negatively with near zero saving interest rates) the elites have failed the nation as our national media is mute. Empires and nations rise and fall; it is possible ours will have fallen the fastest. A mixture of hubris, arrogance, elitism, favoritism and lack of ethics have driven the political leadership of both parties guiding the ship of state directly into a crash. Those generations of leaders ineptly and ignorantly forged the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. They forged the Wall Street meltdown and bailout with profligate and harmful legislation. They have forged a distorted and belligerent foreign policy. They are the status quo.


    1. As you know, Henry, I’m no fan of Hillary. But that doesn’t mean I can vote for Trump. He’s a reckless narcissist whose idea of “service” is personal profit.

      Libertarian or Green are good alternatives. Why not?


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