Understanding Trump Supporters in America’s Suburbs
The need to belong and to be valued sometimes surpasses our instinctual need to survive, as seen by suicide bombers who are willing to kill themselves in order to belong and be accepted by the group to which they are a member of (that also partially explains why some Trump supporters are willing to risk their lives by not wearing a mask in order to feel they belong. To feel strong, powerful and free). Sometimes, the need for belonging and value motivates our actions more than our economic needs. That is what the liberals/progressives/the Left need to acknowledge and understand if they are really concerned about well-being of all people and want to represent them.
If we look closely, we will see that at a large scale, those with less money/income are seen as less than those with money and higher income; those who are un-/less educated are valued less than the educated; blue-collar workers are looked upon as less than white-collar workers even though in reality their jobs are more essential as we have seen during the pandemic; those who believe in God (and not science) are seen as un-intelligent and sometimes stupid. Those in the suburbs are made to feel less than by the way they are portrayed on TV and in media (sitcoms, movies, etc.). Their belief in family values is somehow seen restrictive and opposite of individual freedom and choice. For many, their jobs have been taken away from them and outsourced. Everything about them conveys a sense of less than specially when compared to liberal values; hence their allegiance to Republican party and now Trump. Even though no party has really cared about their economic well-being, at least the conservative party reflects their values to some extent and fulfills their basic human need for mirroring. Furthermore, they have a deep fear of communism/socialism both because of the cold war, and because of their association with communism/socialism taking away their freedom to practice their religion; which is one of the few things giving their lives meaning and value to some extent. Hence, their preference for Republican party over Democrats, since democrats are associated with government control.
Conversely, we liberals might feel we are better than those “conservatives in Middle America” because we consider ourselves more educated; more open minded; more liberal; and our opinions and beliefs being based on facts and science (or at least that is what we think). We feel valued because of where we live, what we wear and because we somewhat match the images on the screen. We also believe we value others by “fighting” for and believing in social and economic justice not just for ourselves but also for others. What we don’t realize is while we want equality for everyone, deep down we look down on the conservatives and don’t see them as equal. We look down on those who “still” believe in God and go to church. We look down on those who are less educated. We might look down on those whose appearance doesn’t match the ideals portrayed on screen. The truth is: different labels have different values and “their” labels don’t really add up to have much value, if we are honest with ourselves.
To understand what I am trying to convey, imagine Trump has been announced the winner of the 2020 election. How do you feel in your gut? Do you feel fear? What are you afraid of? What do you think would be lost in your own day-to-day life (putting your concerns for social justice and environment aside)? What does it mean to you that the other side has won? What values are you afraid will be lost? Do you feel less valuable yourself and not belonging because the other party has won?
Now imagine, Biden is announced the winner and Trump leaves the office peacefully. For a moment put yourself in the shoes of a man/woman living in the suburbs of “Middle America”. Imagine you have been brought up with Christian values. You have a simple life and working hard to put food on the table for yourself and your family. However, there has been nothing reflected in the larger society that has ever indicated your life is valued. How do you think that person would feel hearing the news? Would they feel fear? What would they be afraid of? How can they protect their values which neither Democrats nor urban/liberal folks seem to care about? What hopes can they have? Liberals might care about economic justice, sure. But, do liberals REALLY value them and consider them as equal? Can someone living in the suburbs of America and having “conservative” values feel they belong to the Democratic party?
Trump being the evil genius (the phrase coined by Michael Moore) that he is, uses simple adjectives that gives his supporters hope; no fancy words and no plans. A similar technique was used by George W. Bush during his presidency. Even though, Trump’s life style does not mirror the lifestyle of his supporters in the suburbs and their values by any stretch of imagination, Trump gives his supporters a sense of power by standing up to the (corrupt) establishment. Unfortunately, most of us listen to and watch what strengthens our already existing beliefs and tendencies; while social media and internet search algorithms feed us news and information based on our previous search history and what interests us, strengthening yet again our deeply held tendencies. That is part of the reason why, Trump supporters do not believe what the liberals say about Trump, and think those are fake news. At the same time, they have their own channels (Fox) that supports and strengthens their tendencies the same way liberals might believe everything they hear on CNN and MSNBC. Can you really blame Trump supporters for not trusting the news they hear, when most news stations don’t really question the corruption in the establishment?
Confronted with a choice, whom would you vote for if you lived in the suburbs of Middle America? Someone with more than 40 years of service in the establishment whose party and their liberal values don’t really represent you, or someone with less than 4 years in the office who is standing up to those who have been in power ever since you remember and gives you a sense of empowerment, belonging and hope?
Would you call them names, if they vote for Trump?