Two previous articles encouraged centrist progressives and left wing liberals to pay more attention to what right wing tea party types and Trump supporters are saying, at a level deeper than bumper sticker soundbites, to better understanding what is going on among a significant portion of our population. I’m particularly interested in our own little corner of the nation, the rural intermountain West, where anti-government candidates are elected and reelected with ease, even though the policies they endorse weaken the social and physical infrastructure of the quality of life their supporters desire to have.
For more centrist candidates (both left and right) to win elections and stay elected, their supporters need more empathy (I detest that word, but it’s useful here) for what the right wing base wants and is worried about. When you get past the ill informed and often deeply prejudiced soundbites they’ve picked up from talk radio and Fox News, there can be something worth listening to. That’s going to take some doing. Left of center activists in our region are so used to being vastly outnumbered that they tend to isolate themselves behind walls of supercilious contempt for the unenlightened masses. Moreover, they are content to blast away at far right soundbites with gobs of undigestible data the right has learned to dismiss as mere propaganda. It has all the dignity of a middle school food fight. What progressives need to do is dig deeper to find out what’s down there.
This article is an attempt to push a little harder in that direction, and is based on conversations with a half dozen friends who are on the tea party side of things, including their intention to vote for Trump. All are men. For the most part they are sons of families who have been in the region for generations, and they are deeply rooted in the land and the culture of the pioneer myth. All have some college education, each is in a profession requiring substantial formal education and advanced technical training. In other words, they are smart, capable, and proficient in their fields. Moreover, because I know them as friends I know that they have deep desire for the good of the community. They are men who were raised to believe in personal responsibility, independence, and pride about making it in life without the need of government handouts, at least not handouts in the form of welfare payments.
Forget about the candidates now running, I said, and tell me about what you want in a president. What are the characteristics of a president you could support. Hight on the list is a president who is not owned by corporate lobbyists and big money donors. They want someone (preferably a white man) who is in debt to no one but the people who elect him.
They want someone who believes in the primacy of personal responsibility, who will cut off those who “ride the welfare system.” They don’t mind a helping hand to get someone out of a hole, but they don’t believe in making it a source of permanent income. They don’t know how much of that is going on, but they’ve been told it’s a lot, and they believe the dominant ethos of the country has changed from responsibility for self to dependency on others.
Recent presidents, they say, have a history of going off half-cocked taking the country into places it does not belong, against the better counsel of qualified advisors. They want a president who will listen to the experts who know about war, foreign alliances, trade and the like. Maybe presidents should be required to have had military service.
Speaking of the military, veterans have been abused by a system and nation that doesn’t care enough to care for them when they come home. The nation needs a president who will make proper care for veterans one of his highest priorities.
Immigration reform must be taken seriously. They’ve had enough of illegal immigrants living their dream on the backs of tax paying Americans. Yes, they understand and have sympathy for those who want a better life here, but we have to be in control of our borders.
In like manner, they want a president who will favor law enforcement over criminals, and justice for all rather than justice just for Blacks and other minorities.
God, in a generic Christian way, is important to them, and they want God to be important to the president also. That means a president who will favor public expressions of faith such as school prayer, prayer before public assemblies, and presidential celebration of traditional religious holidays as religious.
Yes, they want a president who will honor the Second Amendment, and who believes as they do that armed law abiding citizens protect themselves, each other, and the nation against the possibility of tyranny. Moreover, the Second Amendment stands for all their liberties that are threatened by the intrusion into their lives of government power in particular ways. For some it’s being forced to buy health insurance, for others it’s over regulation of farming and forestry practices, for others it’s mandates about education, and so on. It depends on how they make their living, or what part of community life they are a part of.
That means they want a president who will not tolerate entrenched bureaucracies, who will eliminate the inefficiency of overlapping, contradictory regulations enforced by paper pushers who know little about the businesses they are regulating, and don’t care about customer service.
They are keenly aware that the place of the white male as the ideal representative of the true American citizen is fading, that his place as the principal decider and provider is eroding, and they don’t like it. Men like them have led the country for almost 250 years. We are the great nation that we are because of men like them. Men like them have brought us through two world wars and kept us safe. But men like them were from previous generations. Their generation has not done as well, and they know it. It’s galling, humiliating, and damnit, they don’t want to lose any more than has already been lost to others who have so little claim to the heritage that should be theirs. You work hard. You do the right thing. And what do you get? Kicked in the gut by people who don’t do the right thing and haven’t done the hard work.
When you get past the right wing talk radio inspired trash talk, and ignore the distorted information on which they rely, what they want out of a presidential candidate, indeed out of any major office candidate, has real value. In fact there is an entire menu of values that are either shared with more progressive candidates, or for which progressive candidates can have respect if not share in the same way. Articulating that in simple, understandable terms is the only way progressive candidates are ever going to begin wining elections around here. And winning progressive candidates, whether leaning left or leaning right, are the only way our region and nation can begin the process of seeking a new path to middle class opportunity and stability that will include my right wing friends.
There is only one desire they are going to have to cede. The days of white male supremacy are over. For power and position they will have to compete on a playing field less tilted in their favor. That’s going to be a hard one because, raised as they were in the culture of the rural intermountain West, they are unaware of, and cannot conceive of, a playing field that has ever been tilted in their favor.