For years, Fox News and the right-wing echo chamber told audiences that “elites” didn’t get “real America.” They’d point to Hollywood stars or progressive politicians, declaring they were out-of-touch with the woes of white, non-college-educated people in small towns and rural locales. White, upper-middle-class conservatives went along for the ride, happy to swipe at liberal media, academia and activist courts.
Elites did them wrong, the guys in the Rust Belt diner told countless reporters (those same “elites,” who seemed so willing to transcribe their complaints). Immigrants were stealing their jobs. (Well, actually there were hardly any immigrants in places most of the viewers lived, and Fox News’s upscale viewers had fine jobs.) The North American Free Trade Agreement stole their jobs, although unemployment rates were falling. Christianity was under attack, although churches and church groups flourished in their neighborhoods. Everyone else — immigrants, journalists, city dwellers, scientists, government workers, college-educated Americans — were somehow part of the elite cabal, out to destroy their way of life.
In fact, we’re all part of “real America.” The victims and the neighborhood that comforted the victims in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill are real Americans. The college-educated women who marched the day after the inauguration and then signed up to help on a campaign or even ran for office themselves are real Americans. The immigrant who runs the corner grocery store, the non-churchgoers, the service workers in big cities, the environmental scientists working to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, the office workers who walk into state and government offices all over the country to help their fellow citizens, the parents of kids who are now scarily sophisticated about mass shootings, and others of every race and ethnicity are all real Americans.
These real Americans, who don’t watch hours of Fox News, figured out long ago that Trump is a pathological liar. They recoil at his overt racism, know dictators always go after the free press, understand basic science, know Russia and Saudi Arabia are run by despots, don’t see Canada as our enemy, recognize that crime is at historically low levels and know actual immigrants personally. What’s more, they vote, and they outnumber the Trump-faithful.
For over two years, Trump and his Fox News helpmates have perpetrated the fraud that only they are the voice of “the people.” That’s what authoritarian regimes and their followers always say. Trump spent two years talking almost exclusively to and for his core group. Sure enough, he can get them out to vote in Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina. But they aren’t a majority of voters nationwide; not even close. His demagoguery, lies, cruelty and incompetence — what his supporters ignore or even relish (he’s our liar!) — the majority, a large majority, of equally real Americans despises.
The 2018 midterm elections are a reminder that presidents and parties have to talk to the whole country. The midterms are also a lesson that victimology only goes so far.
There are true victims in America — opioid addicts, gun victims, sexual assault survivors, cancer patients, victims of police misconduct, children without stable homes. The 70-year-old white male in the top 10 percent of income earners isn’t a victim, no matter what Sean Hannity tells him. You’re not a victim if someone tells you “Happy Holidays” or you hear a “Press 2 for Spanish” option on the phone. You’re not a victim if more and more Americans don’t “look like you”; looking like you has never been a qualification for citizenship. You’re not a victim if gays marry or transgender kids get to use the restroom of their choice at school. The price of living — the requirement of living — in a diverse democracy is tolerance, self-discipline, civility and a minimal amount of civic comprehension.
If Tuesday was about anything, it was a restatement that no American is more real than another. Yes, the majority of Americans are decent, tolerant, fair-minded people, and no one should sink into self-pity and grievance based on their inability to dominate the culture, economy and politics. We are all in this together; we deserve leaders who understand that.