This column is for Bernard Gibson, a good man from the state of Indiana. Late last month, NPR went out to Vigo County there to explain why it flipped from voting for Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016. Gibson was one of those interviewed, and here is what he said: “These are real people here. These are not New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles. You know, these are real people that live every day from hand to hand, just have to work to make a living and everything else.”
There are some things you ought to know, Mr. Gibson. I served in the Army. I worked at blue-collar jobs. I washed dishes and bused tables. I went to college at night and worked during the day for an insurance company (as the legendary “Cohen of Claims”). My father was raised in an orphanage, and my mother was an immigrant from Poland whose first childhood memory was of hunger. Somehow, despite all of that, I am called a member of the “elite.” If so, I damned well earned it.
I do not mean to pick on Gibson, a real person after all, but I am tired of being told by him and others that I am not quite a genuine American because I did not vote for Trump or because I live on one of the coasts. I want to point out to Gibson that there are more of us than there are of him. At least 2.8 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump. That does not mean Clinton won the election — she lost the electoral college, and that’s what counts — but it is nevertheless true that Clinton was the candidate not just of the limousine set, but of most voters.
After the election, I was repeatedly told that I live in something called a “bubble” and, because of that, I know nothing about my fellow Americans. Well, in the first place, my bubble is bigger than theirs — size ought to matter in this instance — and in the second place, I know plenty. Among the things I know is that Trump voters were played for suckers. After lambasting Clinton as a tool of Wall Street, Trump has so far named four Wall Street figures to his administration — three from Goldman Sachs alone — and an oilman is under consideration. And for the Labor Department, Trump has chosen Andrew Puzder, a fast-food magnate (Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.) who is opposed to a decent minimum wage. This is fast shaping up as a Cabinet of billionaires and, just for leveling, the occasional millionaire. So far, ain’t no one who works with his hands.
Ever since the days of Jefferson and Madison and their veneration of “yeoman farmers” (some of whom owned slaves), we have been a bit gaga over our rural cousins, associating acreage with wisdom. Whatever the case, Americans have so totally fled the farm that now only 2 percent of us till the legendary fields. The country has not had a rural majority since 1920. Nevertheless, our electoral system favors the country mouse. The city mouse can vote or not vote — it often amounts to the same thing.
As it happens, Mr. Gibson, I have plenty of sympathy for typical Trump voters. (I exclude the alt-right and other menaces to the public good, such as Rudy Giuliani.) I have written about cultural dislocation and I understand the corrosive effect of diminished expectations. Clinton talked about the glass ceiling, but too many American workers — or former workers — had to contend with a cement one: jobs that were gone and not coming back. We in the bubble understand. Truly, we do.
But I will not concede that a greater wisdom exists in what is known as “flyover country.” It has voted for a charlatan, a blinged ignoramus who has promised the past as the future. Trump, who lives in a gilded bubble of his own, cannot reverse automation, replace robots with people or blunt American businesses’ compulsive search for the cheapest workforce.
Gibson is one thing. I understand. What I cannot understand is fellow bubble dwellers who tell me, with an air of impeccable condescension, that a vote for Trump was such proof of their own superior wisdom that it eclipsed all doubts about his qualifications, his temperament, his honesty in business and his veracity in speech. These people live in a bubble of their own. It is one that excludes the lesson of history and the demands of common sense. It will burst.
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