I’m talking about the opaque and inscrutable Joe Biden voter, of course.
After Donald Trump won in 2016, the media and academia embarked on a numbingly comprehensive sociological and anthropological examination of “the Trump voter.” Reporters and researchers swarmed what seemed like every bereft factory town in the industrial Midwest, every hill and hollow of Appalachia, every windswept farming community throughout the Great Plains. I’m pretty sure television crews did, in fact, bring us reports from every single diner in the contiguous United States — at least, those where at least one regular patron wears overalls.
Never mind that nearly 3 million more of us voted against Trump four years ago; no one seemed terribly interested in our inner lives, our hopes and dreams. This time, however, the gap is too big to ignore — Biden, the president-elect, beat Trump by more than 6 million votes and counting. He won back the heartland of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He won Georgia, for heaven’s sake.
Logically, then, we should put aside those dog-eared copies of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and subject “the Biden voter” to the same kind of microscopic scrutiny. Venture out of your bubble, Trump supporters, and try to understand how most of America thinks.
African Americans were Biden’s most avid and loyal supporters, giving him 87 percent of their votes, according to exit polls. To understand the backstories of those Black voters in cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — whom Trump is now trying his best to disenfranchise — you might start by reading “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Isabel Wilkerson’s magisterial opus charts the Great Migration in the first half of the 20th century, which brought millions of African Americans from the South to the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest.
If you’re more of an audiovisual learner, scroll through your streaming service until you find one of the film adaptations of the seminal plays by August Wilson, who lived and wrote in Pittsburgh — “The Piano Lesson,” say, or “Fences.” (The most recent Wilson production, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” starring Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, won’t be available for streaming for another few weeks.) Alternatively, you could just listen to the transcendental music of the incomparable saxophonist John Coltrane, who was born in North Carolina and moved to Philadelphia as a teenager.
Biden lost overall among White voters, but his big gains among college-educated Whites who live in the prosperous suburbs of major cities nationwide may have been decisive. These voters, many of whom had benefited from Trump’s tax cuts, seem to have simply been appalled at Trump’s behavior in office.
To understand White suburbanites who were disgusted by Trump’s naked racism — his reaction to Charlottesville, his refusal after the George Floyd killing to say the words “Black lives matter” — you might dive into scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” which has become a must-read in many of those circles. To experience the pain and anger many suburban voters felt about Trump’s policy of ripping children from the arms of their asylum-seeking parents along the southern border, I’d recommend “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy” by Jacob Soboroff, a correspondent for NBC News (where I am a frequent contributor).
Craving a mind-meld with those White voters whose driving impulse for choosing Biden may have been a more generalized horror at Trump’s unfitness to serve as president, there are, of course, the mega-selling fly-on-the-wall accounts “Rage” and “Fear” by my longtime Post colleague Bob Woodward. For a slightly different perspective, the psychological portrait by the president’s niece Mary L. Trump, “Too Much and Never Enough,” is incisive and harrowing.
To supplement your reading, you could rewatch pretty much any episode of “Saturday Night Live” from the Trump era. And if you want to know what peak anti-Trump outrage sounds and feels like, John Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight” takes you there and beyond.
If Trump supporters want to understand why Trump’s margin of support declined, albeit just modestly, among voters 65 and older nationwide, they can visit any of the media websites that track the covid-19 pandemic. Imagine how many of these older voters will have to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas without seeing their grandchildren except via FaceTime or Zoom.