Brooks’s piece attempts to explain to a perplexed urban resident why Trump’s supporters in Middle America still back him, despite his being involved in actions Democrats deem so duplicitous that they’ve launched an impeachment inquiry.
In one exchange, “Flyover Man” explains his support for Trump.
Urban Guy: I hope you read the rough transcript of that Trump phone call with the Ukrainian president. Trump clearly used public power to ask a foreign leader to dig up dirt on his political opponent. This is impeachable. I don’t see how you can deny the facts in front of your face.
Flyover Man: I haven’t really had time to look into it. There’s always some fight between Trump and the East Coast media. I guess I just try to stay focused on the big picture.
The big picture is this: We knew this guy was a snake when we signed up. But he was the only one who saw us. He was the only one who saw that the America we love is being transformed in front of our eyes. Good jobs for hard-working people were gone. Our communities in tatters. Our kids in trouble. I had one shot at change, so I made a deal with the devil, and you’d have made it, too.
One problem with Brooks’s depiction of Trump supporters is that it suggests they aren’t rethinking their support for the president in light of the impeachment inquiry, despite what the data says. Some recent polling suggests that Republicans could be.
But perhaps the biggest issue with Brooks’s piece is that it relies heavily on stereotypes of Trump supporters, something that those in the media have been accused of doing since the day Trump announced his campaign.
The idea that a working-class man in “flyover country” is the best representation of someone who has bought into Trump’s vision of “making America great” is debatable. Data doesn’t support the idea that most of Trump’s supporters are working-class men in Middle America.
To understand Trump’s appeal, the media must recognize how many people outside of the caricature were drawn to his candidacy.
As Nicholas Carnes, an assistant professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, and Noam Lupu, an associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, previously wrote for The Washington Post, most Trump supporters are not working-class.
“According to what is arguably the next-best measure of class, household income, Trump supporters didn’t look overwhelmingly ‘working class’ during the primaries,” they wrote. “To the contrary, many polls showed that Trump supporters were mostly affluent Republicans.”
“If being working class means being in the bottom half of the income distribution,” they wrote, “the vast majority of Trump supporters during the primaries were not working class.”
Brooks’s character talks about good jobs leaving his community, but Carnes and Lupu analyzed a survey of Trump supporters that showed that only a third of them had household incomes of $50,000 or below. About a third of them made between $50,000 and $100,000, with another third making at least $100,000.
Another problem with the framing of working-class voters as Trump supporters is that it doesn’t acknowledge that Hillary Clinton won most working-class voters. More than half of voters making under $50,000 a year backed Clinton in 2016, according to exit polls.
If that comes as a surprise to you, it could be because coverage of working-class voters usually focuses on white people, despite the fact that the majority of those making under $50,000 a year are people of color. And polls repeatedly show that most people of color voted against Trump in 2016 and continue to give him low approval ratings.
Brooks’s column also reinforces the idea that the face of Trump’s base lacks a college degree. But more than a third of Trump supporters have a bachelor’s degree, according to the Pew Research Center. When you consider the incomes of Trump supporters, that is not so surprising, considering the correlation between education and income.
The 2016 election — along with the Trump presidency — has continued to shine a light on the urban-rural divide when it comes to U.S. politics. It is true that Trump won rural America — or what some may call “flyover country” — but perhaps not by as much as some assume. About a third of rural voters supported Clinton in 2016. This number is less surprising when you consider the demographics of rural America. More than 10 million — about one-fifth — of residents of rural America are people of color. Mara Casey Tieken, the author of “Why Rural Schools Matter,” wrote in The Post that about 40 percent are African American, 35 percent are Latino, and the remaining 25 percent are Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander or multiracial.
Another shortcoming of Brooks’s piece is that it assumes that urban dwellers are completely ignorant about why Trump’s supporters fully back him. Countless media organizations, however, have regularly taken to producing roundtables and think pieces featuring Trump supporters explaining why they continue to stand behind the president. One could argue that anyone who does not understand why Trump’s supporters still back him isn’t paying attention.
It is true that Trump attracted support from some voters in Middle America who felt ignored by those in Washington. And many of them continue to back the president. And Brooks’s fictional Trump supporter does display some accurate characteristics of the president’s most loyal fans: a deep disgust for all media that is critical of Trump and enlistment in the culture wars. But making characters such as Flyover Man the face of Trump’s support reinforces a truth about many journalists at elite media organizations: Many of us seem deeply unaware of how little we know about Trump’s America.