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Trump’s support: It’s complicated

Mar 13, 2017

Many people I know would find it easier to understand someone who is transgender than someone who voted for Donald Trump for president.

That’s just a statement of fact. And emotionally, I have to confess that I feel the same way. I can understand that one might feel trapped in a body and within a gender that feels wrong. I’ve known people in that predicament, and my heart went out to them.

After all, life is hard enough as it is. And I have to say that I can also understand and often agree with traditional conservatives.

Anyone who doesn’t occasionally find themselves on both sides of what we are told is the traditional political spectrum is either a hopeless ideologue, or just not thinking.

But Trump was something else again. He ran a campaign marked by attacks on women and ethnic groups, nasty insults, thinly disguised appeals to violence, and utter vulgarity.

He showed a complete disregard for historical and political tradition, and lied constantly, in a way we’ve never seen.

I was stunned that he won, and even more surprised that he won Michigan. I am fully aware that he lost the popular vote, and that 54 percent of those voting chose other candidates. Indeed, his election was in part the political equivalent of a lucky pool shot that narrowly gave him Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Yet win he did. It would be easy to blame his victory on poorly educated white voters, angry that their good-paying low-skill jobs have disappeared, and looking for scapegoats. But that’s far too simplistic.

Over the weekend I heard from one Bruce Anderson, who describes himself as a “progressive evolutionary,” who thinks the environment is the most important issue.

“It is time for us to make the shift to an ecological paradigm,” he wrote me, adding that we need “to live with limitations for the common good,” and be a “species that lives on this planet with integrity.”

You might think that would have made him a supporter of the Green Party, or Senator Bernie Sanders.

But no, Anderson voted for Donald Trump, saying that he thinks his election was “a communication to all of us that something is wrong and we need to devote ourselves to finding a new direction.”

Anderson gave me a lot of reasons for this, some of which made little sense. He said he was angry at the Democrats for not proposing policies to significantly reduce our carbon footprint, but didn’t seem alarmed that Trump’s policies would vastly increase it.

After some discussion, it turned out that Anderson wants to completely stop immigration, legal as well as otherwise, and “work towards consolidating the culture that is here now.”

Like many of us, he seemed to be a bundle of contradictions. But one thing he said rang very true.

“Many Americans have been left behind in the global economy, and the Democratic Party has been essentially unresponsive.” Well, that was certainly how millions perceived Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Democrats shouldn’t want to win those motivated primarily by hate. But if they are losing those primarily worried about the economy and environment, they need to do a lot more than simply find a new candidate who looks good on TV.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.