With some people who voted for Trump, it’s not just about what we say, it’s how we listen.
“The ‘other side’ is not dumb,” Sean Blanda assures us as we struggle to understand the people who voted for Trump. And, he adds, the people who helped put Donald Trump in the White House are not all hateful racists either.
This writer’s stunning post on Medium keeps raising hackles because…Face it, it’s not what many of us liberals and centrists want to hear. He insists many of the people who voted for Trump had valid reasons for doing so. Yet, even as the fate of our nation depends on it, we’ve shown little interest in them.
As Sean Blanda points out, “As any debate club veteran knows, if you can’t make your opponent’s point for them, you don’t truly grasp the issue.”
And it’s not just us. Despite all the vast resources at their disposal, top Democrats also failed to see this coming. They took white, blue collar voters for granted…And then, the “blue wall” of Rust Belt states along the shores of our Great Lakes crumbled.
— Frederick Bailey (@frederickbail14) February 2, 2017
Face it. It may seem fun and easy to mock people who voted for Trump on social media, but guess what? We need at least some of them to win back the House, the Senate, the White House, and state legislatures.
Luckily, at least one person in the Democratic leadership gets this: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). While others wring their hands, the man who came close to beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination is reaching out. The Huffington Post reports since January, Sanders has paid visits to Rust Belt and Coal Country towns in Mississippi, Kansas, Michigan, and West Virginia.
Unlike Clinton, Sanders also spent time in small, rural towns across America during the primaries.
Sanders views these enclaves as critical for the future of the Democratic Party and, by extension, the country. They are, he argues, the places where Democrats have shown “an enormous amount of neglect.”
The self-described Democratic Socialist believes many of the people who voted for Trump can be won back. Some even voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and (less enthusastically) in 2012. Yet they’re fed up with a Democratic Party that has stopped fighting for working people. As Sanders — who grew up in a struggling, blue collar family — told HuffPo:
“The truth is, and I think anyone who objectively assesses the situation has to appreciate, that the model the Democrats have followed for the last 10 to 20 years has been an ultimate failure.”
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes joins Bernie Sanders in Trump country.
On March 13, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes joined Bernie Sanders in McDowell County, West Virginia for a town hall meeting. Several left-leaning blogs and news outlets crowed about how Sanders won them over and convinced a Trump-voting coal miner to declare that healthcare is a right.
But that’s not quite what happened. Sanders didn’t just lecture the people of McDowell County. He’s visited before, actually listens to them, and understands their issues, needs, and concerns. He gets that coal mining’s not just a source of good, middle class jobs. It also gives them a sense of identity and purpose a gig at Walmart or McDonald’s can’t.
He talked about how coal miners are heroes to him, whose dangerous work kept him, his brother, and his struggling parents warm in the winter when he was growing up. He declared that coal mining communities now deserve far better from our nation. Since Bernie Sanders comes from Vermont, he could also speak to how so-called “new economy” has devastated rural America with poverty, hopelessness, and an opioid epidemic.
Make no mistake: The people of McDowell County clearly know the coal industry’s in decline, that pollution and climate change are a problem, and that Donald Trump’s dodgy. Many now also fear they’ve voted away their healthcare and black lung benefits. Yet 75 percent of them still voted for Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders knows this isn’t because they’re stupid: It’s because Hillary Clinton doesn’t get them and even gaffed about putting coal miners out of work. Meanwhile, Donald Trump vowed to fight for them, bring the coal jobs back, and replace Obamacare — which many still find too expensive — with something better.
Bernie Sanders also understands that not all of the people who voted for Trump are alike. POLITICO points out there are — broadly speaking — two kinds of Trump voters. We likely can’t reach the ones who wholeheartedly support Mein Trumpf’s authoritarian, white supremacist message. But the ones who are fed up with both parties and wanted an outsider have more in common with us than we think.
Let’s not forget, Bernie Sanders also enjoyed heavy support in West Virginia during the primaries. When he declared that Trumpcare’s a scam and massive tax giveaway for rich people, he knew he wasn’t telling them anything they hadn’t already figured out. He just put their gut feelings into words.
“What [Trumpcare] should be seen as is a huge tax break for the wealthiest people in this country. At a time when we have a massive level of income and wealth inequality — where the rich are getting much richer while the middle-class shrinks — this legislation would provide, over a 10-year period, $275 billion in tax breaks to the top 2 percent.”
Likewise, Bernie Sanders flattened the GOP’s tired old myth about how there’s no room in the budget to invest in America and it’s people. But he also knew his audience had already worked this out.
“So when people tell you that we don’t have a money to invest in McDowell County or rebuild our infrastructure nationally, but we do have $275 billion to give to the top 2 percent who are already doing phenomenally well – when they tell you they don’t have the money, don’t believe them.”
WATCH: Bernie Sanders talks with people who voted for Trump.
Here’s the short version, with a two-minute report on Bernie Sanders’ town hall in West Virginia.
Here’s the full video from MSNBC via ORTV/YouTube. Throughout the Town Hall, you can see how Bernie Sanders treats the people of McDowell County with respect, empathy, and sincerity.
Featured image: Composite with video screen grabs from MSNBC via ORTV/YouTube.