New York Trump voters: ‘Enough with the hysteria’
John Breen finds those who voted for next president are not monsters but patriots
I was asked to go and talk to some Trump voters so I sent out a bunch of text messages and got some very grumpy replies along the lines of,” I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump and if I did I wouldn’t talk to them.”
So, I went to Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. Outside, there were NYC sanitation trucks filled with sand as a security measure to deter car bombs, anti-terrorist police with automatic weapons and Kevlar helmets patrol the area.
There is a media scrum with reporters doing pieces to camera. There are protests and Trump supporters. I go up to the first Trump supporter I see. Afraid that he might hate the media, I tell him I am not a journalist I am a playwright.
He is thrilled to talk to me. He has two signs. The usual Trump/Pence sign and one that reads, Jews for Trump. I ask him if he voted for Trump? He says he didn’t. He is from Israel, but he thinks Trump is great.
His name is Yossi. He loves Trump because he will make everyone healthy and he will get rid of all illegal immigrants and the drugs. He has supported him since he came down the escalator in July last year. He has been in America for two years. He does not have a visa.
The next man I met was Donald Knoxz, an African-American wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and carrying a picture of the candidate. This Donald is from Pennsylvania, but now lives in the East Village. He works in graphics.
He is excited by Trump: his morals, his ideas and his intelligence. Trump will encourage upward mobility by cutting taxes on business. His trade deals will create employment. He is excited that Trump is a strong leader who will keep America safe.
A first-time Republican voter, he sees himself as anti-establishment. He supports the idea of making US firms manufacture their goods at home. On foreign policy, he believes America should not get into another war and he does not see why they must be fighting with Russia. “Why can’t we just get on with Russia? We don’t have to have a big problem there,” he says.
He thinks Trump will scupper Obamacare, but it will not affect him because he has union-organised healthcare. “Donald will do something for people out here. He won’t start a war!” he says, as we are moved along by police.
James Rowe was standing nearby. James teaches philosophy at Baruch College in New York. He is from Brooklyn. He was enthusiastic about talking. By now the pavement was getting crowded. A protest group carrying signs with Donald Trump in a KKK hood with a Hitler moustache were marching down the sidewalk in single file chanting, “Not my President!” James broke off his conversation with me to shout at them, “Communism killed thirty million people! It doesn’t work!” The marchers were affiliated with a socialist group.
State has broken its social contract
While I was speaking with James on the street,The Naked Cowboy appeared behind him and started posing for pictures with people on the street.
James said he became excited by Trump the moment he announced his candidacy back in July 2015. Trump’s nationalist capitalist appeal immediately caught his attention. I asked him which philosophy Trump was channelling, I expected him to say Nietzsche, but James said that Trump was a pure Hegelian, who believes in a strong central government along with a populace that is free and unregimented. Trump represents the unity of interest and freedom restrained by moral leadership that is at the heart of the American ideal, he believed.
He praises Trump’s call for state non-interventionism: the American way is to pay your own way. Through that route comes dignity and self-respect. Trump’s victory has come because the state has broken its social contract with a forgotten electorate.
On foreign policy Trump will attack Islamic State but not Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Saddam Hussein was the cork in the bottle in that region and when the cork popped chaos poured out. “We can defeat Isis but we don’t need to defeat Assad. You have to remember we allied ourselves with Stalin to defeat Hitler. And that was under FDR!”
On Obamacare: “We have the worst of Socialised medicine with bureaucracy and high costs and the worst of private medicine with no centralized bargaining and high drug costs. Obamacare is essentially a collection of state monopolies and it needs to be opened up to competition to drive the costs down.”
James thinks America is a “slightly Pro Life” nation but that abortion should be legislated at state level. Roe v Wade will be altered but not reversed under a Trump Supreme Court, he believes.
Three planks of Trumpism
In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd had used a quote that “Liberals took Trump literally, but not seriously and his supporters took him seriously, but not literally.” I put the three planks of Trumpism to James to test this.
The Wall: Yes, Trump will build the wall and begin deporting people: it is essential that the nation state have secure borders.
Ban on new Muslim immigration: “Yes, there are elements within, hard core Islamists if you will, that make this necessary. Radical Islam is a worldwide pernicious influence and therefore Islam is not compatible with Western values. Look what happened in Germany when they allowed mass immigration there were mass sexual assaults by migrants.”
On workers’ rights, James made a distinction between public sector unions and those representing workers in the private sector. Private sector unions need to be strengthened to mitigate the power of capitalism but public sector unions are too big and have broken the long-held social contract that security of tenure is traded for lower income expectations. Trump’s staff in his New York buildings are all unionised, by the way.
I asked James what he would say to the world concerned about Trumps rise to power?
“America is still America. The problems of the world are too complex to be solved by any one country let alone any one person. We now realise we must look after our own,” he said. America will not be a philanthropist, he said. Those days are over but it will pursue benign self-interest.”
My text messages from earlier paid off. I had some numbers to call. I went home to Greenpoint and made my calls.
Clinton ‘perpetuated a broken system’
The first was to Siobhán McCafferty in Staten Island. First generation Irish, her parents came from Sligo and Clare. She was born and raised in Manhattan. Her father was a carpenter but when work was scarce he worked on the Alaska pipeline. She was taught by the Limerick-born writer, Frank McCourt in Stuyvesant High School. Now 49, she is a retired NYPD officer, who was on duty near the World Trade Centre on 9/11.
A Democrat, she voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Hillary Clinton is corrupt and electing her to office would merely have perpetuated a broken system, she argues. Her nomination was merely an acknowledgement by the Democrats that it was her turn. She was not the right candidate.
Unlike some, however, McCafferty is not fuelled by rage. Political correctness is blinding the left to the fact that things have never been better. Young people are being indoctrinated at school with stories of grievances so they are looking for insults everywhere when they graduate. “We should be looking for common denominators and not diversity, what unites us, what we have in common not what divides us, not skin colour or religion.”
In four years’ time, she hopes that people will look back at Trump’s first term and think “You know he actually wasn’t such an asshole. My life is better now. “
On Obamacare, McCafferty quotes GK Chesterton who said that the only way socialism could be introduced to America was through healthcare. She resents it.” It is unfair. Americans don’t like the government telling them what to do. The government should build roads and run the military, they should stay out of places they don’t belong. You wouldn’t want the government running supermarkets, would you? We need more competition in healthcare, not less. Health insurance was good before Obamacare. People weren’t dying on the streets.”
However, she does worry about Trump’s hubris. He loves the spotlight, but she thinks he will hire well. His cabinet will do the work, he will make decisions. “I think he will make good ones,” she says.
At the end, she returned to Clinton. This time, she quoted Harry Truman’s dictum: “Any politician who gets rich while in office is corrupt.” Clinton is corrupt. Her selection as the Democratic candidate over Bernie Sanders was a coronation and it cost the Democrats the presidency, she argues.
It is too difficult to do business in America
Kevin Hughes is my last telephone call. A registered Republican, who is socially liberal, pro-choice and gay rights, but fiscally conservative, he feels that the party has been seized by right-wing Christian groups and this has distorted its platform.
However, he is dismayed by the corrosive effect of political correctness. The left-wing of the Democrats has made it shameful to be a white capitalist business man. Crazy, he says, since this is the basis of America.
“America is defined by capitalism and we can’t turn our back on that. I am a tax-paying businessman; I want better deals for business, and less regulation. Trump is right about that. It is too difficult to do business in America!”
I ask him what he would hope for after four years of a Trump presidency, but Hughes is temporarily distracted by “twenty something” protesters moving up Manhattan’s 7th Avenue chanting, “Not my president!”
Once he returns to the conversation, he hopes for reconciliation by 2020 between black kids and the police. If America is a hundred-yard dash then white men have an eighty-yard start on black people, he believes. Hughes thinks Americans are thirsting for a leader.
The Black Lives Matter campaign is “fighting for the right thing but they have divided rather than united people”, he believes: “The Left shuts down any discussion that doesn’t conform to their orthodoxy.”
On trade and foreign policy, Hughes believes the US has been apologetic to the world for too long. Companies cannot be forced to repatriate jobs, but they can be encouraged.
Hughes is passionate about the pride taken in work, one that brings purpose to life. It is a feeling shared by everyone I spoke with: Americans just want to belong. When you deprive them of their economic sovereignty, when they can’t work hard and hold their head high they feel adrift. Trump will bring that back. He will make the economic environment more pro-business and he will get business flowing.
On Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration, Hughes points out that Trump did say until “we can figure out what is going on”. The media reporting of his statement has been hysterical. Liberals just need to get over themselves and stop seizing on every little thing as if it is the end of the world. The tape on the bus?
“People talk like that in private! Stop taking what he says literally. He is speaking metaphorically. The wall, Mexico paying for it all that stuff. Hillary lost because she made some people feel uncomfortable about being American. But honestly I wish I felt better about this guy. I hope he shakes it up. I loved Bill Clinton. As a country, we are not far apart. I think let’s give him a chance. Enough with the hysteria, with the political correctness. Those kids on the street right now are wrong. He is their President. He is our President. I wish I felt better about him, I really do,” says Hughes.
Donald Trump got two million votes less than Romney. Hillary Clinton got seven million votes less than Obama. The difference was white men and women.
Sense of grieving in New York
I am glad that I got to the chance to have the conversations I have had. There is a real sense of grieving in New York. Everyone is despondent. But the people who voted for Trump are not monsters, they want the same things that Democrats want. They listen to different media, they have different beliefs about the world and about politics, race and culture. But they are patriotic in the sense of believing in American ideals.
The sense I got from the people I spoke to was that they were glad Trump won but anxious about what would happen now. None of them were very religious so they are not a great sample of the Republican electorate. Climate change, when it was mentioned, was discredited. All of them agree that there is a technological Tsunami coming that will dwarf Nafta in its impact on jobs and the way the economy works. People will need to learn new ways of making a living as their jobs are automated. There was no agreement on how this great retraining should be financed. Was it Governments job to do it or should business undertake it through tax breaks?
I felt better about the election result having spoken to earnest rational people who felt they were doing the right thing for America by voting for Trump. I was listening, I didn’t argue with them, so I learned about them. I liked them all. They were rationally self-interested people who exercised their democratic right in way that at the beginning of the day baffled me but at the end of the day I could reconcile. I am still not happy. I am still fearful for the future. But they are, too.
John Breen is a playwright