Gabby

Gabby, born in 1972 and living in Alabama, says her mom could not bring herself to vote for Trump. Her mom voted the Republican ticket all the way down the line, but when it came to Trump, she just couldn’t mark it. All the questionable remarks about women’s anatomy and his penchant for Twitter rants created a kind of force field around that particular ballot option and her mom choose instead to abstain from selecting a president. As a person who considers herself a fiscal conservative and social liberal, Gabby also struggled with the selection, though she did end up casting a vote for Trump.

As we talk, it becomes clear that the election is just a side note to her personal story of transformation.

She has a degree in fashion merchandising and owned a bridal shop for 20 years. A few years ago, weary from the ups and downs of small business ownership, she sold the shop and went back to school to become a nurse. Since then, she’s weathered the challenge of being a full-time student while parenting her two kids but she’ll soon be qualified to care for patients in a hospital.

Talking to Gabby, I can hear the optimism in her voice. She’s empowered herself by creating a new vision for her life and then doing the hard work to make it a reality. I know first-hand the difficulty of taking such a risk, especially as a woman in mid-life. The countless waves of naysaying and doubt one will face—many from your own mind. The determination one must pull from deep reserves to keep on the path.

Place that struggle on a global stage and amplify the skepticism to a deafening roar for just a taste of what Hillary Clinton’s been through. I respect the fierce willpower she’s had to possess from a young age, when political aspirations for women were even less realistic than they are today. I marvel at the unflinching focus with which she has chipped away at her goals for 50 years, displaying impressive dedication.

For as clearly as the public saw her as a “female candidate,” I think Clinton herself made too few concessions to her gender to please the electorate. Ambition in a woman is a tricky thing; people tend to label a woman with it as “desperate” or “scary.” If you have it, and especially if you have a lot of it, it’s best to keep it hidden. That way, people will think you’ve stumbled into your accomplishments and they will like you more. Clinton did not take this approach—her drive was clear for the world to see.

One of the reasons she was put off by Clinton, Gabby says, is the fact that Hillary received money from Saudi Arabia, a country that does not grant equal rights to women. Again, Clinton was playing the game of politics, more concerned with being a shrewd competitor than one who weighs with every move the implications of being female.

Gabby may not have liked Clinton, but she wasn’t a huge fan of Trump either. She says, of the Republican nominees, she would have liked to have seen more of Ben Carson. On the Democrat side, she liked Bernie Sanders.

In the months since the election, a question I’ve heard raised among left-leaning voters is, “Would the outcome have been different had the Democratic Party nominated Sanders instead of Clinton?” This is the first I’m hearing a Trump voter say something that seems to bolster the theory that Sanders may have been a more viable candidate than Clinton.

Gabby’s comments force me to form words around a vague hunch: Clinton shares responsibility for Trump’s victory. She was so focused on her goal of being president that she turned a blind eye to evidence that she wasn’t the best candidate. She could not sacrifice her vision even as many Americans were clearly stating that, for whatever reason, they did not find her likeable or trustworthy.

“I seriously would have considered voting for Sanders,” Gabby says. The words are barely out of her mouth when something inside me shifts. For all the compassion I’ve had for Clinton during such a brutal campaign and defeat, for the first time I feel angry at her.

As woman, she couldn’t have soared to such heights without outsized ambition, but it also blinded her to how unpalatable she had become to constituents. A complicated Catch-22, if ever there was one, for harboring ambition while being female may have been the very thing that people found so off-putting.

Advertisements

Lynn’s mom

Nancy, born in 1946 in North Dakota, didn’t want to talk directly to me, but she gave her daughter, Lynn, permission to do so on her behalf. This turned out to be a gift because what I got was a conversation with a woman who has been struggling for much of her life to understand the psychology behind her mother’s politics, which are so at odds with her own.

Whereas many of the women I’ve spoken with voted for Trump with the hope that he would shake up the status quo, Lynn feels her mom’s motivations were the opposite. Nancy, she says, is fearful of change. She voted for Trump in an attempt to stop changes, specifically those she sees in her own community.

Nancy has witnessed firsthand the changing demographics of her state. Over the last decade or so, the number of immigrants to call North Dakota home has skyrocketed. For the most part, these are legal immigrants who applied for asylum in the U.S. from countries in Northern Africa such as Somalia. They move there to work in the poultry processing plants and other farming-related industries. (The higher paying unionized jobs of the Dakota Access Pipeline are another major source of imported workers, though these tend to be American-born workers from other states).

As the faces of her neighbors and community members have changed, Nancy has not found herself in a welcoming state of mind or curious about the backstories of these people from faraway places whose customs are so different from her own. Instead, she feels threatened; she thinks her personal safety is endangered. She blames Obama; she believes Clinton she would have further escalated this trend.

Lynn has encouraged her mom to take a closer look at the forces changing North Dakota. She has tried to explain that many of the companies employing foreign-born workers, particularly refugees who have achieved legal status, receive financial incentives from the government and that these sorts of arrangements have a long-standing history in the U.S. and aren’t tied to any one administration. Corporations advocated for these deals with the argument that the local workforce is inadequate to meet their needs. Trump may have talked tough on immigration, but the changes in North Dakota are actually caused by corporate subsidies, which is an area he is unlikely to do anything about and, if anything, will probably protect and expand upon.

Lynn has also tried to explain that the immigrants who are relocating to North Dakota have gone through years of waiting and layers of bureaucracy to achieve this “dream.” They just want to live quiet, peaceful lives.

Nancy does not embrace the more complex story of her state’s changing demographics presented to her by her daughter. This doesn’t surprise Lynn, though Lynn finds it baffling because in an indirect way her mom benefits from the arrangement. If the factories in the region did not import workers, they would likely relocate and the local economy would suffer, compromising the services her mother relies on to live a comfortable life.

Here, Lynn’s tone takes on a somber note, one that speaks to me of a woman who is resigned to the fact that the person she loves most won’t change. Lynn says she has come to accept that her mom’s mindset is deeply ingrained, and is probably the result of thinking that goes back generations in her family. Lynn sees it not just in the realm of politics, but in the personal, too. Her mother doesn’t want to delve beneath the surface on any topic for fear that an analytic eye will find its gaze on her own life, exposing truths better left unexamined.

Cynthia

Cynthia, born in 1951, lives in Ohio, perhaps the most important state as far as modern American presidential elections are concerned. Political forecasters watch the state closely because it’s one of the few whose results are unpredictable and whichever candidate wins there tends to become president. Examining Ohio, analysts can speculate about factors that contributed to outcomes on a national level.

Ohio tends to have a fickle electorate. Barack Obama won the state by four and a half points in 2008 and three in 2012. In the recent election, Donald Trump won Ohio by about 8 points: 51.3 percent to Clinton’s 43.2 percent. What appears to have happened is that the counties in Ohio that are typically democratic strongholds—such as Mahonig County which includes working class stronghold of Youngstown where Cynthia lives—lost considerable ground. Obama won Mahonig by a landslide—as much as 28 points, helping tip the state in his favor—while Hillary squeaked ahead there by only 3 points.

If votes cast by Ohioans and older white women were two of the most significant contributors to electing the current president, then Cynthia herself is a big part of the reason things turned out the way they did. You might go so far as to say Cynthia, and several others like her, decided this election.

If this is true, Hillary didn’t have a chance. Cynthia never had any intention of voting for her. Not that Cynthia hasn’t gone for Democrats in the past. She was all for Jimmy Carter back in the 1970s and though she has tended toward Republicans since then, she has also thrown a wild card or two, voting Green when that felt right.

Unlike other women I’ve spoken with, abortion didn’t factor in to her decision. She wants abortions to be legal, says they’ll happen even if they’re banned, and she’d rather they be safe. She also didn’t seem all that concerned with homeland security or immigration. Unlike other Ohioans who were said to be attracted to Trump’s promises about manufacturing jobs and a revision of NAFTA, Cynthia didn’t list those as influences either.

What appears to have swayed Cynthia is less concrete and more difficult to articulate. During her attempts to put words to it, she pauses so many times to gather her thoughts that more than once I think the call’s been dropped. What she communicates in stops and starts is about the current cultural climate, specifically popular media, which includes Hollywood, music, and even advertising. It’s in the near nakedness of our entertainers, the over-sharing about details once considered private, an almost shock-value openness woven into even the simplest commercial. She feels a sense that most power-holders are complicit in these changes: either promoting them or failing to question them. Regular people who aren’t comfortable with new norm are dismissed as inconsequential or never acknowledged in the first place.

In addition, Cynthia says that we appear to be suffering from over-correction on certain issues, creating worse consequences than those with which we started. She feels that an almost compulsive focus on diversity is fueling racial tension rather than mitigating it. Similarly, she points out that anti-bullying campaigns have gone hand-in-hand with a spike in meanness and harassment both in person and online.

Here I am at the looking glass again, only now I’ve stepped through. I’m struggling to understand how Trump is meant to help with these issues when he seems to me to be a perfect demonstration of much of what she finds offensive in popular culture.

I listen closely as Cynthia explains, interjecting questions here and there to flesh out her meaning because I’m one of those people who has ignored viewpoints like hers. My interpretation is that overall the changes she points to are positive signs that our society is becoming more authentic and inclusive and that whatever anger or cruelty being expressed is poison coming to the surface like a wound that has to weep before it heals. In fact, it seems to me that the worst rage is being spewed by those who feel or have felt voiceless and invisible—and, if this is the case, I’ve been part of the problem. It’s why I was so shocked when Trump won. I had a huge blind spot where opinions contrary to my own existed. I minimized the people who held them.

After speaking with Cynthia, I can see how she and others might interpret recent cultural changes as too aggressive and with correlations that are negative. I don’t even think it matters if I agree or if I can see how Trump is meant to help. Cynthia’s vote for Trump was her way of rejecting a ruling class that does not acknowledge her. The important part is that I opened myself up to trying to understand because I think it’s the mainstream’s reluctance to do this that’s really the issue here.