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.