Why Some of our Friends and Neighbors Voted Differently

By Michael Hogan

 Biden and McConnell1

I voted for Biden as did many other Americans. But more than 71 million voted for Trump. Is it possible that these millions of American were racists, bigots, misogynists, and ignorant followers of an autocrat? If so, we are in deep trouble.

If not, then we need to analyze what really happened and why some voters decided the way they did. My conversations with friends and neighbors over the past few days revealed some of the reasons.

Economic: The Cares Act, which pumped more than a trillion dollars into the economy, brought many benefits directly to households: $670 billion in small business loans, $350 billion in unemployment benefits and direct spending in hospitals and other providers, $1,200 to individual taxpayers. When a second round of public subsidies were proposed, Nancy Pelosi felt it was not enough. So, nobody got anything. Trump supporters naturally blamed the Democrats for intransigence.

Social Unrest: While the Black Lives Matter was clearly supported by most Americans, it devolved into riots and destruction of property, including minority businesses. Ordinary citizens suffered (including supporters of the movement); certain areas became “no-go zones” for first responders, endangering lives. Instead of responding firmly that public safety should not be compromised by protests, Biden and other Democrat leaders wavered. When an editorial in the New York Times raised the issue, it was attacked as being racist and the Times fired the editor who approved it. It was clear to many that the safety of our cities had been seriously compromised and mob reprisal had triumphed over free expression.

Public Shaming Excesses: While the legal prosecution of Bill Cosby and Jefferey Epstein was widely applauded, the excesses of the Me Too Movement resulted in the shattering of personal lives of people who committed no crimes, whose careers were exemplary, and who made major contributions to American society and culture. Among those we could include Joe Paterno, winning coach of Penn State football, Garrison Keeler, beloved host of Prairie Home Companion, and the progressive Democrat, Senator Al Franken. Many saw these and other examples as the undermining of basic decency and community restraint which protected innocent people from groundless attacks.

Ethnic and Racial Categorization: Both the press and pollsters constantly make assumptions that all Hispanics are homogeneous, as well as all African Americans. In fact, there are major differences between Cuban Americans and Mexican Americans, between Hondurans and Puerto Ricans. Those who have businesses tend to vote more conservatively. Those in the healing profession and educators tend to be more liberal. But even among those groups there are differences. Pollsters took none of that into account.

Illegal Immigration: There are many Americans who are not racist or anti-immigrant but who nevertheless do not approve of open borders or undocumented migrants flooding into the country. These include union leaders, ranchers in the western border states, law enforcement personnel, and many Mexican Americans, including the late Cesar Chavez, leader of the  United Farm Workers, who saw the influx as undermining the gains he had made for legal workers. Pollsters also tended to ignore the resentment of legal immigrants who went to the time and expense of obtaining a green card, working legally, learning English, passing a written test, and becoming citizens.

Criminal justice and rehabilitation. Neither Harris nor Biden has much of a record in terms of helping former inmates get their lives back together or reducing the disparities in sentencing for African Americans. Trump, on the other hand, helped push though the First Step Act. This reform made our justice system fairer and helps inmates return to society. It also granted judges discretion in sentencing for non-violent crimes, eliminating mandatory terms for drug offenses.

Demonization, fear, and self-censorship. Trump supporters from 2016 had been castigated by the press, called racists and worse by pundits, and unfriended by Facebook acquaintances. Hillary Clinton publicly disparaged them. When the pollsters asked who they would vote for, they were often silent, or said “undecided.” Who could blame them? Self-censorship has never been so prevalent, at least since the McCarthy era.

What do we want? If we really want a unified country, we cannot leave it up to the media or the Internet which encourage name-calling and blaming, incivility, and outright contempt on both sides. Nor can we continue to tolerate it by our silence or fear of being disliked. We need to come together. A good example for us to carry forward is the image of Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden. McConnell not only was the sole Republican senator who attended the funeral of Biden’s son, but he hugged his adversary in genuine sympathy. They were and have remained friends for more than three decades despite ideological differences. That is what unity looks like.

MICHAEL HOGAN is an historian and author of 25 books including the best-selling Irish Soldiers of Mexico. This article first appeared in the November 11, 2020, issue of North American Project and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

 

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