Type “Trump voters deserve” into your search bar, and the two suggestions that pop up are “Trump voters deserve what they get” and “Trump voters deserve to lose healthcare.” To me, and I’d guess probably to you, this logic is completely unsurprising. In the Northeastern city where I live, we hear it every day – in casual conversations and bad jokes and rage-fueled op-ed pieces.
Earlier this month, a Huffington Post contributor titled his analysis of Trump’s likelihood to get us all killed in a nuclear war, “Trump Supporters Deserve to Die More Than I Do.” The site took down the post for being especially crude about the whole thing, but really – let’s be honest – he was only saying what many liberals and progressives were thinking: Those people are just getting what they asked for.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office released its final assessment of the Senate version of the Republican health care plan to repeal and replace Obamacare earlier this week. And the results are predictably depressing. If this version of the bill passes, 22 million Americans would lose health insurance by 2026. Even for those with health insurance, the rising cost of premiums and co-pays will be devastating. As you might expect, lower-income folks and the elderly will suffer the most.
That is definitely something to be furious about, and Trump voters did ask for it. They elected a man who tapped into our country’s seething racism and ran on the promise of undoing what was probably the most significant policy achievement of the country’s first black president. Now he’s doing just what he promised, and people are going to die.
But the story that liberal people tell themselves about Trump voters getting what they deserve is about more than simple cause and effect. It’s a story about class, privilege and our desire to shift moral responsibility for the sorry state of our country from our own failings to someone – anyone – else.
The villain of that story is not Trump himself (a billionaire’s billionaire with no respect for human life) or the wealthy backers who funded his campaign and brought his message to millions. The villain is not the mainstream Republican party establishment with a longstanding commitment to destroying our social safety net. It is not Democrats who have continued to push corporations as the solution to our problems rather than actually addressing inequality in a meaningful way.
Contempt for the poor rationalizes decisions like taking away the healthcare of 22 million low-income people and seniors.”
No, the story that liberal people tell themselves is that it’s all on those southern “rednecks” who the media delighted in exposing during the election, much to our general amusement and horror, It’s on all those poverty-mired, Nascar-loving, gun-toting, Walmart-shopping “hillbillies” who can’t afford the fancy college educations that have lifted nice, “middle-class” (or at least middle-income) people like me to a level of enlightenment that allows us to “know better.” The poor gave us Trump, the story goes, and if the consequence is that they are going to have to live without the basic human right to healthcare, there’s a certain cruel justice in that.
The Real Story
Of course, all the evidence points to the fact that it was not, in fact the poor who gave us Trump. Raw data alone tells us that Trump’s supporters throughout the primaries were mostly his wealthy, elite cronies. The majority of Trump voters in the general election had household incomes of more than $50 thousand per year – that’s consistent even when you just look at his white male voters. Trump’s followers were almost as likely to have attended college as the rest of the population.
Basically, those people don’t look like the Duck Dynasty caricatures of extreme rural poverty that play out this fantasy in the public imagination. They look like people who enjoy the same or greater levels of privilege as I do and are defending the system that doles it out.
Again, don’t get me wrong – whatever their class identity or their reasons were for doing so, the people who voted for Trump implicitly or explicitly endorsed a worldview that sees women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, low-income people, and so many others as less than human. I personally think that was a pretty lousy choice, and I resent that regardless of who we voted for, we’re all going to have to live – or die – with it.
Writing “Them” Off
That being said, when we tell ourselves that Trump’s presidency is what the working-class deserves, we’re not just buying into the lie that poor people were the driving force behind the monster that is Trump, but also the contempt for the poor that rationalizes decisions like taking away the healthcare of 22 million low-income people and seniors. The more we tell the lie, the more comfortable we feel with our own role in a situation that should make us very uncomfortable, and the easier it becomes to write off large groups of marginalized people.
The truth is that no one deserves to die, because they are too poor to afford healthcare. Only once we start being honest with ourselves as a country – about how we got to a point in our history where that issue is up for debate – will we ever muster the courage, compassion and solidarity to do something about it.