Donald Trump is the Bernie Sanders of Half the United States

By Charlotte Schwebel (Age 17, The Bronx, NY)

I want to tell you all a bit about my experience with the ‘typical’ Trump voter. Last year I lived in a rural town in Colorado called Leadville. The county went blue this year, likely because of a large influx of Mexican immigrants in the past few years, and the presence of a small semester school with incredible community engagement. Leadville used to be the most prosperous town in the state of Colorado.

At the time, the entire economy was mining, mostly for lead, silver, and gold. Then the EPA came in and told them they needed to close their mines and pay for the clean up effort, thousands of dollars they no longer had because their source of income was taken away. Around the same time, hundreds of people emigrated from Mexico to work in the nearby ski resorts. The entire demographic of the town changed- it went from wealthy to poor, from white to multi-racial.

When I spoke to people there, they spoke about being a miner in the same way I speak about being a white woman. Everyone who lived there had been able to work hard and earn enough to live well. Today, most of the town is unemployed. They believe, correctly, that their children will have worse lives than they did.

In the past few hours we have seen some of the results of this election. At my sister’s school, someone was suspended for sending an email with a swastika on the American flag and the words Heil Trump in a predominantly Jewish school. There have been images of KKK members running around North Carolina. Trump himself has been racist and sexist and Islamophobic and homophobic and bigoted in a way that has made many people believe this behavior can be normal again. And that vision of America is what I saw when he won the presidency. An America where it is unsafe for me and my girlfriend to hold hands in public, where my hope for a family is once again illegal, torn form me just as I started to dream.

Then I saw an exit poll that changed my view of the entire election. The question asked what the most important quality of a candidate was. The people who voted for Trump don’t believe he cares about them. They do not believe he has good judgment. The only quality these people believe Trump has is the ability to bring needed change. That is it. I hope that sounds as familiar to you as it does to me. President Obama ran on hope and change, and for almost exactly half of this country, any change at all is better than the change that has come. 13% of the electorate decided whom to vote for in the week before the election, and the majority of those people voted for Trump. I don’t think it’s because they are stupid. I think it is because they feel helpless. They don’t want to vote for a bigot, but they feel they have no other choice. You may be surprised to hear that most Trump supporters believe the next generation will be worse off or the same as they are today, while most Clinton supporters believe they will be better off or the same. The polls were wrong because most people were not happy to vote for Trump. They are not all racists finally free. They were mostly people who have lot their way of life and see Trump as the only person who will do something about it. For the first time, the lives of their children will be worse than theirs.

I have seen a lot of people blocking Trump supporters from their Facebook feeds and their lives. I understand the urge, because the rhetoric of this election has painted a clear good and evil. That narrative hurts us all, because both sides feel just as strongly about who is good and bad. It can lead us to believe that the whole world is against us because we are female or gay or black or poor. It can lead us to feel the same sense of abandonment and fear the white people of Leadville felt a few years ago. 55% of democrats say they fear republicans. Did you know that 47% of republicans say they fear democrats? We all feel unsafe and unheard. We have more voids than ever to shout into, more echo chambers to reinforce. We cannot use assumed bigotry as an excuse to not listen, empathize, and send love towards those we portend to hate. We say we are stronger together, but from what I have heard so far, we believe we are stronger with the people we agree with and content to leave everyone else behind. We love the moral high ground, and this election has raised us higher than we have ever been. We have doomed ourselves to hate the other side. We know we are right, don’t we? After all has been said and done, what would it mean if we weren’t?

Please be active. Stand up for what you believe in. Go to protests and sign petitions and call your representatives and listen. Trump won this election first and foremost because people felt their voices were not heard. The most powerful thing you can do is not shout but listen- not to win but to understand.

As Bernie sanders said, “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics, and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent-paying jobs move to China and other low wage countries, of billionaires not paying federal income taxes, and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids- all while the very rich become richer.”

Donald Trump is the Bernie Sanders of half the United States, the populist revolution that was successful. Yes, we must work hard to counter bigotry, but we must work harder to counter fear, because the other side is just as scared as we are.