The strangest presidential election of my lifetime, and perhaps all U.S. political history, is finally drawing to a close.
By the time many people read this column, the results will be known. Will Donald Trump have squeezed out a come-from-behind victory influenced by the last-minute discovery of 650,000 emails between Hillary Clinton and her top aide Hume Abedin? Will the loser accept the outcome of a close election? Will Republicans maintain their slim margin in the senate in order to influence the appointment of a new Supreme Court judge? The future of America hangs in the balance.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, Trump may have transformed the political landscape of the United States by giving voice to an oft neglected segment of the population that lives outside the traditional “swing states.” Clinton derisively referred to them as deplorable people: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” But are those adjectives descriptive of the people packing stadiums and convention halls to hear Trump rail against illegal immigrants, jobs lost to globalization, and corruption at the highest levels of government?
One might think that many Trump supporters would be found in areas experiencing high levels of illegal immigration, but that is not the case. The Pew Foundation calculates what percentage of a state’s population is made up of illegal immigrants. The states in which Trump was leading in the polls as of Oct. 20 are those with the smallest percentage of illegal immigrants; the exception being Texas, which is traditionally Republican but is now a potential toss-up state.
The reason for this, I believe, is that those who enter our country illegally are likely to head to communities where they blend in and have friends or relatives who can help them. For example, three-fourths of the illegal immigrants are Hispanic, and they are most likely to migrate to communities with large legal Hispanic populations where their labor is needed and voters tend to be sympathetic to their plight.
There is also precise data on what are called “STEM+” youth — those under age 40 with a college degree in science, technology, engineering, math, business or health sciences. This data also jibes with the distribution of Trump support. The states that had a net loss of their educated youth all favor Trump; the states that had the greatest in-migration of educated youth — again with the exception of Texas — all favor Clinton.
That this data corresponds with the data about the location of illegal immigrants suggests that those who enter our country illegally to find work generally go to places where the technical sector is growing the most and less-skilled labor is needed for menial work.
Another piece of this picture is the rural/urban political divide. Voters in metropolitan areas tend to favor Democrats two-to-one over Republicans, while rural voters favor Republicans over Democrats by a similar ratio. Suburban voters, however, generally split evenly between the two parties. Suburban Republicans tend to be high-income professionals and business owners who favor “establishment” conservatives rather than the populists rural Republicans prefer.
Finally, add in the generational gap. Polls earlier this year showed men over 50 (that is, “baby boomers”) favored Trump over Clinton by 56 to 38 percent; but among 18- to 29-year-olds Clinton’s support remained roughly the same, while Trump’s support plunged. He actually trailed Libertarian Gary Johnson 21 to 22 percent.
Thus, if one were to construct a hypothetical “Trumpville,” it would be a rural town located somewhere in the region stretching from Montana, across the western plains to Oklahoma, then through the southland to Georgia and the Carolinas. If you drive through this area, such towns are not hard to find. Everyone knows their neighbors; they don’t lock their doors when they go to the grocery store; and churches outnumber fast food restaurants.
If you are a “baby boomer” and grew up in a town like this back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you know exactly what Donald Trump means when he says he wants to “make America great again.”
You were proud your father and uncles fought in World War II; you stood up to salute the flag; put your hand over your heart to recite the pledge of allegiance; and meant it when you said “one nation, under God.” After graduating from high school, you followed in your father’s footsteps and enlisted in the military to fight for freedom halfway around the world. And when you returned home, you got married and began raising a family of your own the same way you were raised.
You worked hard to put your kids through college, but when they graduated … they didn’t return. They moved to Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta or some other metropolis to find a well-paying job with a new high-tech company.
Now, when you turn on your large screen TV made in Japan, China or South Korea, what you see is not a reflection of the life you once knew, such as Leave it to Beaver or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Instead you see glamorization of sex, drugs and criminal behavior; terrorist attacks and horrendous atrocities committed by an enemy you never imagined existed; and the government in Washington going deeper and deeper into debt to keep this mad circus going.
You don’t fully understand how or why all this is happening. (The psychological term is “cognitive dissonance.”) Perhaps it’s a vast conspiracy. But America is not the nation you had imagined it would become, and you are hoping someone — anyone — can fix it and make it great once more.