Democratic Party Must Consider Needs of Trump Voters

Amber Scherer, Contributing Writer

I worked for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign for several months leading up to the election. It was surprisingly fun work and, as a generally introverted first-year, a big help to transitioning me to life away from home. But I saw a lot that frustrated and upset me. On one campaign trip, I heard students jeer “Killary!” and “Grab her by the pussy!” at my co-workers. Some campaign workers ignored it; others responded in kind. I heard things from both sides that genuinely frightened me.

This is all to say that the vitriol and division of the campaigns were in no way exclusive to the candidates themselves.

We view these politicians as so powerful — almost as something more than human — but they’re only as empowered and enabled as we allow them to be. President-elect Donald Trump didn’t win only on a divisive platform. American workers are struggling and felt neglected by a government that should have been doing more to help them. Trump seemed, at least, to break that cycle. But the juxtaposition between the anger and the hope of Trump’s supporters is what we need to take from this.

Both sides were angry. Both sides believed they were right. Both sides voted for highly controversial figures — one of whom, I feel, is unjustly qualified as such. And, interestingly, the two sides are even approximately equal in size; Clinton won the popular vote by only 0.8 percent, according to CNN. Trump voters are not “other” people who we ought to reject and ignore as, admittedly, we have. Trump’s electorate is massive and, in many ways, mirrors Clinton’s. These voters are afraid, doubtful and deeply frustrated with the lack of progress and change they see in Washington. And before we return to our arguments on whose fault that is, we ought to listen to their reasons.

The Democratic Party has the opportunity to revolutionize itself. Its policies are equitable and based in modern science, sociology and economics. They aim to serve working Americans by protecting our equality of opportunity, our identities and our individualities while defending us against corporate wealth. But in this election, the Democratic Party not only overlooked changes in its base, but in the U.S. as a whole. The movement in support of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary election indicated that young Americans are more progressive than their predecessors, and that Americans — left and right — are deeply unhappy about the state of their lives.

Democrats need to find a way to respond to that unhappiness, rather than dismiss it. Regardless of the economic and social improvements President Barack Obama instigated over the last eight years, Americans still struggle. We cannot continue to minimize working-class Americans’ misfortunes. Placing Democrats like Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in positions of power would be the start of a change toward a more grounded Democratic Party. Additionally, more weight to the representatives from the overlooked Rust Belt would give frustrated voters a voice.

I believe that the Democratic platform better suits the vast majority of Trump’s electorate — particularly disenfranchised working-class Americans — and if we give them the chance to speak, we may actually learn whether we possess common ground. We are all human beings and we want and need the same basic things: security, welfare and happiness. Our approaches are vastly different and our worlds have been pushed apart by those differences. But I ask that, in small or large ways, in political or social settings, we find ways to keep differences from acting as a barrier and conversation from turning into dispute.

The Democratic Party can become the party of tolerance. Many believed it already was. Yet, half of this country felt poorly represented or threatened by us and we made little effort to make them feel understood. It is possible to listen and disagree. Acknowledging differences and working to find broader resolutions is vitally important not only to the survival of the Democratic Party, but for the well-being of working-class Americans and the health of our democracy.