Me and my “San Fran cousin” Ann have a few things in common. She and her husband (who’s actually, if we’re being accurate, my husband’s cousin) have two teenage boys. Me and my husband have two teen boys of similar ages. Ann (raised by a Mexican father and Cuban mother) lives in the ’burbs (about 40 minutes train ride north of San Fran). I live about the same distance from London. Her husband is an electrician who likes outdoorsy stuff. Mine is a website producer and fancies himself as Bear Grylls. They got a dog (Krypto) about the same time as ours (Spud). We don’t get to see each other very often, mainly because flights are hideously expensive, but also because we’re busy. Life is busy.
There is one thing that I don’t have in common with Ann though. She and her husband voted Trump in this election. Contrary to my vociferous oh-my-God-the-world-is-going-to-end-now-we’ve-got-an-evil-racist-homophobe-president declarations on Facebook, on election night they put up a post saying they’d gone to the polls together to vote for Donald Trump. There was no crowing. No hysterically grinning smug selfies, certainly no posing with guns. No, it was just a simple post celebrating the fact they had voted as a family (her eldest has recently turned 18).
And throughout the day, as the world reactions came flooding in and despair ramped up to epic proportions, Ann’s post kept coming back to haunt me.
So we Facebooked. I asked the question “why Trump?”, and here’s what she told me:
“Trump was not my first choice, nor did I take him seriously at first, but faced with the option of Hillary for president there really was no other option. With Trump you know what you get, warts and all. I couldn’t get past Hillary and all the stories of corruption and scandals that have surrounded her.
“Another thing that swayed me was my mom, who escaped to this country from Cuba after it was taken over by Castro. It was hard for her to lose the country she loved to a corrupt government who promised in the beginning it would be for the people. I learned from her how your homeland can be taken away from you by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s who I felt Hillary was.
The pussy-grabbing comments Trump made were disgusting, but I'm a smart woman, I’ve worked in construction companies and I've heard it all
“I would have loved to see a woman president hell yes, but not Hillary because of this. The pussy-grabbing comments Trump made were disgusting, but I'm a smart woman, I’ve worked in construction companies and I've heard it all. I know what men say behind closed doors and as long as they don't say them to my face they’ll still keep their teeth. As anybody who knows me knows, I’m a strong woman and no man can ever rattle me.
“I am not white, I am Hispanic. I am proud of who I am and where I came from, but I am also an American. My dad is Mexican, I love him so much and he is the greatest man I have ever known. When he became an American citizen it was hard because it cost us a lot of money we didn't really have, but he felt it was that important and he has raised us to respect the laws of this country, and that is how I want to raise my kids. He voted Trump too.
“Over the years I’ve had racism towards me and I know what it feels like. I know it still exists, but sometimes I feel politicians deliberately use race like a crowbar to wedge in between each and every one of us and divide us. I’m not blind, I know that in the inner cities it's really hard for a lot of people, especially the black community, but these communities have been run by Democrats for half a century and they have done nothing to help them. I really pray that Donald Trump will help them and I hope he starts there.”
After the shock has dissipated we will need to reluctantly conclude that his “man of the people” message was more of a pull. With his promise to “make America great again”, Trump seems to have appealed to the disenfranchised, the frustrated, and the many Americans who were disillusioned with an ailing economy, job losses, tales of corruption and a distant political establishment that Hillary appeared to represent.
While, like much of the rest of the world, I do not agree with Trump or his extremist, misogynist and racist policies on any level, it might be a mistake to ignore the voters who voted for him. As a friend of mine said yesterday: “If we're going to learn anything from 2016 it's that many people feel disenfranchised and isolated and we've got to work to bring us all back together, not push ourselves further apart.” As we struggle to understand in the next few days, perhaps these are words we should now heed.