“Turns out the call was coming from inside the house.”
In the aftermath of the election, thinkpiece after thinkpiece has accused us progressives of living in a bubble. We opted to move to big cities, to get our news from NPR and the BBC and to unfriend our conservative relatives on Facebook. Now we’ve fallen out of touch with the day-to-day reality experienced by most of the country.
But I don’t believe we are actually as isolated as we think. To meet Trump voters, you didn’t have to travel to a small town in Wyoming or read an alt-right subreddit. I live in Chicago, a blue city where Clinton got 84% of the vote. But according to election stats published on DNAInfo, 54 people in my (diverse, mostly liberal) precinct voted for Trump. If you count the precincts adjacent to mine, 166 people voted for Trump. That’s 166 Trump supporters within a 2-minute walk from my apartment.
Why didn’t we notice the Trump supporters right under our noses? Maybe because they were purposefully hiding. Conservative people who live in liberal enclaves learn to fly under the radar, and avoid airing views that their neighbors would find socially unacceptable. At Buzzfeed, Anne Helen Petersen hit the nail on the head in her description of “the Ivanka Voter,” an upper-middle-class woman who votes Trump:
She lives in the well-to-do suburbs?—?places like Rochester, Michigan; Indian Hill, Ohio; Eden Prairie, Minnesota; and Haverford, Pennsylvania. She had to drive to get to the rally, because not enough people would come if he held one where she actually lived. She wears expensive jeans tucked into her cute boots. She doesn’t wear a Trump shirt?—?but she might wear a button on her fashionable sweater…. She doesn’t have a Trump sign in her yard, either because it would get egged or she doesn’t want to fight with the neighbors.
We’ve learned post-election that these Ivanka Voters are much more plentiful than we thought. According to exit polls, 45% of college-educated white women voted for Trump. Most of them probably never mentioned that fact to their liberal friends and neighbors.
Writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa has gone as far as saying that for some Trump voters, this silence may have been strategic, tweeting that on alt-right subreddits she follows, “young white Americans were told to hide their support of Trump.”
The idea of being surrounded by secret Trump supporters feels a little like a horror movie. As Buzzfeed culture writer Bim Adewunmi put it:
turns out the call was coming from inside the house. it's always coming from inside the house.
As scary as this scenario is, it is also an opportunity.
If, like me, you’re a cis, white, straight American citizen, you probably know at least a few Ivanka Voters or their male counterparts. You’ve never talked politics with them, maybe because you’re afraid of starting a fight. But the next few months are the time to have that talk. Not in the name of some bullshit “unity” or “healing,” but because if we’re going to vote Trump out of power in four years, we’re going to need to change some hearts and minds.
Think we just need to wait it out, and that demographic change will save us, come the next election? Try again. The younger generation of white people is just as racist as the old. The only way to get rid of white supremacy is by actively challenging it—and that starts in our own backyards. Yes, Trump voters may seem irredeemable, but it’s a weird truth of human life that people do change their minds. Even members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
And yes, it is incredibly stressful to talk with people who voted for policies based on white nationalist rage and hatred?—?especially if you have to keep a polite face when they claim they’re “not racist.” But someone has to perform that emotional labor, and it shouldn’t be people who are nonwhite, Muslim or LGBTQ. It shouldn’t be a freelancer who’s about to lose her or his health insurance with the repeal of the ACA. It shouldn’t be a woman with PTSD from sexual assault or fear of losing access to abortion in her state. It should be the people with the least to lose. People like me, and maybe you.
Maybe we’ll take them by surprise next time.