How to slice, dice and make nice with Trump’s fans

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Car­los Lozada

It’s hard to know whether to take “The Great Re­volt” se­ri­ously or lit­er­ally.

Jour­nal­ist Salena Zito and con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive Brad Todd have co-au­thored a new book that pro­vides a tax­on­omy of 2016 Trump sup­port­ers, one that claims to up­end the stereo­typ­i­cal nar­ra­tives of the main­stream press. “We spent time in din­ers, wa­ter­ing holes, bed-and­break­fasts, and cof­fee shops, find­ing Trump vot­ers where they live and work,” they write. Where oth­ers saw an irate, dis­pos­sessed, racist, un­e­d­u­cated mass ea­ger to burn it all down, Zito and Todd travel through Iowa, Ohio, Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia, de­ploy­ing “smart em­pir­i­cal re­search with on-thescene, shoe-leather re­port­ing” in search of the true Trump­is­tas, those “hid­den in plain sight.”

Zito be­came pun­dit-fa­mous in 2016 for her pithy for­mu­la­tion about Don­ald Trump’s faith­ful

and the news me­dia: “The press takes him lit­er­ally, but not se­ri­ously; his sup­port­ers take him se­ri­ously, but not lit­er­ally.” On such in­sights are rep­u­ta­tions forged and book deals struck. So it’s ironic that “The Great Re­volt” com­mits an of­fense sim­i­lar to the one Zito at­tributes to the press.

The au­thors do take Trump sup­port­ers lit­er­ally, record­ing their ev­ery ut­ter­ance and griev­ance with great fi­delity. But I’m not sure how se­ri­ously they truly re­gard them. Zito and Todd lump vot­ers into pat cat­e­gories and miss chances to en­gage with them on the ori­gins and depth of their views. And when the book con­cludes with the au­thors’ at­tack against the “mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ist mil­i­tancy pushed by the Far Left” and their san­i­tiz­ing of Trump’s po­si­tions on race and bor­ders as merely the “broad­en­ing” or “shift­ing” of pol­icy de­bates, the move from anal­y­sis to ide­ol­ogy proves jar­ring. I can’t tell if the au­thors’ views flow from their in­sights on Trump vot­ers or if their in­sights on Trump vot­ers are cu­rated ac­cord­ing to the au­thors’ views.

To their credit, Zito and Todd didn’t just crash cam­paign ral­lies or scan the land­scape for MAGA caps; they spent time in com­mu­ni­ties that flipped from Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to Trump in 2016. But the clas­si­fi­ca­tion scheme they de­velop can at times feel more clever than use­ful.

The “Red Blooded and Blue Col­lared” are vot­ers an­i­mated by Trump’s pledge to re­store

Don­ald Trump cam­paigns in 2016 in Greenville, S.C.. His vot­ers agree with him that they are part of a “move­ment.”

Amer­ica’s man­u­fac­tur­ing prow­ess. The “Perot-is­tas” feel drawn into the elec­toral process by mav­er­icky out­siders. The “Rough Re­bound­ers” have ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sional or health set­backs and ad­mire Trump’s re­silience. “Girl Gun Power” de­scribes women un­der age 45 who view Sec­ond Amend­ment rights as a fem­i­nist im­per­a­tive. “Ro­tary Reli­ables” in­clude well-ed­u­cated, high­in­come com­mu­nity lead­ers who em­brace the pol­i­tics of their less-ed­u­cated, lower-in­come neigh­bors. The “King Cyrus Chris­tians” look past Trump’s moral fail­ings and find so­lace in his ju­di­cial ap­point­ments. And the “Silent Sub­ur­ban Moms” may not like to ad­mit that they went for Trump, but they re­main skep­ti­cal of strictly gen­der-based ap­peals for their vote.

These are the group­ings that Zito and Todd iden­tify in their trav­els and dis­sect through a sur­vey con­ducted for the book. Rather than the an­gry hordes of the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, these in­di­vid­u­als are in­vari­ably de­picted as well-man­nered, kind, thought­ful and, above all, “in­fec­tious” — their smiles, their laughs, their love of life al­ways seem to be in­fect­ing ev­ery­one else.

These vot­ers em­pha­size Trump’s style more than any ide­ol­ogy. “He shows ev­ery day that he is stick­ing up for the coun­try,” ex­plains one Penn­syl­va­nia voter. “He was his own man,” de­clares an­other. “I just love his moves with North Korea,” re­marks a Trump sup­porter who moon­lights as a Kenny Rogers im­per­son­ator. “When to hold ’em, when to fold ’em.” (Yes, that’s re­ally the quote.)

Trump of­ten speaks of his elec­tion as a move­ment, and the in­di­vid­u­als in “The Great Re­volt” cer­tainly see them­selves as part of some­thing big­ger than one man, larger than them­selves. “I don’t know how to ex­plain it ex­cept I felt com­pelled not for me but for my coun­try,” muses a Penn­syl­va­nia man. A Trump sup­porter in Kenosha, Wis., tells the au­thors that “the vote was larger than him, it was about us, our fam­i­lies and our com­mu­nity and the preser­va­tion of our rights.” And a Trump voter in Ma­comb County, Mich., de­clares that “what I feel isn’t an anom­aly; this move­ment un­equiv­o­cally goes on long past Trump.”

Zito and Todd ar­gue that the con­de­scen­sion of lib­eral elites en­er­gizes Trump sup­port­ers. “For a key slice of his coali­tion, it was at­tacks on their val­ues on the na­tional stage by a cul­ture ca­reen­ing left­ward that drew vot­ers to his bom­bast,” they write. Or as one Iowa voter told them: “We just felt for the last eight years we were spoon-fed this lib­eral cul­tural crap.”

In­deed, these vot­ers’ de­ci­sions to sup­port Trump are as much about his op­po­nents and pre­de­ces­sors as about the man. Ed Harry, a for­mer Demo­crat in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., promised him­self he would never vote for a Clin­ton or a Bush again — “I thought they were both cor­rupt” — and found that ev­ery­one he had grown to dis­trust (Democrats, the GOP es­tab­lish­ment, Mex­ico, lob­by­ists) dis­liked Trump. “I fig­ured I must have a can­di­date,” he con­cluded. And Sally Tedrow, a Silent Sub­ur­ban Mom in Lee County, Iowa, wishes that Trump “had a softer man­ner about him,” but that doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, be­cause Tedrow also voted less for Trump than against Hil­lary Clin­ton: “I felt like she was not hon­est.” Zito and Todd do not ask Tedrow what she makes of Trump’s truth­ful­ness, or if they do, we don’t learn about it.

Trump is dif­fer­ent, says Re­nee Dib­ble of Ashtab­ula, Ohio, in a par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable pas­sage: “Not be­cause I am blind to his faults, but be­cause the other politi­cians’ faults are so worse. Be­cause their fail­ures were our lives, and that is un­for­giv­able.”

The au­thors say Amer­ica has en­dured a “cul­tural change” in re­cent years, and the vot­ers they fea­ture blame Obama for it. He “ran our coun­try into the ground,” ar­gues a Trump sup­porter in Lake County, Mich. A voter in Howard County, Iowa, says Obama spread a “moral de­cay,” mak­ing it so that “ev­ery­one has to think his way or it is un­ac­cept­able.” Obama is even to blame for any resur­gence of racial prej­u­dice. “We’re here in a small town where you could see lots of racism . . . but I think there was a lot more stuff that would come up be­cause Obama failed to use more com­mon sense when talk­ing about prob­lems the coun­try faces,” ex­plains a voter in Luzerne County, Pa. “Just say what it is in­stead of try­ing to not of­fend peo­ple.”

The in­ter­vie­wees con­stantly worry about a wors­en­ing “at­ti­tude of en­ti­tle­ment” through­out the coun­try, say­ing that “no­body wants to be ac­count­able . . . no­body wants to be re­spon­si­ble.” As a 70-year-old Penn­syl­va­nia woman ex­plains, “I see this cul­ture chang­ing around us in that no one val­ues hard work.” Zito and Todd don’t in­quire who these en­ti­tled, lazy and ir­re­spon­si­ble peo­ple might be; their iden­tity is only im­plied, as when one Ro­tary Re­li­able frets that, un­der Obama, “only some peo­ple’s tra­di­tions and cul­tures mat­ter.” Yes, those rhetor­i­cally use­ful some peo­ple. And it should sur­prise no one that, after Trump built his po­lit­i­cal brand on the lie of Obama’s nonci­t­i­zen­ship, sur­vey data cited in “The Great Re­volt” shows that the Trump vot­ers in the Rust Belt con­sider their guy “a more pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can” than the one be­fore. Maybe birtherism is in­fec­tious, too.

Not ev­ery book must cover every­thing, of course. Zito and Todd are not re­quired to add Alt-Right Reli­ables, Birther ’Burbs or Mid­dle-Class Misog­y­nists to their mix. When the au­thors wonder about the dura­bil­ity of Trump’s sup­port, they ask, “Was his coali­tion the prod­uct of a can­di­dacy or did he, as a can­di­date, ben­e­fit from a cause that suc­ceeded in spite of him?”

Their book does not set­tle the ques­tion, nor does it per­sua­sively de­fine the cause an­i­mat­ing this coali­tion. They call it “the new pop­ulism,” but in many ways, their vi­sion of the Trump base seems as par­tial and eu­phem­ized as the con­ven­tional jour­nal­is­tic no­tions they pur­port to de­bunk.

In their view, Trump’s racist state­ments bind his sup­port­ers more closely to him only be­cause the main­stream news me­dia over­re­acts and there­fore draws ire from the base. Trump vot­ers sup­port a bor­der wall and a ban on travelers from some Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­tries as part of their “mis­trust of multi­na­tional big­ness,” noth­ing more. When he at­tacks NFL play­ers who kneel dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest po­lice vi­o­lence, Trump is “shift­ing the de­bate away from the pro­test­ers’ stated pur­pose to a de­bate on pa­tri­o­tism it­self,” elic­it­ing “roars of ap­proval” from his base. The Democrats are the race-baiters; Trump sup­port­ers merely de­sire a “restora­tion of cul­tural re­spect.”

All of which may be ac­cu­rate. In a lit­eral sense.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

By Salena Zito and Brad Todd. Crown Fo­rum. 309 pp. $28.

THE GREAT RE­VOLT In­side the Pop­ulist Coali­tion Re­shap­ing Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics

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