Gretchen Reiter is a political messaging and communications strategist and a Beltway insider living in Texas. The views expressed here are her own.
No matter what part of the country you live in, this was an ugly election. I live in rural America, the heart of Trump Country, but spent over 10 years in Washington and still work in politics today. Throughout this election cycle, I saw my friends and family reduced to a label given by elitist and intolerant talking heads: uneducated white people.
It’s that label and the condescending sentiments of coastal elites that fueled support for President-elect Donald Trump. As a schoolteacher from my hometown of Chattanooga, OK, said, “I hope if we elect a regular citizen, even a billionaire one, we may finally have a voice against crazy everyday political garbage.”
That garbage is spewed by coastal elites who paint with a broad brush the voters who supported Trump. In addition to "uneducated," they called them names like "rednecks," "hypocrites," and "Bible-thumpers." For me, the last straw was when I heard New York Times columnist David Brooks say on PBS NewsHour, the Friday before the election, that voters are supporting Trump because of their “gene pool.” It was insulting and ignorant.
I tossed and turned for nights after Brooks’ comment. He was talking about my people. And it’s not just Brooks, but also some people I know and worked with in D.C. I’ve heard it for years, that we are small-minded and focused on small, irrelevant issues like the weather (which our livelihoods depend on) and daily family responsibilities. That demeaning sentiment hit fever pitch over the past few months. And it continues now that Trump has won.
How disconnected have we become that our first explanation of this election is to insult and belittle half our population? To dismiss them is missing the point.
No matter what happened election night, somebody was going to lose, and half of the country was going to wake up feeling as if their world was upended and their voices silenced. However we feel, though, we all must deal with our emotions and move forward. We must overcome the deep division in this country by understanding each other’s daily struggles and our commonalities.
While the cities and urban areas have progressed — not just in thinking, but also in lifestyle — the individuals in flyover country have been left behind. Many have surely read about the economic struggles of family farms and towns built around manufacturing and coal in the Wall Street Journal, but do you know someone who is experiencing those struggles? No? Well, let me tell you about them.
They are intelligent, hard-working, value-driven people: farmers, ranchers, small businessman, entrepreneurs, coal miners, and factory workers. They have brains, concerns, struggles, and worries just like city people. They are my people, my family. And we don’t just share the worry of putting food on the table; we worry about putting food on the table for the whole country.
We are concerned about health care, too — not only the cost, but having to drive miles and sometimes hours to get the type of care we need. We don’t have Uber, food delivery, or a corner grocery. A big night out is not going to a Broadway play or a concert, but going to town to eat at the local family owned restaurant. And there is no “Netflix and chill” because there is no high-speed internet.
We live differently; therefore, we think differently.
I challenge you to look at them, not as uneducated white people, but as fellow Americans who live in states with some of the worst health care, lowest household incomes, and highest unemployment.
If these voters lived just outside an urban sprawl, they would be lower-middle-class voters on the other side of the economic divide who became the audience of the politically ambitious. Instead, because of geography and other factors, they’re just viewed as ignorant.
Our country has developed a culture of inclusiveness, political correctness, and tolerance, while at the same time becoming intolerant of Americans who live, think, and speak differently. While we are raising our children to treat everyone equally and be open-minded, why don’t we practice what we preach? Think about that while you wait in line at Starbucks. I won’t because the closest Starbucks is 20 miles away.
The American people will continuously lose if we allow this ugliness in our political system to endure. We must look in the mirror and examine how our divided cultures led to this political environment. And, as a nation, we must face a hard truth: The change needs to start with us.
So, instead of wondering what is going to happen going forward, we should all ask ourselves what are we, personally, going to do differently from now on? How can we be the change we, as a country, claim we want and yearn for? How can we be tolerant of those who see things differently, yet find the common threads that bind us together? If any good can come from this election, it must start with us.