Though I do not embrace Donald Trump politically, there is one aspect of his campaign to which I am sympathetic. One reason why Trump has been successful beyond most early predictions is because he appeals to the frustrations of working-class whites who lack a college education. The demographics of his supporters have been widely covered and verified from sources such as The Atlantic, Politico, and FiveThirtyEight.
I can relate to those voters to some extent because I have my own frequent frustrations, though mine are of a vastly different nature than the ones afflicting his supporters. (While I do not make much money as a graduate student, I have accepted this trade-off for the opportunity to build my computer science skills and do not view my income as an issue.) I’ve thought about this surprising “juxtaposition of frustrations” for a few months.
I’ve also wondered about what would happen if there was a politician who could directly appeal to my frustration. To be clear, I don’t think any politician could or would want do that. Politicians, for better or worse, have to speak to large groups of people who tend to vote together, because that’s where the votes will come from. Donald Trump needs the support of working class whites, who (despite their relative decline in the share of the population) still compose a substantial fraction of the electorate. A similar case is happening with the Democratic party; Hillary Clinton has to appeal to the minority vote because non-whites heavily vote Democratic. It’s not bad politics for politicians to do that, and if I were a politician running for a prominent elected office, I would do the same thing. It just means that people like me or others who feel excluded from politics may feel left out, as covered by this NY Times article1.
As stated earlier, it is unlikely that a politician would be able to directly appeal to me. In fact, even if someone did do that, I am still not sure if I would vote for him or her. Politicians across both political parties are notorious for making extravagant promises that don’t materialize.
My purpose in outlining my thoughts here is partly to raise some thought-provoking questions on how politicians can appeal to as much of the population as possible in the midst of conflicting goals among voting blocs. One challenge is that there is an enormous spread of economic power among people within blocs. Those who may lack opportunity, but who nonetheless fall into a group of people who have historically had advantages in our society, may feel resentful that their voices are ignored. It’s a delicate balance to try and address their concerns while also ensuring fairness and equality as much as possible, and to counter the perception that addressing one group of voters (e.g., working class whites) might alienate other groups of voters (e.g., the African American voting bloc). I don’t have the answers for this. Being a politician must be an incredibly difficult job.
Again, I disagree with Trump politically, but I can understand the frustrations some of his supporters may feel. I think it is important that we not ignore them, who (aside from the Ku Klux Klan) are reasonable American citizens. I hope that his campaign, while controversial, will have a positive long-term effect in that politicians across the political spectrum will be more sensitive to the needs of people who feel politically ignored.
A quick note: I am technically not a white male because I am half Asian, but Asians receive far less attention in politics than African Americans and Latinos/Hispanics, for obvious reasons: we don’t have as much voting power. ↩