This Election Is Not about Policy. It's About Identity
The boys I grew up with in Arkansas — who used to whisper “fa*got lover” from the back of the class whenever I spoke, regularly kicked my ass or threw me into trashcans — have blossomed two decades later into the Donald Trump demographic. Those poor and lower middle-class kids who went hunting on the weekends, did all their shopping at “Walmarts,” and frequently got drunk and rode around in four-wheelers while wearing camouflage jackets are all voting for an Ivy-league educated billionaire from Manhattan who has never had a drink in his life. If he wasn’t running for President, most Trump voters would probably want to beat the shit out of Donald Trump.
But Chuck Norris isn’t running for President, and these men sure as hell ain’t voting for a woman. Donald Trump is all they’ve got, and they have used this rambling, nonsensical Redbox super-villain as a vessel for their own fears, frustrations, and anger. It’s not so much that they’re afraid of losing their way of life — four-wheelers, Budweiser, deer season, and high-school football ain’t going anywhere — it’s that they don’t want to take orders from a woman anymore than they want to take orders from a black man. They’re worried about Mexicans taking the jerbs that they hate away from them, or that their kids might have to share a classroom with a Somalian child. They don’t give a shit about Donald Trump, except to the extent that he’s a white man with whom they can identify.
This election is not about policy. It’s about identity.
Meanwhile, in the other corner, Hillary Clinton is not exactly the poster woman for liberal America, despite what the alt-right might have us believe. She’s center-left. She’s hawkish. Her husband is responsible for the mass incarceration of black men over the last 20 years. He enacted damaging legislation to our social safety net, and she has deep ties to Wall Street and other corporate interests. But for us, she’s close enough for 2016. She represents the diverse America we want to see. Our hopes and dreams may not necessarily align with those of Hillary Clinton, but she’s going to be the vessel for those hopes and dreams anyway.
In some ways, the candidates have become an afterthought in this election. As several polls have illustrated, the race between Clinton and Trump today is almost exactly where it was in January. The polls fluctuate based on the news cycle, but they invariably bounce back to where they were with the majority of college education voters, women, and people of color voting for Hillary, and white men (and some women) without college degrees voting for Trump (how are there so many uneducated white men in this country? Why aren’t we talking more about education?)
It’s why this race has been so divisive; it’s why people on both sides have been so passionately angry. It’s not about tax policy or the environment or poverty. We’re not fighting for a candidate. We’re fighting for our identities, we’re fighting for who we are, and the only policies that seem to matter this year are those that reinforce our identities.
Trump supporters don’t give a shit about emails. They just use them as a cudgel to validate their own voting preferences. They don’t really care about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions, either (because they know they have no room to speak where their own candidate is concerned). I think that we care deeply about Donald Trump’s sexual assaults because they reinforce our beliefs that he does not respect women. But the tax issues, the Trump foundation, and the millions of lies are political weapons we use to take down Trump in the hopes that those angry white men will lose some passion for him.
They won’t. Because those issues do not go to the root of their identities. For every shot we fire against Donald Trump, they shoot one back, even if they have to resort to lies or conspiracy to manufacture a bullet. This election season is like a Ryan Murphy war: There are a million shots being fired, but nobody ever stays dead. The best we can hope is that we cripple them enough to break their spirits on election day.
The country is still divided, almost down the middle. But our side is gaining. We might lose this year (I don’t think we will), but this is what the map will look like in just four years (Hat Tip: El Gordo) if the political demographics continue their current trend. This is how kids are voting in their classrooms right now:
I have four-year-old twins. When they are 30 years old and go to the polls, they won’t be in the majority anymore. There will be more people of color than white people, and when things even out between the races, maybe policy will matter again. Because right now, Trump supporters are fighting against the tide of history: They want to keep out Mexicans and Muslims (but not Europeans) because they are clinging to their identities while the rest of us are trying to finally move toward that United States where we’re all just Americans again, to that great big goddamn melting pot that we once spoke so highly of. An America where we’re arguing over tax policies, health insurance, the distribution of wealth, and the environment instead of about who can use which bathroom and who belongs in this country and who doesn’t.
Unfortunately, those issues are taking a backseat right now to the bigger question of what we want this country to be. I desperately want Hillary Clinton to win, but more importantly, I want this to be the kind of country that elects the identity that Hillary Clinton represents, or at least the identity that we want her to represent.
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