We all seem to remember where we were when we heard the news that Donald Trump would indeed be the 45th president of the United States.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” Linda recounted. “My husband went to bed at 11, but I stayed up until 2 a.m., and then I couldn’t watch anymore.”
“You know, I was so shocked when I saw all of that red on the map,” explained Jonathan. “I was up all night, changing channels from MSNBC to Fox, slapping my face to make sure it wasn’t a dream.”
Of the 300 undecided voters I researched for the Clinton campaign last summer, most can recall what time they went to bed on the evening of Nov. 8, and 92 percent of those voters were surprised at the outcome. Post-election, I have decided to continue the research on my own, starting with interviews with another 300 voters from all ends of the political spectrum.
Since that November evening, most of us have gone back into our respective bubbles. We whisper about the other side. Hillary Clinton fans believe Armageddon is near, and wonder if they can be Patriots fans if Tom Brady has a red hat in his locker. Trump fans see the marches and protests and wish that everyone would just relax. We meet in bars and talk about our divided country and wonder how we will come together.
Writers are trying. Scores of journalists fill their gas tanks and drive to Kentucky to meet Trump voters: the unemployed white guys, the “pro-life” women, the stars of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Their plants closed and no one helped them get the skills they needed to find jobs in the new economy, and they are angry. We read the articles about them and decide that we understand.
What I am finding as I hear from hundreds of voters each week is that we don’t really understand — at least not yet.
One of my biggest lessons so far is how wrong the stereotypes are. For instance, if you live in Massachusetts or California or New York, you don’t need to drive to the Midwest to find a Trump voter. They are in your office, in your neighborhood, and in your places of worship. Some of them lied to pollsters and read Facebook posts from friends about how bigoted and evil — and yes, deplorable — they were. Many of them voted for Trump reluctantly, agonizing over how they could overlook his lies and attacks. Now, they no longer feel alone.
Take Sheila, a 49- year-old actuary from Eastern Massachusetts. She was always a Democrat, but her perspective changed over time. Her work at an insurance company required her to speak with customers who were claiming reimbursement for their injuries. “It seemed like every call I did was a person who wasn’t working, who was living off the system, “ she explained. “It was classic: people faking headaches and whiplash just to get another $5,000, and it made me cynical.” Sheila voted for Trump, despite being “horrified about some of the things he said,” in the hope that things would change. “The country has gone way too far to the left, and sometimes you have to take a sharp right to correct it.”
Sheila explained to me that she doesn’t talk about whom she voted for because she is worried about losing friends, but she is happy right now with Trump. She wonders whether anyone has noticed that our new President is trying to communicate clearly, working seven days a week, and doing everything he promised in record time. She loves his efforts to cut taxes, to try to make our country more secure, to limit lobbying by former politicos, and to put people in cabinet positions who have executive experience. “When I do admit I voted for Trump, people attack me,” she added.
Like Sheila, other Trump voters I connect with weekly are very hopeful, and many are downright exhilarated. Some voted for Trump because they wanted a strong and decisive leader; many hated the Clintons; some were torn and decided to go for change; and yes, some had lost their jobs to companies that outsourced them overseas.
At the moment, there is only one area in which the Trump voters I talked to are generally unhappy. It’s not the cabinet appointments or policy decisions, but rather the haphazardness with which work is getting done — especially the recent immigration ban, which most support. “I am not worried about executive orders, because Obama used them day in and day out also,’’ said Charles from Texas. “However, it just seems that things are so stupidly executed. I wonder who is in charge, and I am betting that some heads will roll shortly.”
And from Karen in Michigan: “ If Trump is a good businessman, he needs to use more of his business skill to make his organization work.” Or from Sherman in Kentucky: “It is so important to slow down immigration and to get our act together on how we vet refugees. I would rather have seen this implemented slowly and well.” Or from Karl in Montana: “As my grandma always said, ‘Haste makes waste.’ It pains me to see such a colossal screw-up as the immigration fiasco, when the original intent was well founded.” They feel this way despite Trump’s claim that the White House is a fine-tuned machine.
As a former Hillary supporter and now a researcher on this subject, I am curious about this restlessness: Will it last? Will it turn into disappointment or disgust? And can the Trump White House rise to the occasion and fulfill the promises made to voters? The good news is that the biggest shared concern of all the voters in my sample is the divisiveness in our country. It is an enormous source of stress for Trump voters, who desperately want Americans to give their guy a chance. And even most Clinton voters want a reason to come together; they are sick of hearing their own friends talking about how Trump lost the popular vote. I share in their hope that the need to find common ground will help us all find a way to move forward.
Clarification: The voters in this column were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, investor, and chairman of C Space.