Much has been debated when examining the presidency of Donald J. Trump. An international business man who entered politics with a populist message and an antipathy towards the establishment has been viewed as a refreshing departure from the life-long politicians of old. His brash departure from long held norms and customs in an effort to fight for the forgotten men and women of Middle America has engendered a fealty among his supporters that is seemingly immutable.
A cursory look at this phenomenon might cause one to conclude that Trump is the stable genius as he has tweeted and stated about himself scores of times. I submit that his manipulation of his followers is rooted in something that he recognized and exploited, while others mocked and ridiculed the same. This group has often been referred to as poorly educated voters. More specifically they have been referred to as poorly educated white voters.
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On its surface it seems like an insult to the rest of America when poor white uneducated Americans are the focus of so much time and research. It is as if the media obsesses over this segment of the population to the exclusion of everyone else. Trump surely has focused his attention on this group of voters, and promised them everything that is the source of their economic and social discontent with simple solutions swaddled in simple chants like “Build the wall” or “Lock her up”.
It is easier to understand Trump’s strategy when you start to break down the numbers. According to the United States Census Bureau as of January 28, 2020 there are 329,227,746 people in the United States and 62.6% of those are Non-Hispanic whites. That means that there are 206,096,569 white people in the United States, and while whites have become a minority of the population in most urban counties since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center whites remain the majority in 90% of suburbs and 89% in rural counties. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of counties in the US are rural.
Before we can start to draw any conclusions based solely on demographics, there are two additional data points that we need to explore. The Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2019 on who doesn’t read books in America. This is instructive especially given Trump’s attacks of liberals as elite, which is usually code for educated (especially Ivy League education). This is another glaring contradiction on Trump’s part as he often boasts that he attended the Wharton School of Business (though he transferred there his senior year). But I digress.
Regardless of your level of education almost everyone who has an education agrees that you must remain current in your discipline if your subject matter expertise is going to remain current and relevant. The consumption of new information does not have to model attending a traditional college or university. It can be continuing education by attending an industry conference or subscribing to periodicals in your industry. Whatever your education looks like it includes reading new information in your field of study.
That is why it is alarming that according to the Pew study the highest percentage of people who have not read a book in the past 12 months are rural. In fact the study reports that 33% of rural Americans have not read a book in the past 12 months compared with 24% percent in urban and suburban counties. The study goes on to report that 44% of people who have not read a book in the past 12 months have a high school diploma or less compared with 22% with some college and 8% with college. Individuals whose income is less than $30K per year represent 36% of people who have not read a book in the past 12 months, and 32% of men compared with 22% of women fall into the same category.
So when you look at the profile of the average Trump supporter they are white, male, living in rural America, with a high school diploma or less, who make less than $30k, and who has not read a book in the past 12 months. Your next logical question might be where does this group get their information? Well according to Pew Research the average Republican (Trump has support of 85% of Republican voters) gets their information from only two sources, but 66% of Republicans trust one source above all else: FoxNews. No wonder Trump appears on that network exclusively.
So the solution to the Trump phenomenon is more than impeaching, removing, or voting Trump out. One could be forgiven for surmising that removing Trump would only exacerbate his followers in to more of a fury than they are already demonstrating. I travel to all parts of the US regularly and let me tell you there is little more jarring than poor rural America. Remember that original number at the beginning of this article: 206,096,569 white Americans. If the entire richest 1% of America is 100% white (and it isn’t), that is 3,292,227. If you remove the top 1% from the total of white Americans that leaves you with over 200 million white Americans, and a plurality of them will remain Trump supporters.
We can continue to invest energy in trying to understand Trump, but I believe that understanding the profile of his supporters along with the conditions that created them has more worth. If we eliminate the conditions that created this group, conditions which are shared by every group, we will prevent Trump and more importantly any future Trump from putting America through this nightmare again.
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