WILL REID: If you’ve been following the mountain of op-eds and statistical mea culpas and other coverage on this last election, then you’ve probably heard that on Election Day, it was…
BRUCE: …mainly the two coasts against the middle of the country.
WR: That’s Bruce.
BRUCE: Bruce Thane. I’m a machinist.
WR: He’s not the only one who’s focused on how this election played out geographically. Article after article talks about how we’re living in a nation split by ideology. Social media and biased news has eroded communication between the two sides such that they might as well inhabit two different countries. “The Two Americas of 2016,” reads the headline of one New York Times piece. It shows a map of what the landmasses of these nations would look like. One, an expansive rural landscape eerily pockmarked by city-sized craters. The other, a scatterplot of urban islands flanked by two long archipelagos, the coasts.
For those of us living in a city where the local chain of coffee shops has “Blue State” in the name, this way of looking at the country makes it easy to think that this other America is pretty far away.
It also makes it easy to make the other America one big stereotype.
BRUCE: I think the people on the two coasts are more sophisticated and have a better idea of international politics. And the people in the middle of the country, I don’t think they watch, well the stuff they watch is rubbish. They don’t watch news or read newspapers.
A lot has also been written on how difficult it was for members of the Liberal elite to truly connect with Trump supporters, and folks from Glenn Beck to Mark Zuckerberg have called for increased empathy – on both sides – to bridge the divide revealed by this election.
But I wondered. How hard is it to understand Trump’s base? How true is this narrative about the two Americas? I wanted to see for myself. And to do so, I need to take a trip to Trumpland.
[“Livin’ on the Edge,” by Aerosmith]
As it turns out, I didn’t need to go that far. Just a short drive up interstate 91 lays East Haven. It and four other neighboring suburbs of New Haven voted for Trump in the majority.
I visited East Haven over break. When I got there, I heard that if I was looking to talk to some local folks, there was one place I had to visit. The Twin Pines Diner.
[door noise and “how’s it going, boss?”]
That’s where I met Bruce, and old school, working class Democrat increasingly outnumbered in this majority Trump community. I met a few other folks as well. If there were a subtitle to this piece, it would be “Brief Conversations With Angry White Men.”
ANON: Shut that thing off and I’ll tell you what I think.
PAT: I’m a financial advisor… I chose Trump because he was the lesser of two evils. I was more appalled by what Hillary Clinton has done versus what Donald Trump has said. I don’t understand why Hillary Clinton isn’t in jail, and was able to make it this far into the process. That’s how I feel.
WR: To be fair, not all of the folks I spoke to were angry, or even that supportive of Trump.
TIM: Originally I was a Bernie supporter, but once it came down to it, I had to make a choice based on my opinions.
WR: That’s Tim, a local “business owner.”
TIM: Trump in my opinion was the best candidate, even though, considering he’s Trump.
WR: His issue with Trump, however, had nothing to do with anything he’d said as a candidate.
TIM: Personally I don’t think we need any more billionaires running the country.
WR: Nor were the customers at Twin Pines seemingly bothered by his comments about women.
SCOTT: I think the thing on the bus was like he said, just two guys bragging bullshit, you know what I mean?
WR: That’s Scott. He’s a painter, and he, like the others, embraced much of what Trump has said. And for the things he couldn’t, well, he was willing to give the President-elect the benefit of the doubt.
SCOTT: I think a lot of what was said was for the election because American’s attention span is only two weeks.
WR: This seemed to be a common thread among the Trump supporters I spoke to. Most weren’t bothered by his rhetoric. If they were, they thought it was just words. Beyond that, I’m not sure I learned much from my trip to Trump land. If there’s one thing I’d say, it’s that the other America is closer than you think.
[“This Land is Your Land,” by Peter, Paul and Mary]