Here is what I think is happening in this country, and why so many people are indeed voting for Trump.
Most people are generous and tolerant of others as long as they are happy themselves and can afford to be so. In France, for instance, we are now witnessing blatant discrimination against Muslims. Their prejudice did not surface until recently with all the terrorist attacks, because France was peaceful enough and people were happy enough. Whenever we are happy ourselves we can afford to point our fingers at others and call them bigots and racists so we can feel good about ourselves.
In the US, now we have a presidential candidate who is blatantly racist and sexist, and the half of the country is supporting him. What this tells us is that the millions of Americans have now reached a point where their own predicaments are so bad that they can no longer afford to be idealistic. This is not so different from how Hitler came to power. Trump supporters at this point are not trying to uphold any sort of high moral values. They are in a self-preservation mode. They are simply reacting to fears. If you asked them, “Are you are a racist?” I’m pretty certain, the vast majority of them would say no.
Prejudice is a form of fear. All of us are prejudiced. If we were subjected to an increasing amount of threat, at some point, all of us will give into our own prejudice in order to preserve ourselves. It’s just a matter of at what point.
I believe the main cause of their fear is the income inequality. The recent data on mortality support this. “Despair deaths” (like drinking themselves to death, drug overdose, and suicide) among less-educated white Americans are on the rise. They have hit rock bottom. They’ve tried to turn their lives around but failed. They desperately want change. Any change, because anything different, they feel, would be better than what they have now. Sending Trump who is clearly not qualified to be president, or any type of politician, is a form of revenge or revolt for them.
From this point of view, Trump is actually the more rational choice. Clinton is part of the establishment that encouraged the income inequality. Her cozy relationships with Wall Street banks are undeniable. You don’t get paid $200,000 a speech and expect no strings to be attached. So, you might call these less-educated Americans “stupid” or “idiots” but if you had the same goal (or dream) of fundamentally changing the culture of Washington, voting for Clinton would actually be more stupid. The only reason why they seem utterly stupid to you is because you don’t know their lives.
We, New Yorkers, have to remember that the pillar of our local economy is Wall Street, financial services. Almost everything else is supported by that pillar, like real estate, lawyers, accountants, restaurants, etc.. From outside of New York, it is clear that all of us New Yorkers are direct or indirect beneficiaries of the income inequality created by Wall Street and by the politicians who support them. If the financial industry went the way of manufacturing, New York would look like Detroit. We would all be fighting for whatever little jobs there are. It is almost certain that the level of prejudice will rise.
The fact that we are seeing millions of people supporting a blatant racist and sexist tells me that our fellow Americans are suffering. What they need is not ridicule but sympathy. As long as your life is comfortable now, it’s easy for you to claim that you would never support a racist no matter how bad your life becomes. Ridiculing them will in fact make their lives even worse, and sooner or later, they will come back with an even more desperate choice than Trump.
In this sense, Trump is actually our own creation. We are looking at ourselves in a mirror. We know deep down we have the same weakness to give into our own fears and prejudices. We hate that about ourselves, so instead of recognizing it for what it is (weakness), we project it onto others and point our fingers.