I grew up in a fairly rural part of New York state. Close enough to the city not be unfamiliar with it but by no means am I from a city, let alone NYC. My dad is blue collar; he does not have a college education. He’s used his back to earn a living. He values hard work and he instilled that in me.
I wish I could say I have no idea how Trump was elected because in a way, that would make it easier. But I have an idea and none of it is as simple as the story lines I’ve seen thus far. They’re not all racist, they’re not all working class folks – like everything else in life, it’s grey. It’s layered. It’s complicated.
I grew up with some of “those” people. Hard working, decent people. Waitressing at a small-town diner for years was the best education I ever got. If you sit down and have a conversation with people, you’ll find that on average, there’s common ground. They value hard work and they want opportunity for their kids. Yet over the years, despite busting their backs – they haven’t gotten too far.
But they watch. They watch as “others” get ahead. As GDP per capita rises yet they can’t afford to send their kids to college. These people are not innately bad people. They wanted change so intensely, they were willing to set aside divisive rhetoric and red flags for a shot at something different.
Now, I don’t agree with their choice but I can’t dismiss it. I also can’t dismiss the fact some people did vote for Trump because is he a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot. Some people are so threatened by changing shifts in demographics, so threatened by fear of the unknown that they cling to hate.
That can’t be ignored. That can’t be minimized. It makes me sick to say that my president boasted about sexual assault. It makes me sick to say “my president.” But here’s the thing, he is now.
So what to do? In regards to those who cling to hate – we keep fighting for what is right.
And for those who desperately wanted change, those who wanted to understand how a top CEO can be paid 373 times more than his or her employees, or how congress gets 7 weeks of paid vacation per year. Let’s open up a dialogue. It’s not much but it’s a start.
When is the last time you asked your cab driver his or her name? The last time you said “how are you” (and meant it) to your mailman (or woman)? The last time you really listened to someone you disagree with?
Beyond that, as policy makers – we need to ask some uncomfortable questions and really get to how we can have an informed citizenry. Policies that focus on ensuring inter-generational mobility, policies that not only benefit the greater good but empower those who are busy just trying to get by.
Marie Agosta is a second-year MPA student at the London School of Economics, she is originally from Wingdale, New York. Prior to the MPA, she served in the Peace Corps and worked for several years at an education nonprofit in Boston.