An open letter to my friends and neighbors who voted for Donald Trump

An open letter to my friends and neighbors who voted for Donald Trump
Donald Trump addresses the National Guard in Baltimore in September. (Reginald Thomas II)

You have told me that the media is biased against you and people like you—retired Navy submariners with Top Secret security clearances that they have never betrayed, construction managers who work as Christian missionaries on the side, mid-level insurance executives who, three years after an expensive divorce, live in houses twice as big as mine. And you are right. My industry (or my side of my industry, at least) did not see you. It still does not see you, amid the storm of inner city protests and the instant celebrities who surround them, amid the poverty of everyday life near where we—the "liberal media"—mostly make our homes, amid our personal and often desperate struggle to remain economically viable in an industry that has been declining for decades, declining like the so-called "smokestack industries" our profession once chronicled with such admirable detachment.

We didn't hear you when you said you could never vote for Hillary Clinton. We couldn't believe when you insisted she was more corrupt than Donald Trump. We could not sway you with our exposes of his mendacious, rapacious career, his raging misogyny, his absurd narcissism. Everything we hold as self-evident about Trump's unfitness for any public trust, you answered with "Benghazi" and "emails." I did laugh.


Earning half what you make as a truck driver, a little bit more than you collect in retirement after 25 years as a correctional officer, I laughed at your ignorance. I said your Fox News bubble was unreal. I thought my bubble was realer. It got pretty heated. Now, it's about to get real.

None of us liked Clinton. None of us likes the economy that has shaped our lives for the past three decades, an economy of shrinking wages and stagnant opportunities—an economy in which the most corrupt and lucky are paid hundreds or thousands of times what an ordinary worker makes, usually to facilitate a business model designed to fleece people like me and you. I see Trump as the avatar of that business model. You see Clinton, with her two-faced million-dollar speeches, as the same. And I guess we're right.

Yet you believe Donald Trump will work for you. That his wealth insulates him from the temptations of corruption. You believe he will roll back trade agreements and enforce immigration law so hard that wages will rise. You believe he'll create opportunities for your children, so they might have a shot at doing as well as you did.

I don't. I doubted Clinton would, either. And by that I mean Bill Clinton.

That's the crux of the matter. No one we elect is even going to be able to put those pieces back together.

This much, though, is true: The hope and change for which you have voted is likely to change things much more than our last "Hope and Change" candidate did. At last, we have a person unmoored by politics as usual. Someone ready and eager to smash the pieces where they lay. To break them more. And I guess we'll be able to live with that.

But millions of others will have a harder time with it, and I hope you'll give a thought to them. I recall that day last June, standing on your perfect front lawn, hearing from you that our neighborhood has gone down since "the blacks" started moving in. This sticks in my mind every time I wave to my next-door neighbor as he mows part of my lawn, just as neighborly as you or any white guy would be. By "the blacks," did you mean him? Did you mean the man who walked into my yard last spring and grabbed the heavy end of a rock I was trying to move? The guy who is raising his kids and going to work and trying to figure out how he's going to afford a new roof like the one you put on your house three years ago?

My friends who voted for Hillary are convinced Trump is a fascist, and that you are his Brown Shirts. Among these friends of mine are cowering people, defiant people, coming unhinged. But they have my back, and I have theirs. They have proved this on the street and in the woods, in state capitals and stadia, for decades, stating the facts in blood and ink and black paint rolled over a billboard on a moonless night. Peaceful, unarmed, open-hearted, empathetic to the unlucky and the impoverished, angry as fuck, they are readers of my articles and of books, thinkers, marchers in protest of war and injustice, helpers, healers, poets.

I am them. Because I grew up in a place full of money, without any. I was taught the primacy of education. I was lucky enough to be able to pay off my college loans. And in this education I learned about the people, white and black and brown, who were not so lucky, and that I had some responsibility to them. I became a newspaper reporter in part to fulfill that responsibility. I spent election day listening to people, in the city and the county, trying to understand what was happening, trying to write it down clearly and honestly, and I continue that work today.

You, who voted for Trump or against Clinton, are also my friends, and I know you are not Brown Shirts, and that you have my back also, as I have yours. We have proved this to each other for years, on the road, in the ancient pseudo-sports cars we drive hundreds of miles for fun. Well-armed, open-hearted, willing to give your time and spare parts to help keep alive these atavistic vehicles that are so irrelevant and dangerous that—we all know—an enlightened central government would ban them from the public roads, you fight with me to keep them rolling in the face of technocratic wisdom and accident data. These old machines: a clattering demonstration of freedom and unreasonable risk, their very existence is a kind of poetry.

I am you. Because, before I went to school, I was taught the value and honor of loyalty, and of work and craft—of making something well and maintaining what you have and of learning new skills. I spent half of Sunday welding, inexpertly, but by the end of it my beads were getting smoother, the steel melting together strong, and I was proud.

We have this in common. None of us think life is fair. None of us think we've gotten our due. None of us trust the word of any politician we've ever voted for or against. All of us are willing to do what we can to make things better.

We're going to need to.

I believe that you are going to regret voting for Trump even more than I was going to regret voting for Clinton. He is going to disappoint you as no politician has before, and there will be hardship—not only, as promised, for illegal aliens and the professional hucksters inside the Washington, D.C. beltway. He will demand sacrifice, and obsequience. He will take your money and he will squander it, as he has always done with other people's money. He will stiff you, as he has habitually done to those he regards as expendable. You will be betrayed.


And when you are betrayed, I will still be your friend, and I will still be your neighbor, and I will still lend you a hand, as you lend me yours.