An Open(Hearted) Letter to Trump Voters from a Gay, HIV-Positive, Anti-Corporate, Un-Rich "Coastal Elite"

"There is so much bitterness between us, but I have to believe that somewhere, deep down, we want the same things.."
02/03/2017 11:14 am ET Updated Feb 03, 2017

Dear Trump Supporters,

You probably think I’m a fool for trying to communicate with you. Even I sort of feel like a fool for trying to communicate with you. I’ve been trolled and have heard all the homophobic slurs before, from the relatively benign “snowflake” (which I actually think is kind of funny and has a kernel of truth to it) to meaner, more hurtful stuff I’ve heard since I was seven and won’t repeat here in an attempt to keep this rated PG-13.

But enough about all that. The truth is, I’m tired of yelling against Trump in my New York City bubble of like-minded liberals and left-wingers and I desperately want to talk to you. Desperately. And in a way, it’s a desire to talk to some members of my own extended family. 

Half of us are in Massachusetts and are pretty staunch Obama liberals. The other half are in New Hampshire, lifelong Republicans who are anti-social programs and anti-taxes. And that divide has always been tolerable for me but I have to admit that this time around, I’m feeling incredible anger at relatives who voted for Trump, even though he lost in New Hampshire. 

It’s a painful, crummy feeling to be so angry at people you love, to feel torn between loyalty to family and to friends and colleagues here in New York and other cities who are already being hurt by the things Trump is doing right now, like blocking from reentry people who have been living and working here legally for years. 

But enough about that, too. I want to tell you how I feel about this idea of being a “coastal elite.” I don’t come from money. My paternal grandmother was a French-Canadian single mother with two boys, one of whom with Down’s syndrome, who worked most of her life in a sneaker factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts. 

And while many of my New York City friends’ parents are bankers, doctors, lawyers and academics, my father was a liquor salesman who spent most of his life in a car in the Boston area driving from one restaurant or “package store” to another. He was part of that final, fortunate generation of Americans who managed to work for one company their entire lives. My mother was a nurse and then a teacher’s aide for special-ed kids. 

My parents worked incredibly hard to send my brother and me to Ivy League colleges, which I suppose is what bumped us up socially into the “coastal elite.” But my whole sense of being a left-wing progressive comes from a grandmother who was in a union and whose closest work friends were Puerto Ricans who were despised by much of the white, Catholic working-class population. That is where my belief in working people transcending race and religion to band together for their own common good comes from. 

I am a freelance journalist, novelist and activist. I am middle class. I’ve never made above five figures. I’m self-employed so I rely on both Obamacare and the Ryan White CARE Act for the care and treatment of my HIV. You can troll me on that, too, tell me I’m disgusting, that I deserve it, deserve to die, because of my “lifestyle choice.” 

Honestly, I’ve heard it all before. To me, it’s just a preexisting condition that needs coverage. People get diabetes, lung cancer, high-blood pressure and drug addiction because of “lifestyle choices” as well. I don’t think it’s moral to apply a morality test to who deserves lifesaving care and treatment.

I guess there are some of you I’m never going to connect with. Maybe you believe in a completely unregulated free market. Maybe you don’t think that the richer you are, the more taxes you should pay to support things like public health care and education and roads. Maybe you don’t think that job growth has to be balanced with not destroying the planet. 

Maybe you don’t think that certain groups like black people or Muslims or LGBT people are more vulnerable to harm than other groups and shouldn’t be protected by civil rights. Maybe you want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and abortion made completely illegal in the U.S.

Okay. We’re not going to connect on those things. That’s fine. On all those things, I’ll admit I’m a pretty cookie-cutter liberal or leftist or snowflake or commie godless f*ggot or whatever you want to call me. I know all those things represent big American fights that each of our sides is going to have to go on fighting for years, as we have been. In courts, in elections, in hearts and minds. 

But what I really want to say is this: If on some level, Bernie Sanders thrilled you as much as Trump because you felt like both were trying to smash down a system rigged for corporations and their puppets in Congress, I’m on the same page as you. 

If you don’t think it’s fair that you are working hard and you can’t pay your health bills (Obamacare or otherwise) or for your childcare, your kids’ college education or your retirement security, I’m on the same page as you. 

And if you “deplored” Hillary Clinton not because she was a woman but because she symbolized everything wrong about American political establishment leaders in the pockets of corporations and lobbyists, I am completely on the same page as you. 

I fervently wanted Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic candidate and I was infuriated that the corporate-backed Democratic leadership and mainstream media marginalized and minimized his candidacy. 

I also won’t make any bones about the fact that, once Hillary had the nomination, I not only voted for but campaigned for her in Ohio because I was afraid of what President Trump would do. I didn’t do it enthusiastically―I did it stoically.

So I understand that the very things Trump is doing right now that I find “deplorable”―the ban on people from mainly Muslim countries, the cabinet filled with anti-worker, anti-LGBT billionaires, the hostility toward a free press―may be among the reasons you voted for him and are happy to see him following through on. Again, we’re just not going to agree on those things. My opposition to those things is unwavering and I’m proud to hit the streets and the town halls again and again to voice that. 

All I’m asking is that if you are not well-off and you voted for Trump mainly because you thought you were going to get an economic break or an employment leg-up, or if you thought that Trump was really going to stick it to corporations and the 1 percent, then you continue to apply that litmus test to him and to this Congress. 

That would not just mean Trump taking dubious credit for retaining a factory here and there in the U.S. That would be broad, well-crafted stimulus or public-works programs that created more and better-paying jobs for millions of Americans in states hardest hit by unemployment.

That would be not just smashing trade deals like the TPP, which I was happy to see Trump kill. That would mean not letting corporations exploit workers. If keeping wages low and benefits slim or nil to retain or create new jobs means that workers still can’t pay their bills or the government has to keep them afloat with Medicaid and food stamps, then the only winners are shareholders and executives.

And Trump’s helping you wouldn’t mean just killing Obamacare, admittedly a deeply flawed program. It would mean replacing it with better and cheaper coverage options that would back you up were you to lose the coverage you currently get through your job―because nobody’s job is guaranteed anymore.

And it wouldn’t mean just taking pleasure in the anger, fear and protests of us, the “coastal elite,” the mainstream media, the defenders of the immigrants and refugees who are trying to find safety and security and to keep their families together, just like you. 

It would mean feeling like you were getting palpable benefits from this administration and this Congress―jobs, better health care, child care, free or affordable college―and not just laughs at people you consider your enemy. 

I was so frustrated the past year to see nonrich working people supporting a billionaire candidate who’s screwed over his workers and business partners for decades. But I never took pleasure in watching you lose jobs, be unable to pay hospital bills or have your kids skip or drop out of college because they couldn’t afford it. Seriously. 

I was one of a handful of protesters who disrupted small sections of the crowd at Trump’s oath of office on January 20. I know some of you may say that that’s just downright disrespectful and childish, but I maintain it was still a nonviolent show of opposition to an administration I think is deeply dangerous. I know you think the idea that Trump is dangerous and ultimately bad for America is drama-queen, silly, sour-grape-y, get-over-it, etcetera. I hear that. 

I only bring up the disruption to say that it gave me the chance to do something that hardly anyone in the urban “coastal elite” liberal bubble gets to do: To stand in close proximity for six hours in the cold drizzle and talk, get to know, a bunch of you Trump supporters from all over the country. 

Of course we had to pose as Trump supporters. I’m not sure if we convinced everyone. 

When Chuck Schumer (who, by the way, I think is a corporate sellout on par with Hillary) was loudly booed when he said “whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born...”, we probably didn’t boo loudly enough along with you. Privately, it was chilling to me that a simple reminder of America’s diversity got such a hostile response. 

And as someone who rides daily on New York’s subways among a beautiful, fascinating microcosm of all the people of the world, I’ll admit that being in a massive crowd of about 99.5 percent white people was odd to say the least. 

But I’ll still admit how much I liked the people I ended up spending six hours with. You guys were friendly, down-to-earth, salty-tongued, funny. I laughed a lot. I laughed when someone said they wanted some of that free pot that was supposedly going around. When someone cracked that Democrats would have to do a “Weekend With Bernie’s” with Ruth Bader Ginsburg to keep her propped in her seat on the Supreme Court for the next several years. When we joked about just how loudly nature had to call to make us brave the insane crowds and lines to get to a Porta-Potty. 

You reminded me of people I grew up with in a tough, wise-cracking, not-fancy part of Massachusetts and in many ways I felt more at home with you than I do with certain very rich, entitled people who have moved to New York City in recent years and think they should get a medal for wearing a rainbow or a “Black Lives Matter” pin.

Once the inauguration began, I took note of whom you booed for, and how much. For Schumer and Hillary, a lot. I booed along myself on anti-corporate grounds.

But I also noted that many of you in the crowd said of Hillary, “Come on, it’s big of her to be here. That must not be easy.” That showed me you had some basic empathy. 

I noticed that the boos for Obama himself, at least in my section, were feeble and scattered, and that many of you said of them, “That’s not cool, he’s served for eight years.” 

And I also took note that I did not hear one boo for Michelle Obama. That’s not to say that Mrs. Obama, who devoted most of her time as First Lady to helping war vets and their families and to getting kids to exercise and eat healthy, has not been subjected to some pretty horrible, mean, hurtful racist insults these past eight years. 

But at least in my crowd of Trumpers, even if she garnered no applause (which I sense would have signaled partisan betrayal), I did not hear one mean word expressed about her. And I needed to not hear that. I needed to know that you guys are not primarily driven by hate and meanness, but by your own version of hope and justice.

Even as I write those words, I can hear certain friends of mine saying, “Don’t give them a pass! Just because they’re not avowed neo-Nazis doesn’t mean they’re not racist. They voted for racism!” 

Well, first of all, I think all us white people who grew up in a country built on slavery are racist on some level, often in ways we don’t even see or understand. But I’d wager that maybe some (not all) of you worry little about the well-being of Muslims or immigrants or Arabs or nonwhite people because you don’t know many (or any), have not grown close to them as friends, colleagues, neighbors and fellow public-transit riders the way we have in large urban areas, have not eaten food they lovingly prepared for you or watched them walk their kids to school. 

And to that I’d also have to reply frankly that I have spent almost exactly zero minutes of my life thinking about the well-being of unemployed white factory workers in the Rust Belt or coal miners in West Virginia or farmers in the midwest or disabled Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the Deep South. Sure, I guess I want the best for them. Sure, I bear them no ill will.

But have I really made any effort to understand their (your?) lives, needs, injuries, grievances? My honest and ashamed answer is no. Only in recent years have I connected the dots between the Democratic candidates I’ve long supported, such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, and the systemic damage they did to jobs in those regions by rolling over for corporate lobby groups and trade deals that shipped jobs overseas.

The truth is, I’ve mostly worried about the well-being of LGBT people and nonwhite people and immigrants because those are the people I know and live among. It’s hard to really think about people you don’t know except as a faceless abstraction―people who, from a distance, if you have no intimate knowledge of their daily private challenges, can mainly just seem angry and whiny. 

So I just want to say, from the land of white-collar workers and academics and artists, of lattes and kale and bagels with lox, that I’m deeply sorry I didn’t think about you more. Because any one of you could have been my own father if he hadn’t just barely managed to hang in at the same company for 40 years. 

I asked a young guy in the crowd from New Hampshire what he’d say to Trump if they were stuck in an elevator. And he said he’d plead with Trump, “Don’t f*ck us.” Don’t show us that you made us promises to bring back jobs, give us better health care, only to enrich yourself, your family, your fellow billionaires. It’s like he already half-suspected he’d entered into a deal he wasn’t going to get anything out of.

So I won’t even ask you to oppose Trump for the reasons that we on the left are opposing him: What we see as the unprecedented power grabs, the disregard for civil servants and due process, the willingness to cross legal boundaries, the perceived attacks on certain groups of people. I know you probably think Obama did all those things too, in his way. They all touch on issues of rights that we may be hopelessly divided on.

All I’m asking is that you hold Trump stringently to the standard of whether you’re getting anything out of this deal other than watching us coastal elites wring our hands. If you do, and if your main goal here is that America works out for you and you alone, there’s nothing more I can say to you. I guess your president has delivered for you. Here on the left, we’ll keep up the fight for those hurt by Trump’s America as best we can. 

But if Trump does f*ck you, try to remember there may be room in the middle for us to meet. You’d have to be okay with Bernie-like candidates that believe in civil rights and pluralism as well as putting workers over banks and corporations. On our side, we’ll have to do the hard work to topple the Democratic corporate establishment that has thus far blocked such candidates from coming forward. 

For the time being, I just wanted to talk to you, not in my echo chamber about you. I would like to hear your responses. I’m sure some of you will troll me. That’s fine, I expect it. I hope at least as many of you will reply in the spirit in which I wrote this. There is so much bitterness between us, but I have to believe that somewhere, deep down, we want the same things. 

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