Since the introduction of the American Health Care Act and Trump’s draconian budget proposal, there’s been a rash of reporting and analysis on how Trump’s policies will be particularly harmful for Trump voters.
The tax credits to purchase health insurance available to Trump’s older, rural, low- and middle-income voters would be significantly lower under the GOP health care plan than the subsidies available to them through Obamacare, which are tailored to one’s income and the local cost of health insurance – because Trump won counties with low incomes and high insurance costs. Trump’s proposed $54 billion budget cuts would also hit hardest the rural areas and small towns he won. The money saved by slashing the budget and rescinding Obamacare benefits would free up hundreds of billions of dollars for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Nonetheless, some Trump voters remain strong supporters, like the woman outside a Trump rally who mistakenly credited Trump for the Obamacare subsidy that enables her son to afford insurance. Another woman said she didn’t believe reports that Trumpcare would leave 24 million more people uninsured and advised against believing anything that doesn’t come straight from Trump.
But there have been many other stories featuring Trump supporters who are coming to realize the policies he wants to enact will hurt them. A Trump-supporting police officer on unpaid medical leave would lose his access to health care if Trump repeals Obama’s Medicaid expansion. A Trump voter recently diagnosed with liver cancer would see a more than 50 percent cut in financial assistance for health insurance if Trump’s plan is enacted. A woman with lung cancer wouldn’t be able to heat her home without a subsidy from a federal program Trump plans to defund. The “Trump troubadour,” who traveled to 45 rallies to extol the virtues of the candidate in song and tell the story of his son’s heroin overdose, was devastated to learn Trump now wants to cut Medicaid funding for substance abuse treatment. A laid-off coal miner who’s learning computer programming in a bootcamp funded by an agency Trump wants to eliminate told the Washington Post, “maybe there are some things that don’t need to be funded, but don’t cut things that are working” – presumably, the things that are working for him and his impoverished community.
In many of these stories, there’s a sense of surprise and betrayal. Trump promised to put the “forgotten men and women” first, but people – particularly low- and middle-income white people – who expected Trump to make things great for them are learning how quickly he will make things tangibly worse if he gets his way.
As astonishing as it is that a billionaire famous for self-promotion and greed could pass himself off as the savior of the white working class, the scam he used is an old one: divide and rule. The rich guy convinced much of the white working class that he would “take back” the country from the rest of the working class and other undeserving non-white and non-Christian people, as well as the coastal elites giving those folks jobs and handouts at the expense of “real” Americans.
It’s a strategy as old as this country. Fearful of white indentured servants joining forces with slaves to demand better treatment and wages, America’s early monied class enshrined racial hierarchy in law to prevent alliances that could lead to uprisings. In the Jim Crow South, Democrats kept poor whites complacent by legislating their superiority to black people until Nixon made a play for segregationist votes with his “Southern strategy.” Reagan and the first President Bush promised to protect upstanding Americans from criminals and welfare cheats typically depicted as black or brown.
Trump abandoned the dog whistles and came right out and told voters whom to fear: Mexicans he portrayed as rapists, murderers and job stealers; Muslim immigrants he conflated with terrorists; refugees he warned would drain U.S. resources or kill Americans; residents of inner-cities he described as hellscapes; communities fighting police violence; and black men he insisted were guilty even after being exonerated of crimes they didn’t commit.
To vote for Trump, you had to believe, at the very least, that his racist rhetoric wasn’t a dealbreaker. But for many Trump supporters, it was a feature not a bug. Trump promised to return America to a time when it was “great” – when being white was enough to give people without money or a college education a leg up in American society. Despite a long history of the U.S. government denying benefits to non-whites, Trump blamed the struggles of white people on a bloated government giving foreigners and black people what rightfully belonged to those white folks.
The promise of a return to racial dominance implicit in Trump’s “us vs. them” narrative, and his war on the inclusiveness he disdains as “political correctness,” convinced even voters who had previously voted in their own economic interest to elect Obama to switch their votes to the party that believes health care is a privilege for those who can afford it, and that too much money is being taken from the wealthy to support the undeserving poor.
Trump constructed a fantasyland in which city-dwellers, people of color and immigrants enjoy a disproportionate share of benefits from the federal government while threatening the safety and economic security of white Americans. In reality, the communities that voted for Trump receive more federal funds and contribute fewer taxes than those he lost. They have few immigrants competing with white people for jobs, and more immigrants could in fact provide a needed economic boost. They are much less likely to by targeted by terrorists than the more foreigner-friendly cities that rejected Trump’s fearmongering.
But Trump was able to convince his white, rural supporters that they were under siege, and only he could restore them to their rightful place in the social hierarchy. “Muslim bans” and immigration raids will do nothing to improve their lives, but giving struggling white people a sense of superiority is a whole lot cheaper than giving them health care or job training.
Some Trump voters, like the woman who shouted “Go cash your welfare checks!” at black people passing by as she waited in line to see Trump, will likely blame the scapegoats no matter what Trump does to fail or betray them. Others will experience buyer’s remorse upon realizing they are also among the people Trump thinks are getting too much assistance from the government – taking undeservingly from hardworking multi-millionaires and billionaires like those who make up Trump’s cabinet and social circle.
But whether they realize it or not, economically struggling Trump supporters who thought they were voting to blow up the system and take back the country from undesirables fell for an age-old con – one that makes America great only for those who have the most.