I’m in Beaver Island, Michigan. It’s a small island toward the top of Lake Michigan, sandwiched in between the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City. Around 1,000 people live on the Island year round.
It’s also Trump territory. The Island voted for Trump and Republicans down the ballot in 2016. Like many places in small town America, it has had its fair share of economic hardship over the past few years. People are leaving as permanent residents and although the Island’s business boom comes from tourism, it would function far better were there more middle class jobs to give people enough disposable income to spend on the Emerald Isle.
I wanted to share my observations of rural Michigan as a whole, both Beaver Island and the surrounding area. There are a few black people in the community. From the Trumpies perspective, it seems like there is the occasional off-color remark, but no Richard Spencer level torchlight campaign to drive them out. When the community is 95 percent white (it’s not an excuse, but…) it’s hard to care about systemic racism. And it’s not the people of color within their communities that the Trumpies worry about taking their jobs, it’s a genuine belief that black people and immigrants outside of their community have remade the country to possess a systemic discrimination against them (primarily an economic one). They see cities full of jobs and full of people of color, immigrants coming in and being welcomed into these cities and feel left behind. They don’t have the opportunity to move to the cities, nor do many people want to, they’ve lived in their small towns for most if not all of their lives. Their families are here and they’re suffering too. Their anger gets (wrongly) re-directed toward these individuals and those who support them, no matter where the politicians are located geographically.
Empathy is still difficult, because it’s hard to convince these folks that the black man (outside of their community) is not the boogeyman. But I find it difficult to be angry because I think some of (if not most) of these folks are being played by Trump, not doing the playing themselves. It’s laid bare the sadness and desperation of racism. It’s easy to fall into the intellectual trap as well because mapping out the cleverness of the corporate trickery requires the critical thinking that isn’t being taught in the schools and the courage to believe that you can beat the man. The latter is damn near impossible to believe, these people feel like they will forever be second-class citizens.
It’s created the notion for me that the Democratic Party needs a fundamental makeover in terms of its mission. In order to get these voters back, it will need to get into the community and help create jobs, fight the opioid crisis on the ground and do some Habitat for Humanity shit for people’s homes. I don’t see why this can’t be done in conjunction with registering voters and getting them to the polls at the same time. I think the unions would benefit from this approach as well, taking a community service oriented angle toward raising the standard of living would turn a lot of people against right to work. If people of color and immigrants from outside of the community came in to help out with the community service, I think that would do more to change the attitude of Trump voters than almost anything else non-job related.
I’m really glad I came out here. The people are much less hostile in person than at the rallies, in fact they can be downright friendly. It’s renewed my belief that the Richard Spencers and Milos and Breitbarts and Cernovichs are only the loudest voices and don’t represent the majority of people. It’s also taught me that Facebook and Twitter and other online shouting platforms are really damaging for education, I learned more out here in person than I ever did on any Silicon Valley creation, that’s for sure.