More than 73 million people voted for Donald Trump. We have a president who is trying to turn our democracy into an autocracy, yet almost half the electorate doesn’t seem to care.
Those out of work voted to remain out of work and not have $600/week added to their unemployment compensation. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved the Heroes Act back in April. It provides funding for the unemployment bonus. The Republican-controlled Senate refuses to even discuss it.
The president’s supporters voted to continue the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s plan for “herd immunity” has already been tried by Sweden, but quickly abandoned when its infection and death rates increased far more than those of Norway’s or Denmark’s. Since experts say at least 70% of the population (271 million Americans) will have to contract COVID-19 before the population becomes immune. Two percent of that number would be approximately 460,000 more Americans dead.
Trump voters making the federal minimum wage of $7.50/hour or any salary below $15/hour voted against increasing their salaries to that level.
Those Trump supporters using SNAP coupons (food stamps) voted for a further reduction to that program of $120 billion over the next 10 years. Trump’s 2021 Budget cuts SNAP benefits for millions and would radically restructure the program.
Trump supporters voted to do away with health insurance for 20 million people, some of themselves included. They voted (1) to eliminate from all US insurance policies provisions allowing children to remain on parents’ healthcare to the age of 26, (2) to restore lifetime and annual expenditure caps, and (3) restore preconditions as a reason for rejecting health insurance applications.
Those who voted for Trump voted to leave ever-rising college costs in place, let their children continue graduating with enormous debt loads — those who can afford college. They voted against free pre-K education. The teachers among them voted against a 20% pay raise. They voted against the possibility of free community colleges. Joe Biden hasn’t yet committed to this, but Kamala Harris along with many Democrats have.
Trump voters with asthma, voted for dirtier air. Trump lowered the standards of the Clean Air Act raised by the Obama administration, as he did for the restrictions in the Clean Water and Clean Drinking Water acts.
So, why did so many people vote against their own self-interest? Of course, there were single issues that attracted some: keeping out Mexicans who, they think, absorb jobs Americans want. Keeping minorities in their place was another unspoken issue that appealed to many. Many liked Trump for his opposition to abortion and gun fanatics who want to carry any kind of gun anywhere they pleased.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center has been running a survey of Americans’ knowledge of their government since 2006. In 2019 it found that 22% of Americans could not name any of the three branches of government and only 39% could name all three — a vast improvement over past years. Another 39% could only name one or two.
So, many American voters seem to be politically unaware of just how government works, even what it provides them. Realizing this, President Trump feeds his followers clichés like “Lock her up”, “Build the wall”, and “Clean the swamp” without specifying what they mean. At campaign rallies they recite these clichés aloud as though they were the devotional responses of a religious service. For this reason, many commentators have concluded that a large portion of Trump’s base form a cult.
Whether single-issue voters or members of the Trump cult, Trump is supported by people who have a poor understanding of the connection between themselves and government. So, when they vote, they seem to be unaware of what their self-interest in voting is.
This makes clear why Democrats say: “Vote for yourself; vote Democratic.”
Robert Beard is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics & Russian Programs at Bucknell University