I was on a motorcycle trip down to Tennessee with a friend of mine just before the US elections.
What we saw were a sea of Trump signs dotting the landscape as we travelled through the heartland of America including Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Above is one sign which I thought, considering the election dynamics going on, was both ironic as well as priceless!
We also saw two lonely Clinton signs on one person’s lawn. That was it! I know this was Trump country, but just two signs? That wasn’t even a heartbeat’s pulse.
As a fairly liberal and educated individual, I was very much aligned with the pollsters thinking that there was no way this election would go to Trump. But we were so wrong. As is often the case, we were living in our bubble; reading the same magazines, watching the same newscasts and following the same poll numbers. But the electorate was saying something else.
Here’s a superb article (What So Many People Don’t Get About the Working Class) on the ‘deplorables’ that the Democrats so fundamentally forgot about. It talks to their aspirations and how they interact with the world, and it’s something that I totally get. I don’t live it, but I get it. Another great read on the subject is the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.
Hindsight is 20/20 and innumerable books will be written about this election and what happened. I’m as uncomfortable as the next person about the next four years, but the bubble that we live our day-to-day lives in is just that… a bubble! It consists of people that we relate to who are generally like-minded.
Travelling through the States and stopping in these small semi-gutted towns that have lost their one or two sources of jobs that have moved offshore, it became clear that the angst that many people feel/felt about a world that has passed them by has total validity. Margaret Wente, Editorial Columnist for the Globe and Mail, writes about this anxiety in her article Trump voters deserve our respect.
Unless we go out and talk to people that we don’t necessarily engage with on a regular basis, then our biases will be just that… biases.
In our business and personal lives we need to find a way to to be open to those that we don’t agree with, because they feel that they’re as valid as you and me! I’m not talking about racists and demagogues. I’m talking about people with differing views.
Here’s an article Exit Ramp for Trump Supporters which clarifies how to reach out and start to build bridges which allow us to recognize their perspective. It was written before the election and is the viewpoint from Clinton winners reaching out to Trump losers. Different outcome… same message!
I was lucky enough to have spent two years as a Science teacher living in a small village in Nigeria with CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) when I was 22 years old. That provided me a ‘window’ that fundamentally changed my life and my world view, recognising that my little middle class existence is not the norm. I wish more of us, and our children, could have that opportunity.
I’ve volunteered in soup kitchens and ‘out of the cold’ programs and empathise with those that are downtrodden or on the street. But I was never able to figure out who these Trump supporters were.
Well, most of them are folks like you and me who have found their middle-class aspirational lives lost to globalization. Poof!
We make assumptions about who our customers are and what their motivations look like. We connect with those that have similar backgrounds either socially or religiously or financially.
What those assumptions do is create our little bubble.
It’s a big world out there and our bubble is thin. Maybe it’s time to take a bit more tentative first steps outside this comfort zone of ours. Maybe, deep down, they’re not so different than you and me.