Since I first wrote about us white men forty years ago in my book A Choice of Heroes, I have tried to understand who we are. As Election Day approaches, I am writing you now to ask you four questions that deserve our attention: Why are we the only demographic group that intends to give Donald Trump a majority of our votes? Since both candidates are “white men,” why do we favor Trump? Why does having — or not having — a college degree make us vote so differently? And finally, why are we not more united?
Blacks and Latinos, as well as the majority of women, favor Biden. Only white men give Trump a significant edge — 53 percent to 41 percent. If the majority of us are “right” in our view that Trump would be a better president than Biden, why are others not persuaded? Why are we increasingly so isolated?
In 2016, some of us voted for Trump, not Clinton, because we wanted a man in the Oval Office. Even today, some of us like Trump more than Obama because he is “white” like us. But in 2020, our choice is between two white men. What makes Donald more popular with us than Joe?
I find it confusing that college graduates (who overall earn more) prefer the guy from Scranton who grew up in a struggling middle-class Irish family and who ended up riding Amtrak. But those of us who did not go to college (and overall earn less) prefer the guy whose wealthy German father gave him millions of dollars and who now owns a private jumbojet.
Finally, even though the majority of us are Trump supporters, we are nevertheless as a group divided against each other. If, as one liberal New York Times columnist put it, we are an “army of angry white men,” why is our “army” not more united behind Trump?
Why do so many of us, particularly those with college degrees, still prefer his opponent?
Because I found these questions so challenging, I decided to do study us. I read whatever I could find about “white American men.” And I learned some history that was helpful to me.
First, the very idea of “white” was invented in America to make men like us feel, as a group, better than people of color. So if we still feel that way, it makes sense that we would be comfortable voting differently than everyone who is “non-white.” Most white men in colonial America, let’s remember, were impoverished indentured servants. Being “white” ensured that we would identify with the wealthy landlords, not with other disenfranchised groups whose skins were darker than ours.
Trump does an excellent job of being the “wealthy landlord” who says he cares about us and will protect us.
Second, we were raised to be soldiers. We had to fight to expand across the continent— first against the Indians, second against the British, and then against one enemy after another (both real and imagined). As President Jimmy Carter has pointed out, during our 240-year history as a nation, we have not been at war for only twelve.
“We are the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” concluded Carter. So it makes sense that we white American men prefer whichever candidate acts more like a soldier. Unlike college-educated critics of Trump, like Republican commentator Peter Wehner, can consider him a “sociopathic bully,” evidently the majority of us do not.
Despite his draft evasion, we see him more positively as fitting that soldier archetype: “tough,” “strong”, “aggressive” and putting “America First.”
Third, throughout our history, one way to prove we were real men was to not be like women. Now that the majority of women, and virtually all self-described “feminists,” support Biden, one way for us to demonstrate our “manhood” is to vote the other way. If we believe that Biden is “soft” on crime, “soft” on immigration, and “soft” on entitlements, we will choose Trump because he always acts so tough, so “hard.”
All three of these factors help me understand why more of us intend to mark the circle on our ballots next to Trump’s name rather than Biden’s.
Personally, I try to keep it simple. I just ask myself which of the candidates I would like my children to admire more, to resemble more. Joe Biden is far from perfect, not always inspiring, and often sounds confused about issues. But I will vote for him because I trust him more and because he strikes me as the more honorable man. If I have any doubts, I remind myself that all three previous, conservative Republican candidates — Romney, McCain, and Bush — are not Trump voters.
Privately or publicly, all three of them think that Biden, not Trump, embodies the best of who we are. Even they want the liberal, Democrat Joe Biden in the White House. Why not follow in the footsteps of these white brothers for whom so many of us voted before?
Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, is the author of A Choice of Heroes: The Changing Faces of American Manhood and, more recently, The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide.
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