GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A few weeks ago, I sat on a park bench, watching my 11-year-old twins pass a soccer ball and push their friends on a tire swing. I turned to the mother of my daughters’ classmate to talk about the second whistle-blower coming forward about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
“Oh, I don’t care about that,” she said. “I’m just glad he’s standing his ground during this witch hunt.”
I’ve been in this state for almost a decade, yet its politics still surprise me. Fox News tag lines come out of real people’s mouths. “I work hard. I don’t want the government giving my money away to people who don’t,” another mother added.
My acquaintance agreed with her. “It’s one thing to need help, but so many people scam the system. Why should they get away with that? Having kids just for the welfare, using food stamps for steak and beer, finding every excuse not to work, and then I have to carry them with my tax dollars?”
As the impeachment inquiry marches on, several polls show more American support for impeachment than not. Of course, we learned in 2016 that polls can sometimes mislead, and in this particular case, digging a little shows a deeply partisan divide. While nearly 50 percent of people polled now support impeachment, including 85 percent of Democrats, just 12 percent of Republicans do and upward of 70 percent of Republicans believe the president’s dealings with Ukraine are within typical presidential limits. Most Republicans think he meant to stop corruption and protect American interests, according to a CBS News poll.
With a damning reconstructed phone call transcript, a detailed whistle-blower report, several high-ranking Trump surrogates being subpoenaed and testimonies well underway, how can such a seemingly cut-and-dry issue be read in an oppositional way? With farmers left in the dust, discrimination against pre-existing conditions returning to insurance coverage and taxes rising for millions, how can Republicans continue to support the president?
Simple. They identify with him.
Working-class Republicans in Alachua County see Donald Trump as a white businessman who made a lot of money. They like to think that could be them. The only thing standing in the way of achieving that dream, they tell me, are policies that elevate people of color, immigrants and poor people without health care. My neighbors misidentify what is holding them back, but they don’t want to correctly identify the actual problem — corporations, billionaires, white privilege, late-stage capitalism — because they hope to be part of that world someday. They think they have rightfully earned it.
On a recent Saturday night, while sitting outside a bar with a friend, a man with just a few teeth started a conversation with me. The first thing he uttered was an apology for his lacking dental work. Like so many other Americans, he couldn’t afford to get them fixed.
The conversation took an unexpected turn when he went on to rail against universal health care. He didn’t want to pay for other people to get help. He didn’t have health insurance and told me he once duct-taped a cut on his arm because he couldn’t afford stitches.
“I’d rather take care of my own self with tape than be stuck in a system where I pay for everyone else,” he said.
He didn’t want to be helped because that meant he might have to help other people he didn’t think of as deserving.
Out at dinner last month with my husband, we had a discussion with a group of Trump-supporting women. Three of them had abortions in their younger years and admitted that without that service, their current lives would have been unattainable. But they continue to support the president because they feel their cases were different from the women needing these services today.
“When I was younger, we didn’t use abortion as birth control like these girls now. It wasn’t like sending back a coffee; we put time and thought and tears and strife into that decision. Now it’s easy peasy.”
The women we talked to felt they had more of a sense of responsibility and work ethic than the women currently facing these decisions. They don’t want to help others with their tax money because they think helping others will hurt themselves.
Florida Republicans appreciate a man who has helped himself, who can boil talking points down to the black-and-white, easy delineations of fair and unfair. The more investigations and allegations leveled against Mr. Trump, the more fiercely they cling to him. He is being treated unfairly, they think, just like they are. He will understand their plight and help them.
In their eyes, Mr. Trump is a patriotic man doing the best he can, and those who go against him are traitors to the country. They see the Democratic Party as desperate, willing to do anything to take the president down. They fully believe the conspiracy theories Mr. Trump spins on Twitter — from the birther movement to wind turbines causing cancer and everything in between. They subscribe to the “witch hunt” mentality he pushes forward.
What Democrats see as self-pity and grandiose posturing, working-class Florida Republicans see as a man outspokenly demanding his rights in a way they wish they could.
Republicans here can equate these “witch hunts” to things that have happened to them in their own lives. Just like they, unfairly, have not been able to move up in the world, so too is Mr. Trump, unfairly, being hunted down, his words and motives twisted to suit the needs of that same enemy. The investigations only strengthen their kinship with him.
So, will Republicans come around to the idea of impeachment? The answer in Florida is probably not.
Darlena Cunha (@parentwin) is a freelance journalist and an adjunct professor at the University of Florida.
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