Donald Trump pleads for the votes of women voters in the suburbs. Will you hear him? A deep rift is opening even under them. A visit to Washington’s bacon belt.
Last evening brought a moment of honesty to the US election campaign. Instead of the second TV duel with Joe Biden, the remote duel took place on Thursday. One in Miami, the other in Philadelphia, one on NBC, the other on ABC, two buttons on the remote and two thousand kilometers apart.
For one thing, America is doing great, except for the “China virus” and marauding anti-fascist hordes, for the other the rights of transgender children are threatened as well as democracy itself. As a reminder: The long-distance duel only came about because Trump caught Covid and was not honest about the course of the disease, so the debate should take place virtually, whereupon Trump canceled.
Photo series with 17 pictures
But today you won’t read a syllable from me about Trump breaking taboos and Biden’s digressions, nothing about the outrage and ridicule that these appearances entail (it is already everywhere about here).
Because the honesty lay in this: The evening showed two candidates who are not arguing, but talking past each other. Two who speak to their people. In their rooms, on their topics, in their languages. For me, the evening is the symbol of this election campaign, for the USA in 2020.
He showed America divided. It’s now a phrase, not wrong, but ruminated beyond recognition. Because what does that actually mean: a divided country? And how deep is the trench?
I found an answer to this when I drove out of Washington, via the permanent construction site Interstate-66 through the never-ending bacon belt around the capital. The polling stations in Virginia have been open for four weeks and in Fairfax there has been a line of early voters every day. (The record numbers at early voting is very bad news for Trump, but this is another story.)
I wanted to get away from the usual key witnesses of the split, the opinion makers on TV and on Twitter, the whipped up at the Trump rallies and the protests. So I got in line. My little experiment: I don’t talk to any of the usual suspects, whose attitudes can be seen from afar, but instead I talk to women in the suburbs, around 50 years old, a highly sought-after group of voters who are not suspicious of excessive polarization (Trump on Tuesday, only semi-ironic pleading: “Women from the suburbs, please like me!”). What they told me was impressive.
I deliberately got in line with the same questions over and over again. What is at stake for you in the election? Is the USA a Just Country? How bad is the racism? And: How do you yourself experience the split?
I spoke to Holly, then to Ruth, and finally to Debbie. Three white women from the suburbs, all of them in their late fifties, had once studied and had lived here in Washington’s suburb for decades. They had all grown up in conservative families – and now a deep rift was opening between them.
I suspected which side Debbie Smith would be on, simply because she was wearing a large mask that said “Vote”, which is a political marker. The most important thing when choosing? “Kindness, humanity, respect – and that the lies stop,” she said. “The economy that was doing so well,” said Ruth, who was wearing leggings. And Holly, reading in line on her Kindle to pass the time, looked up and said, “I just want to get rid of Donald Trump.”
“Health care” was important to Holly and Ruth, they say it word for word, but they meant something fundamentally different: Ruth was worried about a “socialist system” that would make insurance even more expensive. For Holly, concern about “health care” meant that women’s care and abortion rights could be curtailed.
Voter Debbie Smith: She hopes that the lies in the White House will end. (Source: Fabian Reinbold)
The big debate about racism in the country? “I don’t like it when we sully our history,” said Ruth. “The debate is overdue,” said Holly. Debbie: “It was a revival for me. I never saw myself as racist, but of course we all are. Fortunately, I’ve now understood it. “
How unjust is the country? Ruth instantly quieter when I asked. Was that because a black man was standing in line behind us? “I think all lives count,” she says. All lives matter instead of black lives matter so. “We cannot change people’s hearts. Everyone has all options here. ” It is like it is.
Holly and Debbie saw something very different in the protest that marked the year in America. “It is clear that we are not all the same in this country,” said Holly. Everyone must learn to understand the suffering of blacks. It doesn’t go on like this.
What the three women with similar biographies described in a few sentences were incompatible points of view. Not on the details, but on the big question of what kind of country America is.
Do you love America when you address injustice and try to correct it? Or do you love America when you honor your own history instead of questioning it?
What are the rules of the game in the country? Can and must everyone do it on their own? Or do structural discrimination and racism make it far too difficult for many?
Are you interested in the US election? Washington correspondent Fabian Reinbold writes a newsletter about the election campaign, his work in the White House and his impressions from the US under Donald Trump. Here you can subscribe to the “Post from Washington” free of charge, which then lands directly in your mailbox once a week.
It is not a dispute about who has the better ideas in tax or financial policy, but rather who you are and want to be. Biden and Trump serve him. Biden often says, “America is an idea.” The fight for equality is part of it. Trump sees anti-racism training as “anti-American propaganda”. Defending the old is part of it.
It is also not a party-political dispute. Debbie, who has recognized that she lives in a deeply racist country, voted for Republicans until recently. She has a partner who voted Trump and her birthday is in November.
She wanted the only gift from him that he would not elect the president again. “I’ve worn it down a bit,” she said. Will she make it? “I have absolutely no idea.” The trenches are deep.
Holly didn’t want to have a picture taken. The real estate agent worries that her clients may resent her positions. And while I am standing in line with Ruth, I notice how the distance to the woman in front is getting bigger and bigger. “My daughter,” says Ruth. “We can no longer talk about these issues. Or?” she calls forward. The daughter, just grown up, looks back blankly. Not a word. “We avoid the subject.” The trenches go through the families.
So this is it, away from the screams on TV and on Twitter, on a sunny autumn day in the suburbs: America divided.
Then Ruth said something interesting about the conservative side of the trench: She doesn’t like Trump. His way on Twitter is terrible. And Corona? “That was idiotic of him.” He’s just an egoist, she says.
She’ll vote him anyway. “I’m really, really good. It should stay that way. ” She sells mortgages, the business is booming. She’s just bought a second home for herself, out in the mountains of West Virginia. “Away from the problems.”
Because with all the problems – at least with those she sees – the president speaks her language. They see one and the same America. A failure in the pandemic is less of a consequence.