Three Women Discuss Why They Voted for Trump
Solipsism is self-soothing. It is easier to believe that everyone knows everything you do, and thus you can assume that when they come to a different conclusion than you have, they are being intentionally wrongheaded, or selfish, or evil. Only, what if they aren’t? What if you, given the information they have, would have reached the same conclusion they did? What if the problem in America is that millions of us, on the right and on the left, have been propagandized? In all the discussions of fake news, we seem to keep missing the most important conversation of all: Different information leads to different decisions for most rational thinkers.
Starting this month and continuing periodically over the rest of the year in the pages of ELLE, I’m checking in with a small group of women in America—from rural Oregonians to suburban Atlantans—all of them intelligent beings who seriously considered the world as they understand it and voted accordingly—for Donald J. Trump. I’d expected to find anger and status anxiety driving their votes. What I found instead was fear and misinformation, and I had trouble finding women who’d go on the record for this series. Many were afraid of backlash at work or on social media; some worried that I’d mock them in these mainstream-media pages. They’re not exactly wrong to be afraid: The political has become personal in myriad ways. This isn’t a sympathetic portrait of the downtrodden or a bid to infantilize grown women. I’m interested in what people believe to be true and why. We have to grapple with the flow of information in our society. We aren’t all starting with the same facts, and if there is any one thing that will kill this nation, it’s refusing to recognize and remedy that.
BRITTANY FEIWELL | Henderson, Nevada
Brittany Feiwell is that political unicorn: a true independent with a “completely mixed social circle,” as she calls it. Her Facebook feed is half conservatives in Miami and half liberals from California—both places she’s lived. She and her husband, Scott, were in L.A. for five years. They have three children under the age of 10, and she stays home with them. She says she’ll eventually get back into the digital marketing contract work she used to do, but for now, she’s focused on her family.
Ten years ago, the Feiwells moved to Henderson—the second-largest city in Nevada, just 16 miles from Las Vegas—largely for quality-of-life reasons: bigger house, lower taxes, less crime. Henderson, notably, turns up on many safest- city-in-America lists. Since the Feiwells do well enough with Scott’s small businesses in marketing and material handling, the fact that Brittany’s not working doesn’t create financial stress for the family.
We discuss the madness that has overcome America in recent years, which she describes as “kind of astounding, really. You used to be able to talk about politics, and maybe it was tense, but it wasn’t so full of hatred.” We talk about the fear we share that the nation might be actually breaking apart. She always votes in presidential elections. She says she voted for Trump on largely economic grounds, and doesn’t want to get into the weeds of his position on abortion. (Trump promised to defund Planned Parenthood and suggested punishing women who got abortions.) She wants the president to focus instead on American prosperity. “People are angry and afraid when they’re struggling,” she says. “We’d do better making sure everyone has enough.”
It takes more than an hour of talking with her before we get to the thing that I couldn’t figure out: How is it that a moderate, the Jewish daughter of a father who emigrated from Spain, and a woman who grew up in culturally diverse Miami, voted for Donald Trump? How is it that she supports the travel ban, versions 1.0 and 2.0? She tells me it’s because she lived in New York City and worked near the World Trade Center, and September 11, 2001, was her last day of work before she was to move to L.A. She slept in a bit that morning, and that’s why she wasn’t at her office on Wall Street when the planes hit. When she woke, she could see the smoking Twin Towers out her bedroom window, and all these years later during anniversary remembrances, she can still smell that terrible acrid smell. When Trump talked about Islamic terrorism, it resonated with her; it didn’t seem unreasonable to have a 90-day restriction on a few countries, she says, while the government checks people out. “My understanding is that it’s temporary—as a way to reset.”
She gets her news online, mostly from social media, but she also watches the Today show and The View religiously, as well as Meet the Press. She didn’t know about the fascists supporting Trump or the alt-right conference in late November in DC where people sieg-heiled. Her right-wing Facebook feeds, of course, hadn’t mentioned them; the soft-focus TV shows don’t talk about those kinds of things, either; and her liberal friends have gotten so enraged that when they started screaming about Nazis, Feiwell thought it was hyperbole. “I’m Jewish, and I’m the daughter of an immigrant, and I’m a woman—and I wish people could get themselves away from that polarizing view,” she says.
We’re talking in March, after several weeks in which scores of Jewish cemeteries across the country had been vandalized, and Jewish community centers and synagogues were receiving bomb threats. Feiwell tells me, “If we had talked last week, I would have been like, ‘I’m supernervous.’ People really wanted him to speak out against hate. Locally, we’ve had three bomb threats on our [Jewish community center] in the last two weeks, and I have friends who work closely with the JCC, and we went to temple this morning—so I was like, I feel really sick about this. There was a lot of social media asking, ‘Why won’t he just come out against hate?’ ” He did. Eventually.
Feiwell accepted Trump’s lateness in commenting on the acts: “My husband sent me two articles: [Trump] came out against hate in the election; he came out against hate [this time]. He can’t tackle every issue at exactly the moment that everybody wants him to.”
She’s preoccupied with the rage she sees on the left and how impossible it’s becoming for her to reason with people, because she isn’t actually a white nationalist or a gun nut and doesn’t see herself as really anything but a moderate who is frequently reminded of the most terrifying day of her life and votes according to her deeply held fears for the safety of her family. Yes, she was cool with the travel bans; what made her unhappy was the way they were rolled out. “I think that these types of policies to protect our country and Americans need to be moderate, like I consider myself to be. So when we talk about the Muslim ban, the way it came out and the way they executed it is not moderate. But I agree with the principle of it.… But then President Trump is so crass and says things exactly as they are in his mind, and in a way, that isolates—so I was off-put by that.”
She’d be more inclined to engage with the liberals screaming for impeachment if they’d stop screaming and start talking. When I say that I want Trump impeached—not just because I disagree with nearly all of his policies (and, so far, all of his appointments and all of his executive orders) but because it’s the only way that we’ll get the information we need on his taxes and foreign entanglements (impeachment would mean months of discovery and documents that Congress would make available to the public) and because I do not believe he can govern under the weight of suspicion that his campaign possibly colluded with Russia—it makes sense to her. “That’s not at all what you hear, though,” Feiwell says. “You just hear people calling you hateful, and it’s hard to engage with that.”
She cast a single vote in a system of millions of voters: Why, she wants to know, is she reduced, through willful misunderstanding by half the country, to a single decision in her life, given all the rest of who she is? “I want people to understand,” she says, “that some people who voted for Trump really gave consideration and thought and care to it.”
KIMBERLEY EUSTON | Marietta, Georgia
Kimberley Euston lives in a big, beautiful house in the exclusive East Cobb section near Marietta, Georgia. Georgia remained red in the 2016 election, despite prognostications that it might not. But Marietta, a town 20 miles up I-75 from Atlanta, has been growing bluer with each election, and Clinton bested Trump here by about 30 percent. A lot of Euston’s friends voted for Trump, and a lot of her friends voted for Clinton. It was Euston’s dislike of Clinton—and I can’t emphasize this enough—that was the animating factor in her vote for Trump.
Euston is a high-level executive at a well-known private accounting firm in Atlanta (she doesn’t want to name it), and her earnings and those of her husband, Greg, put them in the one percent. After she graduated from Sweet Briar College in 1992, she worked for the State Department in the Bureau of International Narcotics and then joined Vice President Dan Quayle’s national security staff. Greg Euston owns a PR firm that specializes in corporate and environmental communications, and their sons (she has twin 16-year-old boys and a 13-year-old daughter) are soccer stars, making her an actual suburban soccer mom. Remember them, that mythic voting bloc back in 1996? She is on the board of the Georgia chapter of Covenant House, which works on child homelessness issues; her husband is a trustee of the Georgia Conservancy, an environmental group. Their conservatism is the old-guard sort—as in party-of-Lincoln old-guard—and she’s always voted Republican in presidential elections.
Euston is originally from a small community in West Virginia, Glen Daniel, with family roots in construction and coal mining, and the rural working-class mentality has stuck with her—even though she worked on Wall Street and for the veep. She straddles two worlds: the one she came from, where “people are poor, are hurting,” and the one in which she lives now, where “we give everyone participation trophies.” She wants a more conservative America, and a tougher one, too.
But she’s had her beefs with the Republican Party. Euston, who’s 47, voted for John Kasich in the primaries and is not happy with the state of the GOP and its values since the election of George W. Bush, when social conservatives were seriously mobilized as a voting bloc. “Inclusiveness has kind of gone away from the party,” she says. “The religious right has had control of the party, but the party needs to stay away from the social issues.… If I were raped, or my daughter were raped, I should have the right to choose what I would do with my body.”
She believes in limited government, keeping a strong military to maintain superpower status, financial-sector deregulation, and entrepreneurship. For her, “a successful [Trump] presidency will be if we’re seeing an increase in the real GDP and in jobs, and I think those things will happen if there are fewer regulations, and if we can even look at changing the tax code to make investing in America better for people again because it’s—we have the highest corporate tax code among industrial nations. So growth, jobs, GDP—that’s what I’m watching closely.”
A reluctant Trump voter, she contends that everyone should vote as a matter of civic responsibility, and she loathes Hillary Clinton on principle, saying that Clinton believes herself to be “above and beyond the law.”
Given her background in DC Republican politics and civil service, I ask what she thought of the mess that was Trump’s first six weeks: his immigration-ban forays and his gambit on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. “He’s really trying to move quickly on some of the promises he made,” she says, but also says that the conventional wisdom on her side of the aisle is that once the right people are in key positions, everything will calm down a bit. She’s cautiously pleased so far: “The stock market has hit record highs since he’s taken office; we’ll actually end up raising interest rates because of the job growth and strong economy, and we’re seeing more limited, reduced regulations, which I think is helping stimulate business.” February’s positive jobs report—unemployment dipped to 4.7 percent—must have made her happy. Still, she says, “I wish he would tweet less.” The weekend of the women’s marches, she was surprised at how many of her friends joined the protests in both DC and Atlanta. (She and they are navigating their differences, she says, “by not talking about it.”) She wonders why all the hair-on-fire stuff is happening now instead of before, when it might have made the difference for the Democrats. She wouldn’t have voted for Bernie, but “I mean, I just feel for the Bernie supporters, because Hillary really stole the nomination, with what was going on with the DNC. Bernie wasn’t given a fair shake. I wish more people would’ve been energized during the election because I think it would’ve turned out differently. I don’t think Trump would have necessarily—I don’t think Trump would have even received the Republican Party’s nomination.”
That the GOP’s brand is starting to become associated with neo-Nazis and white supremacists Euston finds “extremely troubling. That isn’t anything I approve of at all.” She adds, “I’m hoping he’ll stop with the over-the-top rhetoric” but also knows it’s that very rhetoric that got Trump elected.
The media landscape disturbs her, too. She misses the era when there were just three major networks doing the evening news, and “when print did journalism”—she’s referring to those halcyon days when the news wasn’t so full of alternative facts and bloggy opinions. We discuss that as recently as the early 1990s, everyone basically consumed the same presentations of the same events. These days, it can be hard to parse reality from rumor—which is how you get a high-information voter like Euston who once had a security clearance and doesn’t think Hillary Clinton is running secret sex cults in DC pizzerias; but neither is she willing to discount the conspiracy that Bill Clinton’s deputy White House counsel, Vincent Foster, may not have committed suicide.
Still, it worries her that the country is becoming so divided and that good information is getting lost in the thicket. Yes, the Washington Post and the New York Times do real reporting—if you can afford the paywall. (You know what’s free? Breitbart.) We joke about how bad things are when civilians are trying to dissect raw intel just to figure out what’s happening in America.
“When my boys were three,” Euston says, “a former colleague from Washington said that the biggest fear I should have for them growing older—if they don’t have to fight a war on foreign soil—is a war in America…the haves versus the have-nots. I was speaking to this individual recently, and I said, ‘Remember when you said this to me, like, 13 years ago?’ That’s worrisome.”
KRISTIE DAVIS | Harney County, Oregon
I first met Kristie Davis at a campfire in Harney County, Oregon, in January 2016, where she and I were discussing the relative merits of armed rebellion. Literally a stone’s throw from the thousand-acre farm where Davis lives with her husband and two teenage daughters, an armed group led by Ammon Bundy had overrun the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Bundy and company claimed they were fighting the federal government’s jurisdiction over lands on which ranchers wanted to graze their cattle, as well as protesting the treatment of two local ranchers named Dwight and Steven Hammond (who didn’t particularly want Bundy’s “help”) who’d been convicted of burning acreage that belonged to the feds. I was on assignment to cover the standoff, and once Davis found out I’d been planning to sleep outside in subfreezing temperatures—I grew up in the mountains and had the proper gear, but still, it’s not something you really want to do—she insisted that I come stay with her family for the duration of my visit. Kristie, 45, is headstrong and mouthy, the sort of woman you’d describe as taking no shit from anyone. She gets it from her mother, Sandy Potter, 64, who lives nearby and was at that campfire as well. I let them take me to where it was warm and there was elk steak, because I am not stupid.
The closest town to Davis’s spread is Burns, population 2,757—the largest town in Harney County, which is the largest county by area in Oregon. Ranching and farming are the major professions here, and it’s a precarious living; one late spring blizzard or one worse-than-usual summer drought can easily turn Davis’s tight margin of profit growing alfalfa hay, grain, and mint leaf (for tea) into a loss. Given that, Kristie and her husband, Herb, do well in the context of their environs. They pay for their own private health insurance—not Obamacare. They have one full-time employee, and for a few weeks, when they have to get done a volume of work, like mint weeding, they hire day laborers to help out. (Whether they’ve hired undocumented workers, Davis doesn’t know, though it’s pretty unusual in the West not to have hired them. That’s who shows up to do the work.) The Davises keep a comfortable five-bedroom house and a few head of cattle. The schedule and work are brutal, but it’s hard to be in too bad of a mood, no matter how sore your back is, when the sun is rising over the plain and the whole world seems to be made new just so you can see it. It’s a good, and hard, life. “I wouldn’t trade this for the world. Maybe if you gave me a billion dollars, but I’d have to think about it,” Potter says.
If you’re not a rancher or farmer, your best hope for a job here is at the Safeway grocery store in Burns, or the state and federal government jobs…at places like Malheur. Burns is way more red than blue—by roughly two-to-one margins, the town went for McCain and Romney, and by almost three to one for Trump—but the standoff at Malheur in the first months of 2016 turned up the antigovernment, anti-Washington, anti-Hillary (as a creature of government and Washington) rhetoric. It also changed Davis’s news consumption. Her hometown was featured in a story that dominated network newscasts for weeks—and “nothing anyone was saying was right,” she says. “They didn’t tell people what was actually happening.” For example, the Bundy protest was cast as the armed takeover of federal buildings by menacing militiamen, when the way Davis saw it was a handful of guys overrunning a few bunkhouses and a tiny museum and visitor center out in the middle of nowhere. She never saw the occupiers being violent, only talking about the need to defend and preserve liberty: Gun toting isn’t a big deal to a rural rancher. She says she saw the sausage of narrative and clickbait being made, and “it really amazed me how so many people went out of their way to tell us they hated us without even understanding what the issue was.” For her, the issues were about water rights and resources, about grazing rights, about what she views as her neighbors serving time twice for the same crime. (A federal appellate court actually ordered a retrial, insisting that the lower court had undersentenced the Hammonds.)
The right wing had been preaching that Barack Obama made sweeping public-land grabs—he did set aside more acreage for federal protection than any other president in history. And if there’s one thing you can do to annoy a rancher, it’s tell her she can’t graze her cattle on lands where they’ve grazed for decades. Adding to the animus, Oregon has a history of racism; when it was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the union to forbid black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. The legacy of this resonates even today.
Davis and Potter haven’t entirely escaped their surroundings or the cultural lessons they’ve learned. I was uncomfortable more than once during our time spent together when the topic of Native American sovereignty came up; we agree that the problem is largely unsolvable now, having been created by generations well before us. But it’s indisputable that if you’re white and you live in the Mountain West, you’re living on Native land. Over dinner one night, Davis uses the individual responsibility argument when asked about educational and health disparities between Native and non-Native populations. I reply that we should honor our treaties and not hold Native Americans at gunpoint for protesting a pipeline that will run through their burial grounds. At least we’re having a conversation.
She thinks the media is a conglomerate, more about making money than about reporting facts, and she no longer trusts it. She reads whatever stories her friends post on Facebook, which are by and large right-leaning. But interestingly, Davis still watches the local news, broadcast out of Portland, and after she saw a TV news story about a Muslim child who was blocked from coming to Oregon for medical treatment, she thought the travel ban was unkind. “They stopped that little girl from coming here for heart surgery,” Davis says, disgusted. “And how’s a baby supposed to be a problem?” She thinks the Mexico border wall is a dumb idea: “I don’t believe in building the wall; I believe in taking away the free ride when they get over here. I mean, I know a lot of great Mexicans that aren’t legal, but they still pay taxes and they still work; they don’t live off our free welfare system. And I think Trump’s taking that a little bit too far.”
What attracted Davis to his candidacy—she and her mom were on board early, having voted for him in the primaries—is that he’s “an international business guy” who “says whatever he thinks,” she says. They liked that he rarely plays respectable politics with his phrasing. Politics as usual hasn’t really helped us as a nation in recent years, and “maybe Congress will get off their asses and do something” if forced to by Trump’s drain-the-swamp mentality. Because he was inexperienced, she knew there was a risk in voting for him. As of March, she was annoyed that his transition and first weeks in office hadn’t gone smoother. But she still considers him worth the gamble—because her other option was more of the same, and that wasn’t helping anyone she knew. Donald Trump “could be really good,” she says.
For her part, Potter says she hopes “people give him a chance, because he’s the president now, whether they like it or not.” Davis is, in typical fashion, more blunt: “Quit trying to wish that the freaking plane would blow up or the pilot would have a heart attack, guys; you know, [if] he goes down and he fucks up, we’re all going down.” She argues that if Americans helped him instead of poking at him, he might calm himself. “He should slow down a bit,” she says, “show more reserve.” Whatever happens, it won’t be the status quo.
Linda Tirado is a completely average American with two kids and two jobs.
Co-published with ELLE.