On a plane a few weeks ago, I found myself quite perturbed with myself: I had forgotten completely to charge either my laptop or my phone, so both were just about dead by the time we took off. I had been planning to get some work done. It was not to be.
Instead, I waited a bit to see if my seat buddy was planning to keep himself occupied or not, then struck up a conversation. I learned he was a very smart guy, from a fine university, now a freelance accounting consultant that flew about helping clients fix critical accounting problems. Has three kids and a wife of some years that he loves very much. We commiserated about the hotel lifestyle and told some war stories.
I guess I had spoken in the past tense enough about my consulting career that he asked what I was up to these days, and I sheepishly told him that I wrote about politics. He laughed and told me that he found politics much more interesting than accounting and he wished I had started with that.
I countered, "well, it is a dangerous thing to be stuck with someone for over 3 hours and to start with politics."
He smiled and said, "I know quite well how you feel. I'm actually voting Trump this year."
I saw a little bit of anxiety in his eyes, but I lit up. "Can I... ask you a few questions?" I opened my notebook. "I'd like to write about you." Anonymously, of course.
So I'm going to tell you what I learned in my hasty, impromptu interview, without judgment or evaluation. The purpose of this is just to add a little understanding to a slice of the American public that is hard to understand and therefore easy to dismiss with a few loaded words. I wish I had started earlier, and I wish I had asked some questions with even more learning potential. Hope you enjoy.
Top Concern: Trade
He believes the US trade deficit is unsustainable and dangerous, and that Trump is the only guy talking about it. He believes that with a better trade deal there wouldn't be this trade deficit, and the deal with China needs to get re-built, or we're in trouble. He believes Trump's the guy to make that deal, and it's going to mean a lot for the American economy.
Second Concern: Jobs
He believes that good trade deals will create jobs, and that Trump will actually take on corporatism, making a fairer deal for American workers as a whole. This is a huge priority for him and he thinks Trump can do it without wrecking the American economy (possibly implying someone else would).
On Mexico/Illegal Immigration/Wall
He laughed as I asked him about this. "Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than the other presidents put together; he's doubled the size of the wall and the number of border patrol agents. I know Trump has said some dumb stuff, but I don't understand at all why anyone's giving him a hard time about the wall." [Erik's note: these numbers are more-or-less accurate by my count.]
His perspective is that the US has immigration numbers, and a process, for everyone. Some of that process is designed to make sure we get smart, talented, educated people from other countries: lots of people want to come, few people can, so companies that are sponsoring work visas, schools sponsoring work visas, etc, get to pick some really great people, and this is really powerful. He agrees with Trump's general point that in a border where you have millions of people walking across uncontrolled, the US doesn't get to have that selectivity, and it's not fair to the folks that went the legal way.
I asked him about deporting people, and he said that of course the US wouldn't be able to get everyone, but what he likes about Trump's plan is that Trump would make it much harder for companies to hide undocumented workers "under the table," so he thinks most undocumented people would leave voluntarily since there wasn't economic opportunity for them.
On Trump's Inflammatory Comments
So he thinks that Trump is pretty emotional, and that he thinks "most of the stupid stuff" Trump has said has been late at night when he's been really fired up. He thinks this is an unfortunate part of Trump's personality. He thinks in particular the sexist stuff comes out here. He thinks Trump shows signs of sexism, but he also thinks that it's not going to seriously impact Trump's ability to do his job.
On the temporary ban of Muslim travelers: he thinks it would be like temporarily banning French travelers if there was a stream of Frenchmen that had terrorized parts of Europe. To him, he thinks it's less about discrimination and more about taking a pause to figure out how to sort out who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. He noted that Trump doesn't rail about Islam being something awful or bad.
Questions I Wish I'd Asked:
- Trump seems to have been a liberal Democrat in the past--what do you think changed?
- What about East Asian and European foreign policy? How does he feel about Trump's form of isolationism?
- I personally worry that Trump doesn't understand enough about Constitutional law and other legal matters to know how he's going to enact his plan. I didn't ask about that.
But it was a great time and really enlightening. I gained a better understanding for how more "normal" Americans feel about Trump, and that's valuable.