Post Eagle Newspaper

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May 24, 2024

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Critical Thinking Skills
And Trump Supporters

By Ewa Bronowicz

I am a woman, a mother, a Democrat, a Hillary-supporter, an immigrant, an educator, a government employee.  All those identities are threatened with the election of Donald Trump. But perhaps the biggest threat Trump’s victory poses is to my all-encompassing identity as an educated urbanite. Add East Coast to the equation—worse, New York City—and you have what Donald Trump and his supporters refer to as the coastal elites. And this is no compliment. Apparently we are out of touch with real America. Apparently, as a friend and a Trump supporter told me this week after the election, we are not Real America. While Hillary won the popular vote, two-thirds of non-college educated whites backed Trump. In fact, as the Pew Research Center reports, Trump’s margin among whites without a college degree is the largest among any candidate in exit polls since 1980.

The question that many like myself have been asking is of course: Who are those people? A West Virginia man with a job in a dying industry like coal. A woman in Pennsylvania who works in a supermarket trying to survive on the minimum wage. A rancher in Arizona. A car mechanic in Ohio. A steelworker in Indiana. They are all white, blue-collar, without a college degree; they often live in rural areas of the country. They all feel that the government has failed them, that Donald Trump will rescue them from the threats of globalization, multiculturalism, and terrorism, and that he will improve their economic well-being.  To them, his slogan “Make America Great Again,” represents an inspiring message, with no racist, bigoted, chauvinistic, and misogynistic undertones. They also resent people like me: people with college degrees who live in metropolitan cities on either the East or the West Coast of America and who belong to the professional class. If Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s nominee for Vice President in the 2008 election, tapped into this anti-intellectual and anti-big city movement, Trump, whom she eagerly endorsed, built multi-million dollar towers on it. This group didn’t just vote for Trump. They voted against the group I refer to as the educated urbanites. They voted against people like me because to them, I don’t represent America; they do.

In Poland, where I grew up, the American Dream meant that anyone could make it in America as long as they worked hard. When I arrived in the US after high school, it seemed obvious that any future success would have to be constructed on education. Over the years, I gradually pursued my undergraduate, then graduate degrees, all the while working full-time and supporting myself. I believed, and still do, that education results in not only better employment opportunities, but also in more personal fulfillment, in civic involvement, and, perhaps most importantly, in one’s ability to make informed decisions. I moved to New York City because this is where there are plenty of job offers for educated people like myself. I thought I was living the American Dream until the results of this year’s presidential election made me question the validity of my accomplishments and my lifestyle.

Why exactly are those white working-class Americans angry at me? When I first landed at JFK, I had $20 in my pocket. For years I worked and worked—blue-collar jobs: cleaning people’s houses, nannying, waitressing—and I went to college because, in addition to my love for literature, I wanted to be an educator and a writer, not a maid or a nanny or a waitress. Not that everyone wants to and needs to go to college. But why does the fact that I did go, and that I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, make me the elite and the object of contempt? And, what is more, if Trump supporters are the real America, then who am I?

At the New York City community college where I teach, when I asked my students to make inferences about the fact that Trump won an overwhelming support of those whites without a college degree, they said that uneducated people are easily fooled. And fooled they are. Even though a part of me blames Trump’s victory on those supporters’ ignorance, another part of me feels heartbroken for them already: based on a pile of supporting evidence, I predict that they will soon be disillusioned. In their self-destructive vote for a businessman who, ironically, lives in the quintessential place they detest, they chose someone who knew how to take advantage of their deepest fears and resentments. Unless Donald Trump is hiding a time machine in his 5th Avenue residence, he cannot bring his supporters back to the America from sixty, seventy years ago they feel so nostalgic about.

What is worse, when those Trump supporters find out that his campaign slogans were empty promises—and I say this at the risk of sounding like the elite—they might lack the essential tools to self-knowledge and self-empowerment that an educated urbanite like myself takes for granted, the skills that I try to teach my students: the skills of critical thinking that college instills in us for life. Those skills include distinguishing between fact and opinion, evaluating the validity of an argument and its supporting ideas, synthesizing information from a variety of sources, questioning one’s own assumptions, and determining cause and effect. Accordingly, Trump’s pre-November 8th claim that the election is “rigged” was an opinion, but to his supporters, it constituted a fact (and now, following Trump’s victory, the election was not rigged after all, apparently); Trump’s promise to lower taxes for the rich (the cause) will lead to more income inequality for the self-proclaimed Real Americans who voted for him (the effect), et cetera.

The challenge for the next president is to embrace globalization and multiculturalism in a way that will benefit all Americans, because all Americans, the professional class and the working class, want change: a government that will benefit us, not Wall Street bankers and Donald Trumps. The new president-elect is not ready to face this challenge. When he fails, he will hurt not only the educated urbanites he ran against, but also, and perhaps more so, the white voters who helped elect him into office.

So here is my message to those white uneducated Trump supporters: learn to think critically so that you won’t be fooled again. Don’t despise people like me; instead, rebel against the top 1 percent who, under Trump, will become even richer. Don’t believe everything that the new president-elect says; instead, evaluate his claims through an objective lens. And when you discover who Trump really is—a demagogue, a millionaire whose political agenda will benefit other millionaires, a sexist and a sexual predator, a racist, a liar, a bully, to name a few—you’ll know it’s time to make more educated decisions in future elections.