My Saturday evening last week presented me with two different takes on white working-class supporters of Donald Trump: I finished J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy” and then viewed the opening skit on “Saturday Night Live.”
Mr. Vance’s book portrays Appalachian Americans with roots in Kentucky as proud, patriotic people stuck in a destructive cycle of poverty and ignorance. He reveals how their plight is largely due not only to circumstances beyond their control but also to some destructive behaviors within their control. They are a group of voters who went heavily for Donald Trump.
SNL’s skit, rather than lampooning our 45th president, instead portrayed Kentucky citizens who voted for Mr. Trump as buffoonish rubes who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Mr. Trump’s first days in office have given us a glimpse of how his programs would hurt a lot of these working-class voters and yet they remain loyal to him, and this was the supposed joke of the SNL skit.
I did not vote for Mr. Trump, and I have struggled to see what his voters see in him. J.D. Vance’s book as well as articles by David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof and others have helped me on the road to understanding why these particular voters supported Mr. Trump. After experiencing two jarringly different portrayals of these people within hours of each other, my point is this: We should strive to have more empathy, not sympathy, for these Trump supporters and engage them with respect. We and our democracy will be the better for it.