Having an honest, face-to-face conversation with a Trump supporter is a rare event for me. I guess this says something both about the polarization of our politics and the integrity of my liberal bubble. Today, on a trip to Dallas for a conference I took the opportunity to ask my Lyft driver her opinion of the president. In the first few minutes of our trip Debbie had already told me all about the reasons she preferred Lyft to Uber, a story of her worst driving experiences and how she was trying to earn some extra money while her husband returned to school to finish up some classes. One of her bad experience stories was about how she was picking up a woman who called to ask her why she took so ‘effing’ long. Then when she had gotten this drunk woman into the car and as they were driving away, the woman yelled out to some men, calling them ‘effing ni____s’ (where she filled in the n-word in her direct quote of her rider). When I asked if the rider was a black woman or a white woman, Debbie said that she was black, but added that she had been taught that ‘African Americans don’t like that word.’ So by then, I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be shy about talking politics. In fact she wasn’t. She told me that she was a Republican and had voted for Trump. She seemed a little frustrated with his demeanor so far in office, saying that sometimes he just needed to shut up and listen to the smart people around him. I asked her what attracted her to the president’s message, and she said that the economy had been terrible in her area, and she was hoping Trump would return more oil production to the US. She also seemed to support taxes on imports that would return companies to American soil. When I brought up the possibility that such policies could spark trade wars that would actually be hard on Americans, she acknowledged that stopping trade would be a bad thing, but reasserted her opinion that we need to put America first. Still, immigration was not a top issue for her. She talked about having ‘Spanish’ friends (assuming she meant Hispanic), and how she wasn’t that interested in the wall, but did think there was a need for more immigration security. I had noticed a mention of God in her Lyft profile, and she had also mentioned praying for the president, so I went out on a inferential limb and asked her how, as a Christian, she felt about his conduct with women. She took the boys-will-be-boys attitude, asserting that his kind of talk was the sort of thing men everywhere do.
All in all, I felt like it was a fruitful conversation. There was no great revelation I guess. She mostly reiterated the themes that have been attributed to Trump supporters in the reporting I’ve read. Maybe she was a bit of a racist. Maybe she was a victim of a spotty economic recovery. But mostly she was a friendly and open woman with a story to tell. She asked me about my opinions as well, and seemed to listen sincerely to what I had to say. Did any minds get changed? Probably not. But I’d prefer a few more of those conversations to spending more time in my bubble.