Sunday, June 12, 2016

The "Undercover Trump Supporters" of Eastern Long Island

Twelve years ago, Liz and I purchased a vacation home in a working class neighborhood of Eastern Long Island called "The Springs." Over time, we have gotten to know our next door neighbors, almost all year round residents, who are a combination of Latino immigrants and long time white working class and middle class residents of the East End. The connection between the two largest groups is complicated. Whites and Latinos work in the same businesses, send their children to the same public schools, play on the same teams and especially among young people date and forge friendships across racial and cultural lines, but rarely interact socially as entire families. Moreover, based on articles in the local newspapers and conversations with white neighbors, there is an undercurrent of resentment of the Latino newcomers relating to issues ranging from noise, overcrowding in houses and loud parties to the growing presence of non English speaking students in local public schools.
Given the tension about the Latino presence in the Springs, made more complicated by the daily interaction of Latino and white residents in virtually every local institution, I wondered how the Trump candidacy was going to effect my neighborhood and my neighbors. Here was a candidate who voiced resentment of undocumented immigrants in raw, incendiary terms which I knew, from my own experience, produced fear, resentment and anger in people from the groups targeted, even if they weren't undocumented. How would my neighbors who were Trump supporters express their support and how were my Latino neighbors going to respond?.
Well, so far, I have been unable to find out because I have seen not a single Trump sign on a lawn in the Springs, nor a single Trump sticker on a car. What is going on? Does it mean that all my white working class and middle class neighbors are signing off on Mr Trump's appeal?
Not at all, says one of my East End friends, who lives in community thirty miles away. Huge numbers of her friends and family members, many of whom are civil servants, plan to vote for Donald Trump because they feel the growing presence of undocumented immigrants has destabilized their schools and communities. Some are torn up inside about this because they have strong ties to the Latino students they teach or Latino co workers; others are filled with a rage that spills over into overt racism, but combined, the two groups constitute a huge cohort of what my friend calls "underground Trump supporters" whose numbers may be large enough to sway the election.
As for the reluctance to display their Trump support openly, what my friend said was revealing. One of the reasons Trump is getting support, she said, is that anyone raising questions about immigration in her community, especially if they are a public servant, is accused of being a racist. Trump's fiery rhetoric about immigration allows this long needed discussion to take place; And in a community where the Latino presence in the schools has grown so rapidly that it has strained resources to the breaking point, that has gained him huge support.
But it is a support that is filled with fear, ambivalence, even a little guilt. Many Trump supporters are afraid that if they put Trump signs on their lawn or Trump stickers on their car, they will enrage or offend the Latino co-workers, clients, students, and neighbors they interact with every day. Not only could this lead to arguments and fights, it could jeopardize their employment with schools or government agencies, whose leaders would view open signs of Trump support as racially incendiary in a multiracial community. Trump supporters KNOW their ideas offend many people, but they are desperate to make their voice heard so that issues important to them are addressed. Some don't care what anyone thinks about their identification with so controversial a candidate, but many do and they are trying to keep the "blowback" to a minimum
What we have here is a very tense situation even though there are no signs of the militias or storm troopers that some people on the left feared the Trump candidacy would inspire. Trump supporters on the East End know their public endorsement of the candidate would offends many people they live and work with But feel they have no choice but to vote for him to protect their families and communities,
It is a very sad state of affairs.