Joe Simitian, Santa Clara County Supervisor for District 5 spoke on “Listening to Trump’s America: Bridging the Divide” on September 9, 2017 at the Mountain View Senior Center. The event was sponsored by LWV Los Altos-Mountain View and LWV Cupertino-Sunnyvale.

After the 2016 election results, Supervisor Joe Simitian asked himself, “How did this happen?” Then he determined to find out. He traveled to three rural areas to listen, learn and understand what folks outside the Silicon Valley bubble of reality were thinking – and why.

He shared his findings and conversations from these three counties in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan with the audience of over 100 in Mountain View, a center of innovation and high technology. Following are some notes from his presentation.

On November 9, 2016, a surprise candidate (surprise to many in California) was elected President of the United States. 46% of the electorate in the US voted for Donald Trump, while 32% of the California electorate; 21% in Santa Clara County; 13% in Mountain View and 12% in Palo Alto voted for him.

Choosing areas that had voted for President Obama (twice), and then switched to Mr. Trump, numbers estimated from 6 to 10 million people changed their historical voting pattern. Why?

Speaking with over 100 people from its poorest county, Robeson County, North Carolina, rural Pennsylvania Cambria County, a coal and steel area that went 67% for Trump, and a car manufacturing town in Macomb County, Michigan where Trump won by an 11% margin, Mr. Simitian heard:

  • how out of touch Democrats are with people
  • not much about terrorism or immigration
  • a lot of negatives about Hilary Clinton: emails, Benghazi, the Foundation, corrupt, elitist, condescending, gender issues, “a woman could not be Commander in Chief”.

He also heard that the Republicans ran a better, more robust campaign with more grass roots enthusiasm – yard signs were 200:1 for Trump. And he heard and felt the desperation of these areas: tobacco, textiles, coal, steel and cars were gone, gone to Mexico, Brazil and China; desperation felt by people who had been making $60-65K per year and are now making $20-25K per year.

The people there asked, where is our Federal government that we pay all those taxes to? They are working harder and have less, have high rates of suicide, depression, and illness. But the really bad news is that these things have been happening for forty years – not just yesterday – there have been layoffs and industries leaving since the 1970’s.

When he asked whether people believed Trump when he told them the coal and steel jobs would be back, they replied, “False hope is better than no hope at all.” And, “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll have the same.” And, “Nothin’ to lose.”

So, what should we do now? Mr. Simitian’s responses:

  • Listen, learn, understand with respect
  • Different is not wrong
  • Get out to vote – make a difference – emphasize that every vote makes a difference
  • Create up-skills jobs and train people for them
  • Share the story of the Valley of Hearts Delight – technology can help
  • WIIFM – need to have the answer to What’s in it for me
  • Negotiate for trade to help all parties
  • Deliver the goods – and you will win.

He is speaking in San Francisco on Monday, Oct. 23, 6:30 pm at the Commonwealth Club 110 The Embarcadero, San Francisco 94105. These programs are also typically recorded for later viewing.

— Marieann Shovlin, LWV Cupertino-Sunnyvale