As I wrote last week, despite increasingly positive results for the Democrats in both the U.S. House and Senate, after the election, blame for progressive losses in Texas, Georgia, and Florida were immediately cast upon white women—and not just the white women who actually voted for Republican candidates. If you were paying much attention to social media, you may have gotten the message that white women, even those who voted for Dems, are due for a reckoning. And this rhetoric wasn't just limited to Twitter, a site that runs on instructing women what to do. Vox called the election results a "betrayal of white women voters," the Washington Post accused women of choosing their party instead of #MeToo, and in the Guardian, Moira Donegan (of Shitty Media Men list fame) asked: "What is wrong with white women?” and then answered her own question: They find “racist sadism gratifying," Donegan wrote. "It is fun for them."
Maybe Donegan is right and over half of white women are not much better than the white family in Get Out (at least those people didn't vote for Trump), but her evidence comes more from feminist theory than from actual surveys of white women themselves. She cites feminist philosopher Andrea Dworkin, but not a single Trump-voting woman. While Donegan could, I suppose, have tapped into some secret zeitgeist of racist, sadist white women, there's another explanation that Donegan and other professional scolds have largely failed to consider in their haste to assign blame for Democrataic losses: white women, as I wrote last week, lean conservative. It's possible they voted for Trump simply because he ran as a Republican.
This isn't new. White women have gone for Republican presidential candidates for decades, and Trump's 53 percent support was solidly in line with other recent elections. In 2004, George W. Bush won 55 percent of the white women's vote; in 2008, John McCain won 53 percent; and in 2012, Mitt Romney won 56. Perhaps it's surprising to liberal women that conservative women didn’t change their vote when a fellow woman had a chance to be president—especially when her opponent is so loathsome—but those women are still Republican. Trump’s personal failings meant less to them than the R beside his name on the ballot.
Now, I agree with Donegan and the others that it's unfortunate that more white women lean Republican than Democratic, especially when those white women don't happen to be rich. Republican economic policies benefit the wealthy while harming the middle and working classes, including women, but politicians, both on the left and the right, have convinced millions of middle and working class voters that moral issues like abortion and prayer in schools are more important than things like access to healthcare, paid family leave, equitable tax policy, and a functioning social safety net. For many conservative women, even Donald Trump—possibly the least likely member of the Moral Majority in history—was still a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, simply because she believes in the right to abortion. The idea that those women are going to change their mind because a bunch of faraway progressives are saying it’s their duty as women to join the Resistance seems pretty ludicrous to me, but plenty of people keep trying.
After the 2016 election, a number of organizations mobilized to do something about the white women's vote. Confront White Womanhood, which was co-founded by Evergreen graduate Heather Marie Scholl around the time of the 2016 election, works, according to the group's website, to "Educate white women on the historical context of white womanhood in the United States, and guiding [sic] white women towards locating their own behavior in that context to help them understand their role as perpetrators of harm." In other words, they educate white women on how they are upholding the principles of white supremacy in their own lives and how to work to combat that in their own communities. It’s a worthy goal, but it's also preaching to the choir. The closest thing they’ve had to a Trump supporter participate, according to Scholl, was a former evangelical who attended an online session.
I’m not saying that groups like Confront White Womanhood aren’t doing valuable work. As Scholl told me, their organization's goal isn't to convert Trump supporters, it's to help guide liberal white women. But if we want public policy that will actually help people of color, we’ve going to have to win national elections. And if the plan to win elections is to turn the 53 percent of white women who voted for Donald Trump into liberals by lecturing them about white privilege, I have a feeling we’re going to be about as effective as Guardian columnists haranguing women who don’t read the Guardian.
Still, it is possible to help other people change their own values. Daryl Davis, a black musician, famously collected the robes of over 200 former Klansman, and he didn’t do it by writing scathing columns in progressive media about white supremacy; he did it by befriending them. That’s how change really works. Homophobic people, for instance, don’t become less homophobic because someone they fundamentally disagree with decides to reason with them. They become less homophobic when their children come out to them.
I suspect that most progressive attempts to reform white women are going to have the opposite effect. Today, two years after the presidential election—two years in which Trump has, among his many offensives, repeatedly denigrated women and implemented inhumane policies toward families and children—over 80 percent of Republican women still support him. Those women will not be swayed by liberal arguments about white fragility and toxic masculinity. Instead, like Daryl Davis, progressive activists may actually have to befriend them. They’re going to need to get out of New York, or Seattle, or San Francisco, or Provincetown and go to Genesee County or Spokane or Texas (Austin does not count) and spend time with actual Republicans. They’re going to need to meet these Trump voters where they are, and church might be a good place to start: Over 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016—that's more than voted for Bush, an actual Christian—and if you want to reach those people, it's going to happen on their turf, incrementally, and through relationships, not because someone yells at them with a bullhorn.
If you really want to make a difference instead of just collecting likes from your comrades, get off of Twitter and start packing. Or perhaps it’s time to stop trying to sway fundamentally conservative populations. Barack Obama didn’t win in 2008 because he convinced conservative white women to vote for him. He won because he inspired people who don’t usually vote to come out. With the right candidate and the right policies, that can happen again, particularly if Democrats focus on the issues that affect people on a daily basis—healthcare, childcare, student loan debt, transportation, clean air and water, the increasing cost of living.
Democrats in office also need to address America's voting problem. In 2016, 92 million eligible Americans failed to vote in the presidential election and only a quarter of eligible voters partook in the primaries. And that’s not just because of unpopular candidates and uninspired messaging: It’s also because voting in this country is just too damn hard.
According to non-voters surveyed by the US Census Bureau after the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, the most commonly cited reason for not voting was either because the respondent was too busy or was not able to get out of work. A few states, including Washington, have taken steps to make voting as easy as mailing a letter, but even the vote-by-mail system isn’t perfect: For one thing, not everyone has an address, many of us who do tend to move around a lot, and we don’t get those “I Voted” stickers, which means our voting-selfie game is probably among the worst in the nation. Still, the vote-by-mail system is far better than most of the country, especially the 13 U.S. states that not only require you to vote in person, but they only give you one day to do it. This day, of course, is not a holiday, so if you want to vote, you better hope it doesn’t take much longer than your lunch break. Plus, even when you can get it done, thanks to the electoral college, the presidential candidate who wins the most votes might not actually win the election. It’s not even, as of this century, that rare of an outcome. No wonder people don’t trust the system.
Among all western democracies, the U.S.’s voting system consistently ranks the worst. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to improve elections and increase voter turnout—things like automatic voter registration, eliminating voter ID laws, expanding voting periods, ending gerrymandering, and allowing convicted felons to vote. But, of course, there are also forces working to make voting even harder by requiring photo IDs, shortening voting periods, and limiting same-day registration. Conservative politicians, in particular, have a long history of attempting to suppress Democratic and minority votes. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an attempt to fix race-based voter suppression, fundamental parts of that law were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013. The truth is, some people in power just don’t actually want democracy to work as intended. Just look to Georgia and Florida, where state Republicans (and Trump) are busy trying to prevent all votes from being counted. They don't want Democrats to show up.
It would require a constitutional amendment to finally do away with the electoral college, but in the meantime, states could implement ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. This ensures that the candidate with the widest appeal takes the office, which could help restore some faith in the system. (Maine became the first state in the nation to implement ranked-choice voting to determine a seat in the U.S. House this year.)
The fundamental premise of a working Democracy is that every vote matters, and while Democrats and progressive could spend our time and energy trying to shame conservative white women into voting how we think is best, perhaps instead we could do something that actually has the potential to work: Attract non-voters. Reform the election system. Make voting so simple and effortless that “I’m busy” is never an excuse not to do it. This, of course, is no easy feat, especially in the states currently controlled by Republicans. But convincing 53 percent of white women that their party—and their values—are incorrect? It’ll take a lot more than an act of Congress to accomplish that.