Keeping the Marriage and Splitting the Vote—by Ayala Emmett

splitting the vote
splitting the vote

I did not pay much attention to the intertwining of love and voting, until I had a conversation with some friends, working class women.

I was aware that research indicated that in 2016 working class white men tended to vote for Trump, yet he was losing working class women. I have not however, explored or questioned the domestic dynamics of husband and wife who split their votes.

I have known this group of women friends for a number of years; they are all remarkably hardworking, often holding two or three jobs. I have been meeting with them quite frequently and we have shared personal stories and recipes, and exchanged holiday gifts; we mostly stayed away from politics. But in the last few months we have been talking about the rise of Trump in the political arena.

My friends expressed their objections to Trump, to his ideas, to his bigotry and his pandering to working class people. They did not buy his version of “blue-collar billionaire,” they laughed at his borrowing “only one million dollars” from his father. Speaking rudimentary English sounded to them insulting since he claimed to speak at their level.

It was only after Hillary’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate that I found out that my friends’ husbands are Trump supporters.

It came about indirectly, when one woman said, “I wanted to watch Hillary’s full acceptance speech but couldn’t. I had to wait until my husband went to bed, but what I heard was great.” She added that her husband couldn’t stand Hillary and like the guys, his breakfast buddies, supported Trump. Knowing her husband, I asked if he really believed that Trump would make his and his friends’ economic life better. She looked straight at me and said, “No. They don’t think that Trump would make their economic life better, he is just making them feel better.” She went on to say, “they would never vote for a woman. They didn’t vote for Obama because he is black and they will not vote for Hillary because she is a woman.”

The women agreed that their husbands’ support for Trump was not about the economy. They thought that no matter what Hillary could say about jobs it would not change the fact that their husbands just don’t want a woman in the White House. They don’t want a black man or a woman telling them what to do. Trump makes them feel good about themselves in the aggregate in his rallies. In his presence they don’t have to hide how they feel. He calls the assault on intolerance, “political correctness” and they cheer at the cover he offers them. No one in Trump’s version is bigoted.

Some people might question my friends’ integrity, how could hardworking women who contribute to the household, whose income is as high or higher, live with men who support Trump. Yet, I see what my friends do for love and politics a matter of both self-expression and compromise, which undergird marriage.

Self-expression and compromise may sound oxymoronic. Yet, in my own research in Israel I found that women who demonstrated against the government’s occupation of the West Bank, went home to celebrated the Sabbath with husbands who served in the army’s reserve units in the West Bank. The women told me that they didn’t discuss their political protest with their husbands and the latter rarely told them what they did as soldiers in the occupied territories.

Some might jump to conclude that American working class women have a higher toleration for compromise in marriage. Yet, this may be a hasty assumption. In my fieldwork in the U.S. among middle class dual career couples, both husbands and wives claimed they were egalitarian, dividing equally all tasks. But the facts told another story, the women worked harder, they did most of the social, parental and domestic tasks even when they earned more than their husbands.

Before I return to my friends and say something about how important self-expression is to them, I would like to take a brief detour to invoke an 18th century American woman who wrote a letter to her husband. The husband was a famous American politician, a Patriot seeking independence from England. He loved his wife. He asked her advice in all matters; she was his most cherished confidant and top adviser. Her letter to her husband was written in this marital relation of love and trust.

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.”

How had this trusted husband reply?

“As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere. That children and apprentices were disobedient — that schools and colleges were grown turbulent — that Indians slighted their guardians and negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. — This is rather too coarse a compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.”

He made light of her letter. He did not take his wife advice; he denied her the dignity that in most cases he had granted her opinions. She had often been his sounding board, but to her reminder that “all men would by tyrants if they could,” there was no intellectual or a heartfelt response. Abigail Adams, as we know, stayed with John Adams continued to take care of the farm, raised the children and supported his political endeavors.

Abigail Adams set a cultural path of political self-expression and staying in the marriage. She supported equality and lived in inequality with a husband who helped inscribe civic exclusions in the American Constitution.

Adams cultural path has seen major changes in the law that must keep a watchful eye on the practice of equality for all citizens, including women’s reproductive rights. And in the meantime my friends are going to vote for Hillary and keep their marriages. The voting booth is where, unlike the workplace or the domestic, they are truly equal citizens.

They will exercise full self-expression as they cast their very own vote for the first woman president.