Election 2016: The View From a Prison

One of the many head exploding things about the 2016 election was (has been?) the utter indifference or even resistance to reason in the public’s evaluation of the candidates. Trump’s total loss in the debates on substance didn’t much affect his constituents’ views of him.

How might you expect a group of 12 felony offenders to line up on these candidates (reminder: they can’t vote)? Well, my sense from this meeting was that they are *more* skeptical about both of the candidates than the voting public, and that what matters to them as much as anything is the belief in a candidate’s authenticity. I almost said “integrity,” but that is not right — they don’t think either has that, but they believe that Trump is at least authentic. THAT claim took some interesting work to unpack. What does “What you see is what you get” (as some people have said in Trump’s defense) mean when what you see is one contradiction after another? Isn’t such a person showing you that he is dangerous? And what about HRC’s actual record in office? They went meta on me, and argued that one can be an authentic contradictor — that these judgments are about the *person* and not what (s)he says. They can appreciate and identify with even with Trump’s basic disregard for logic…as long as he really is like that, as seems to be the case. Trump’s “It’s only words” to HRC’s usually pretty good arguments taps into this very sentiment. This is in part because HRC’s record in office didn’t seem to have any effect on them or their lives, so a sense of the person is all they have to go on. I defended her rather stiff private public persona as a response many a high profile woman has had to arm herself with to survive public life, to which they responded that I was not like that. I accepted the compliment, but pointed out that my public persona was about as low stakes as it gets.

One very smart guy I don’t know very well yet had as good an explanation as any I’ve heard for the divided sentiment on the two. He pumped his ripped self up, swinging his arms and pumping up his chest while spewing threatening trash talk. Then he said “And then there’s the quiet one in the dorms. Which one is more dangerous?” And a murmur swept through the room: “It’s always the quiet one.”

As much as I’d love to end on that dramatic, poetic note, I can’t resist spelling out just a few things: How is HRC (painted as) the quiet one? She is not quiet! But she speaks in the feminine register. And maybe she is so logical that she ends up sounding to some more like a Mr. Spock than a real person. And of course the level of comfort with that sort of persona is gendered.


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