Mother Jones

Peter’s Choice

I asked one of my students to explain his support for Trump. The answer was more than I bargained for.

THIS PAST OCTOBER, I taught a weeklong seminar on the history of conservatism to honors students from around the state of Oklahoma. In five long days, my nine very engaged students and I got to know each other fairly well. Six were African American women. Then there was a middle-aged white single mother, a white kid who looked like any other corn-fed Oklahoma boy and identified himself as “queer,” and the one straight white male. I’ll call him Peter.

Peter is 21 and comes from a town of about 3,000 souls. It’s 85 percent white, according to the 2010 census, and 1.2 percent African American—which would make for about 34 black folks. “Most people live around the poverty line,” Peter told the class, and hunting is as much a sport as a way to put food on the table.

Peter was one of the brightest students in the class, and certainly the sweetest. He liked to wear overalls to school—and on the last day, in a gentle tweak of the instructor, a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. A devout evangelical, he’d preferred former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at the start of the primary season, but was now behind Donald Trump.

One day the students spent three hours drafting essays about the themes we’d talked about in class. I invited them to continue writing that night so the next morning we could discuss one of their pieces in detail. I picked

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