In a new interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, famed actor and sometime activist Brad Pitt discusses his valiant but inevitably fruitless attempts to understand the mind of Donald Trump’s followers and the socio-cultural situation that birthed him.
“Coming from Oklahoma, [being raised in] Southern Missouri, which leans more toward a Trump voice, I try to understand it,” the star said. “It seems that the people that suffer the most end up voting for the party that hurts them.” Of course it does not just “seem” this way. There is a clear pattern of improved performance in liberal states and areas in almost every social and economic metric. And indeed much research has gone into the way in which the modern Republican party manipulated a toxic mix of populist nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and racial animosities to convince the average working class white American to vote against his own interest (never mind the national ethos).
As someone from a Middle American background, however, Pitt also emphasizes that he does understand the struggles faced by the sort of voters who might be lured by Trump, and he is well aware of the gulf separating much of America from so-called “liberal elites” like himself. Indeed the fact that he has a foot in both camps, to use the divisive rhetoric of the Trumpians, allows him to present a shrewd analysis of the Trump phenomenon. “You gotta understand that it’s also in our DNA,” he says. “Most Americans don’t have time to watch CNN and Fox and Al Jazeera. They’re trying to make the rent, get the kids fed, they’re tired when they get home and they want to forget about everything. And so suddenly when this voice comes in — and it doesn’t have to be a voice of substance — saying he’s fed up with all of this, that’s the part that hooks into the DNA.”
Still, Pitt ultimately cannot wrap his head around how easily Trump supporters have submitted to his populist brainwashing. “A Trump supporter is fighting against just about everything,” he says. “What does he even mean, take our country back? Would someone please explain that to me? Where’d it go?”
Pitt’s wife Angelina Jolie, who has a long history of using her celebrity status to champion humanitarian causes, has also spoken out forcefully against Trump, particularly, given her vocal support for Syrian refugees, his comments about Muslims. Earlier in the summer, after Trump announced his proposed ban on Muslim immigration, Jolie said “To me, America is built on people from around the world coming together for freedoms, especially freedom of religion. So it’s hard to hear this is coming from someone who is pressing to be an American president,”
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.