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Column: He voted for Trump. I can’t understand why. We met in search of common ground

John Gindick, 68, is photographed outside his home in Ventura on March 23.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

For a time, in the heat of the campaign, Jon Gindick shut me down.

He liked Donald Trump. I didn’t.

Gindick was one of three local Trump supporters I wrote about in March. We stayed in touch, messaging each other now and again, laying out our arguments for and against the candidates.

But a month or so ago, when I said let’s meet and talk it over, he nixed the idea. He said my newspaper was in the tank for Hillary Clinton and had lost its soul.

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Then, the day after the election, Gindick sent this:

“Available for interviews.”

Gindick is a blues singer who plays harmonica and guitar, so for that alone, there’s something about him I like. And he seemed nothing like the Trump supporters who love dumping all manner of nastiness into my email basket. Gindick is a UC Berkeley graduate and registered Democrat who initially liked Bernie Sanders and said he’d never voted for a Republican until Trump came along.

So I drove up to Ventura, thinking of it as a diplomatic mission in a sharply divided country. Can there ever be detente, given that so many people loved Trump while so many others loathed him?

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We met over coffee at the Sandbox in downtown Ventura. Gindick told me that at times in the last year, he had his own doubts about who would get his vote. Especially when Trump did things like mock the looks of Ted Cruz’s wife.

“I was really shocked at myself,” he said of his fall for Trump. “I lost sleep over it. It was a crisis of conscience.”

But he got over that.

As someone who saw things to like in Trump, Gindick said it didn’t sit well with him that so many liberals were demonizing Trump supporters as racist idiots.

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“The word ‘bigot’ was widely misused in this election. It means intolerance for another point of view,” said Gindick, and yet he felt liberals were stereotyping him and other Trump supporters.

OK, fair point.

But aside from Trump’s charged comments about Latinos and Muslims, and the fact that former Klansman David Duke was a big fan, I reminded Gindick that Trump headed the posse that demanded evidence that the first black president in history was not born in Africa.

Gindick stuck to his guns, saying Democrats are the bad guys because “they have taken the word ‘racist’ and made it meaningless. They’ve turned something important into a political hammer they can hurt people with.”

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Gindick said the attack on Trump supporters at a June rally in San Jose was a deplorable attempt to silence speech and expression.

As he saw it, Trump was a rebel who challenged political protocol in a refreshingly blunt and honest way, and took on institutions that no longer served the interests of working people.

Gindick, 68, said he’s become more conservative than he used to be, and Trump appealed to him on various issues.

Gindick wants less federal control and more state authority on education and other matters. He supports gay marriage but defends the right of a baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. He believes social problems should be addressed first through free enterprise. He thinks Obamacare raised premiums and limited choices for too many people. He doesn’t want Trump to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, as promised, but refuses to accept that Trump is a bigot for insisting something has to be done about immigration.

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“I liked him,” he said of Trump. “I got him, even though he embarrassed me at times. I saw his potential and I think he really fulfilled it.”

Gindick’s disdain for Clinton is as unshakable as his bromance with Trump. He ticked off his major grievances, including the Wikileaks revelations, her use of a private email server for state business, questions about the integrity of the Clinton Foundation and solicitation of foreign donations that created the appearance of conflicts for Secretary of State Clinton.

Then he asked what I thought of Clinton.

I said I found her to be a flawed candidate, disturbingly evasive, too hawkish and prone to questionable judgment.

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And far superior to Trump in virtually every way.

I have a teenage daughter who will now experience, instead of the first female president, a male president who insults women. Instead of one step forward, it’s two steps back.

Of course Washington needs a shakeup.

But I’m not thrilled about having a president-elect I consider to be an enemy of tolerance, civility, decency, equality and earth science, especially with control of the Supreme Court in his hands. And given Trump’s simplistic bluster on threats both foreign and domestic, I shudder to think about the implications for national security.

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Gindick seemed as disappointed as I was that we could see these two candidates so differently.

As if offering an olive branch, he said he thinks we do at least share an interest in a stronger economy that works for more people, and he thinks Trump can deliver that.

I’d like to think so, but therein lies another difference between Gindick and me.

He trusts Trump’s business sense and his ability to build a staff of experts who can improve trade policies, make the economy hum, start a massive infrastructure jobs program, bring back factories and bring down healthcare costs.

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I’m skeptical, thanks in part to the shocking lack of specifics from Trump.

As robust as his promises are, there’s no shortage of experts who suggest that higher tariffs will mean higher prices for consumers, and tax cuts could deepen the deficit and impact services rather than spur growth. And even if manufacturing were to return to the U.S., automation could mean more jobs for robots than people.

Gindick and I, and the rest of you — red and blue, urban and rural — are going to have to wait and see how it all works out.

Are he and I still as divided as we were?

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A little less so, maybe, because we met, we talked, we shook hands.

Gindick said he was glad we got together: I said the same.

At the moment, though, he’s the one dancing, and I’m the one singing the blues.

Get more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez

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