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They told America a ghost story about a Bogeyman named Trump. And they believed their own tall tale so much that they thought he couldn’t win.

So when he won, their simplistic explanation was a terrifying one. “There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas,” Paul Krugman wrote as the results flowed in Tuesday night, “who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy. And there were many other people who might not share those anti-democratic values, but who nonetheless were willing to vote for anyone bearing the Republican label.”

Krugman’s charge is not that Trump is a deeply flawed man — which is obviously true. His claim is that Trump’s agenda for the country is racism and sexism, and that his voters were therefore voting for racism and sexism.

Emotional laments like this filled the Internet Wednesday and Thursday. Liberals wanted to flee to Canada to escape not so much their next president as the deplorables who had voted for him.

It’s obvious to them: Half the country supports bigotry — “white nationalism,” included — or is at least fine with it.

Behind this dark conclusion is a hidden premise: that Trump voters believed their ghost story. Krugman and the other commentators railing against their fellow Americans assume that the whole country bought into Krugman’s tale of who Trump was—and still voted for him.

By the same logic, one could lament that half the country voted for dishonesty, cheating, and oppression of Christians — the bogeyman picture of Hillary Clinton.

It may surprise Krugman, but Trump looked different from the vantage point of Uniontown, Pa., and West Allis, Wis., than he looked from Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

Drew Brandenburg is an Afghanistan vet and was an Obama voter in 2008. He had a dog with him at Trump’s rally in Hickory, North Carolina, during the primaries. It was a support dog, to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress. “I went through a lot of explosions,” Brandenburg told me. “I support him because he will help the veterans.”

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This is a theme among Trump supporters. “They’ve been screwing me ever since I came back from Vietnam,” Larry Lyles told me in South Carolina. I travelled the country this year and saw a smorgasbord of voters backing Trump. Some themes stood out, though: voters on disability; voters who had been laid off; voters who saw the economy around them crumbling, bringing civil society down with it, while D.C. and Wall Street got richer.

Exit polls and some local results tell the tale.

Ohio voted for Obama twice. He won Buckeye State voters who lacked college degree by 7 points. Trump carried that demographic by 8 points and won the state.

Fall River, Massachusetts, is a good microcosm. Out of 30,000 voters in this town that’s 87 percent white (half of them ethnic Portuguese), nearly 22,000 voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Deval Patrick, the African American who won the state’s governorship in 2006 with 55 percent carried 70 percent of Fall River that year and 60 percent in 2010.

This was the type of place where Trump made his biggest gains. Up from the 7,400 votes Mitt Romney got there, Trump got 10,800. Deplorable.

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Maybe instead of racism, Fall River’s relative embrace of Trump is better explained by his railing against a rigged economy. The town’s median income is half of the statewide median, and its percentage with a college degree is far less than half the statewide average.

Joe Biden Country tells the same story. Carbondale, in Lackawanna County, Pa., near Scranton is 96 percent white — mostly ethnic Irish and Italians. Less than 15 percent of the over-25 population has a bachelor’s degree, and the median household income is $32,300.

Nearly two thirds of Carbondalers (63%) voted for Obama in 2012. But Trump won Carbondale on Tuesday.

This was the story across the whole county, which is 92 percent white. Obama got two thirds of Lackawanna in 2012, while Trump basically tied Clinton in 2016. Of the 20 Pennsylvania Counties with more than 200,000 in population, Lackawanna is the fourth-poorest.

Trump won 16 percent of the non-white vote in Pennsylvania, doing 3 points better than Romney did. That increase among the non-white vote meant an extra 34,000 or so votes for Trump — about one third of his Pa. margin of victory.

Nobody knows what President Trump will do. Racial resentment was undoubtedly an ingredient in his appeal, as shown by his foul anonymous twitter trolls and the enthusiasm he drew from David Duke and his ilk.

But every politician has despicable followers. The notion that bigotry defined the Trump campaign was a story his opponents made up. To believe that Trump won on the back of a vote for racism requires mental contortions. The simple math is that Trump won over many Obama voters in the forgotten corners of the state—the white working class voters in former steel and textile towns, as well as some portion of the non-white vote.

The Krugman explanation requires one to view these swing-minorities and white Obama voters as bigotry voters. A more sensible explanation is that economic and social dissolution has left these people looking for hope and change. This year, they saw that promise in the outsider who was willing to call the game rigged, rather than the insider who had enriched herself from the game she had helped rig.

“I’m not saying Trump has all the answers,” Andrew Duda told me in October. He spoke, standing at the counter of a barren newsstand on the crumbling Main Street of Fayette City, a forgotten former steel town in Pennsylvania’s Monongahela Valley. “But everybody’s out there trying to grab a little bit of a light.”

What looks like a dark wraith to those in New York and Manhattan, can appear in the provinces as a flicker of light.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.

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