One of the most surreal feelings was watching the process that brought us President Trump. My wife and I watched him win one Republican presidential primary after another in utter amazement. We wondered who were these individuals supporting a crass, unqualified candidate. We kept waiting for his candidacy to fold just like what happened to Herman Cain. But of course, that never happened.
Once he was the Republican candidate, I was certain that the Republicans had committed presidential suicide. It was one thing to win the nomination of conservatives by trafficking in Islamophobia, sexism and race baiting. But certainly in a national election such characteristics would doom a candidacy. I am not a fan of Clinton to say the least, but I congratulated my mother-in-law the morning of Election Day because she would live long enough to see a female president. Well, we see how that went.
I have previously looked at the question of why Christians supported Trump despite his immoral disposition. But that question was for those who supported someone other than Trump in the primary, but voted for him in the general election. I saw no logical reason to support Trump during the primaries. There were more qualified, more conservative candidates without his moral baggage. I could not understand how a conservative could vote for him over Cruz, Rubio, Bush or Kasich. But after Trump was nominated the voting calculus changed and those who aspired to promote conservative values could logically vote for Trump. At that point he would be their best alternative to Clinton.
So I am not interested in those who held their nose and voted for Trump so that they would not have to say “President Clinton” for the next four years. I am interested in the source of Trump’s core support. Who were those people giving him win after win during the Republican primaries? Who were these people in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan who are not normally Republicans but pushed him over the top? Who are people like those in this article who are willing to support Trump no matter what. Perhaps most disturbing of all, who would buy this!!!!!!!
Okay, the last question was simply comic relief but I truly am puzzled as to how we have gotten to this point in our political life and is there another way out. A few months ago I thought I found the answer. A survey indicated that other than belonging to the Republican Party, the best predictor of whether a person voted for Trump was whether he or she hated political correctness. How people define political correctness will vary, but there is a sense that political correctness has placed an unfair burden on those who have not been chosen to benefit from it. There is also a certain level of cultural elitism emerging from political correctness that would help explain why some people do not like it.
I do think that a hostility to what is perceived as political correctness is part of the answer to why Trump has gained such unconditional support from certain elements of our society. But I have come to realize that it is even more basic than that. It is about hostility in general and not simply about political correctness. Trump’s supporters are angry, and they wanted to take their anger out on somebody.
This theory starts to make more sense when I think about certain events that have occurred in my personal encounters with Trump supporters and during the election. Starting with my own personal encounters, more than once I have communicated with Trump supporters during the election season who exhibited a desire to “burn it all down.” “It” may mean something different to different people, but clearly such a sentiment indicates an anger towards certain elements in our society. I also knew that some academic supporters of Trump had been harassed out of academic jobs and were very angry at academia. This harassment occurred before the Trump election and was connected to their unwillingness to toe the political progressive party line. If the election of Trump is a finger in the eye of academia, then I suspect that many of these academics are just fine with that.
There were public events that also support this theory of anger. Why did not Trump’s race baiting or talk of the fun of sexually assaulting women end his campaign? I believe that it was because he was pissing off the right people by being “politically incorrect.” When Trump was attacked, his supporters did not run away from him. They sympathized with him because they often felt attacked as well. Trump became a symbol of their anger and they appreciate it when he exhibited anger at certain groups or individuals.
When he tweets in an unpresidential way about the NFL or CNN his supporters do not see his actions as inappropriate. In fact many of them are angry at people they believe disrespect them. Hostility towards institutions like CNN or millionaire athletes is a way of expressing their frustration at those who show them that disrespect. Thus, they rejoice in his anger at those institutions and accept that anger as their own.
So is the anger of the Trump voter justified? Do his followers have a right to be angry? I am going to say they do have some right to be angry. And I can guess at the source of some of their anger. Here is where the earlier findings about political correctness become relevant. It seems that issues of political correctness are a source of this anger.
For example, I have already mentioned that there are some academics who were harassed from their jobs because they did not meet up with the standards set up in a politically correct environment. Of course the vast majority of Trump supporters are not academics driven from employment but many of them may have felt loss from some issue connected to PC issues. They feel that certain groups have gained unfair rights for being part of a PC acceptable group. They feel their concerns are ignored by cultural elites. It did not help that Clinton ignored states like Wisconsin or groups such as conservative Christians. Such campaign malpractice merely reinforced in the minds of potential Trump voters that the cultural elites do not care about you or what you have to say.Some have argued that Trump’s success is due to racism and racial resentment. They have noted the support of white nationalists for Trump. I think such arguments are self-serving since it is mostly progressives who make them. I have no doubt that Trump was the candidate for overt racists. But I do not think there are enough overt racists to make a difference in a national election. What is more relevant is the frustration many whites may feel due to attention being given to other groups. Much of Trump’s white support feel left behind, and I cannot totally fault them for feeling this way.
If you are white, struggling and watching kids of color from wealthier families than yours complain about their stay at an Ivy League school, then you might have some anger. If you are that person and watch people playing a game for millions of dollars getting attention by protesting that game, then you may think that things are not fair. Even beyond race, if you are a Christian and have seen that your faith can be mocked and discounted by cultural elites in ways that would not happen for Muslims or Jews, then you may feel that frustration too.
Even today many progressives and Democrats do not get it. Yes part of the frustration is economically based, but much of it is tied to the disrespect that many of Trump voters perceive. They are tired of being told that they do not know their own interest, or that they are bigots for not accepting the latest cultural trend. This election was a chance for them to thumb their nose at the cultural elites. By the way those elites were not just Democrats but many of the Trump voters also wanted to reject what they say as “establishment” Republicans. Thus Trump’s success in the primaries as well as the general election was this amorphous anger.
While there are legitimate issues that drive the anger, it is also the case that often this anger is beyond reasonable proportion. I get it that living in a community ravaged by opioids while all the news coverage seems to be on a single black who was shot by the police can make you feel left out and wonder why your pain is not worth attention. And as an African-American I will stipulate that the pain in that white community is worth attention. Just like it is worth our attention to figure out how to minimize police shootings in black communities. We can, and should, talk about both.
But is the solution to that anger to elect someone who has not shown the capacity to deal with either problem? Is it worthy to use this anger to unconditionally support that person, even though he has no real answers to those problems? Is it wise to have an anger so intense that we wish to “burn it all down” instead of figuring out what to preserve, what to change and what to remove? Here is where I think the legitimate anger has gotten out of control and it has become more destructive than constructive.
By the way this is not a partisan issue. I have seen this justified, but inappropriately outsized, anger among progressives as well (i.e. Occupy Movement, BLM). Indeed we seem to have developed an expectation that there is always an angry progressive leftist waiting to protest something. What appears to be new is that now we have non-leftists who have decided that they are angry. And the outcome of their anger is Trump. I have little respect for our president. But whether by accident or design, he managed to tap into that anger. The ability to do that is why he is now President.
So where do we go from here? Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Trump is going to be president at least until 2020 (hopefully not beyond that). Unfortunately, it is in his interest to keep this anger stroked up high. I have little hope that his target audience will resist those attempts. They will feed into his next Twitter jabs. And to be fair on the other side of the political fence, I see little motivation for progressive anger to abate as well. Remaining angry at our political opponents can pay dividends for them as well. Do those of us who are not angry have to just ride out this uncomfortable time?
The short answer is yes. We cannot in the immediate future do something about the type of politics we have in our society. However, I have advocated taking the time to listen and communicate with those with whom we disagree. In time such communication can bring about the type of understanding that will bring down the temperature in our society. We can learn to empathize with others rather than to try to shout them down or call them names. I think it has to start with those of us not drawn into the anger and then hopefully we can set the stage for more productive communication in the future.
But that will not do anything in the short term. And in the short term we have to resist the rash political judgements that come from anger. I am not talking about joining the anti-Trump resistance effort as I find many of them merely to be expressions of leftist anger. I am talking about asking conservatives who voted for Trump, but are not angry Trump supporters to pressure him into making wiser decisions and to limit his expressed vitriol. Since he will need their vote in 2020 perhaps he will listen to them more than the angry Trump voter who will support him no matter what.
I also hope that more of us non-angry people also begin to express ourselves more fruitfully. If the only voices you hear are from the angry left or the angry right, then many people will think that this is our only alternative. I hope that my blog can, most of the time, be a voice of moderating reason that takes on the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum. But when I fail to do that, please have some patience with me. And please don’t be angry with me.