Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

"Drain the swamp! End bigotry, patriarchy, and oppression forever!"


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2016: The End of All Things

“Not everything is a god that failed.” –Tristyn K. Bloom

smod-sweet-meteor-of-death

“Drain the swamp! End bigotry, patriarchy, and oppression forever!”

As the votes keep rolling in from Donald Trump’s election, I wound up in an argument with a dear friend about slavery and the Electoral College. Like many of my intelligent and thoughtful liberal friends, this New York transplant has developed a deep frustration a number of established institutions and contemporary trends that underscore substantial partisan divisions in the ways different sets of Americans understand the world we share.

A lot of anti-Trump people from underprivileged backgrounds feel particularly exasperated at the insistence of an notion they consider an insult to injury. Namely, after suffering the indignity of a Trump electoral upset, they are now being pushed (by people like me) to empathize with the plight of voters within the coalition that won control of everything without them. Their irritation is probably quite similar to that of conservatives who chafed at the 2012 autopsy and the perceived defeatism and collaborationism that spawned it and a litany of harsher criticisms.

I hear them, and conservatives certainly ought to do better to reach out and engage the concerns of Blue America, as I hope we will. (I confess he’s not yet off to a great start.) But for today, perhaps the most pertinent takeaway from 2012 is that people really are going crazy, but the world is less crazy and hopeless than it seems to those in despair.

I’ve written extensively about how many Clinton voters—a clustered, urban coalition of educated whites and not-enough-minorities—were trapped in echo-chambered bubbles far removed from the vast expanse of Trump-voting America. If you haven’t yet, take a moment to look over my analysis of election demographics and deeper exploration of Trump voters’ motivations. But it’s not enough to understand what happened on Election Day and why. The project now is what happens next.

The most pressing first step is putting things back in proper perspective. Politics is fickle, and November 8 was just another election in a (hopefully) endless string of them. In 2012, Barack Obama’s reelection was like an echo to George W. Bush’s triumph eight years earlier. Both won a majority of the vote in a bitter contest against an ideologically flexible, charisma-deficient challenger on high-interest loan from the Massachusetts gentry. Each saw his respective party attain a 55-seat majority in the Senate amid rumors of permanent electoral dominance. Both majorities were embarassingly undone in the immediate next election.

While the Democratic minority will almost certainly lose seats in the Senate in 2018, they could very well take back the White House in 2020, by improving just a point or two on Clinton’s margin, and recapture the Senate in future elections. After all, it was only eight years ago that they won a supermajority. More immediately, President-elect Trump and the GOP Senate will have to negotiate and compromise with Senate Democrats to overcome the filibuster and get anything done. And there’s a lot that can be done or considered. But level heads are required.

It’s consoling to imagine Trump’s “losing” the popular vote, like Camelot’s own John F. Kennedy. Even in an election where nobody cared about or tried to win it, the popular vote could somehow indicate the limits of his electorally victorious appeal. It’s quite another to engage in revisionist history, like notoriously eccentric Yale law professor Akhil Amar (my alma mater doesn’t always send its best) and our friends at Vox, and pretend the Electoral College exists to protect slavery. Such nonsense does violence to history. In reality, the College was created with support across regions and interests for the same reason most constitutional protections exist—to protect against the ravages of direct democracy.

A popular vote for president was strongly opposed in the anti-slavery North, where delegates from multiple states described the idea as “radically vicious,” and “the great evil of cabal and corruption.” Consequently, that Massachusetts did not even put presidential candidates on the ballot in the post- and antebellum decades before 1880. Prior to that, Citizens in Massachusetts voted directly for Electoral College electors, who then voted for president, and it was up to the parties to ensure their voters elected the right people. Here’s an example from the famously contentious election of popular-vote-loser Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876:

1876-massachusetts-gop-voting-guide-for-potus-electors

Presidential and veep candidates are not voting options

While our leaders the American polity may be moderately less elitist today, the Electoral College remains, like our high bar for constitutional amendments, a measured check on the mercurial rapacity of direct democracy. Beyond encouraging candidates to build geographically diverse coalitions and allowing for quick, decisive victories, the system mitigates vulnerability to systemic fraud or claims of it. By contrast, a national popular would require uniform standards for voting—absentee, early, etc.—that would have to be federally centralized (a problem for conservatives), and uniformly rigorous voter ID requirements that are aggressively and meticulously enforced to the point where illegal immigrants and non-citizens would not be able to procure one (a probable nonstarter for progressives) to guard against fraud and unfairness.

Of course, the Electoral College primarily exists as an homage to the primacy of states in our constitutional system—the sovereign states, after all, created the federal government and alone have the power to amend the Constitution. So it’s not surprising that short-sighted opposition of convenience to the College (which is a bipartisan “sore losers” phenomenon) would reach its logical extreme in a movement to abolish states and thus the federalist division of power that exists for them. As one right-side-of-history writer phrased it in The Washington Post: states are “a relic of the past.”

In a bit of equal and opposite lunacy,  secession is apparently cool again. Would-be rebels in California even managed to get “Calexit” (the California analogue to Brexit) trending on social media as they marched on Sacramento. Silicon Valley is even offering support for a referendum on rending the Union. Because, of course. (As any good Southerner will doubtlessly inform you, states can’t secede after Labor Day.)

But it doesn’t stop there. Reason managing editor Stephanie Slade astutely noted the Left’s pervasive insistence on making everything about racism or homophobia has really gone off the rails. This is happening even as the left-wing partisans at Vox are acknowledging that shouting, “Bigot!” at people is a marvelously poor way to combat bigotry.

Let’s take a deep breath.

I realize progressives and other anti-Trump partisans are tired of being told to calm down and just accept that President-elect Trump will become President Trump. I realize that many do sincerely think him a unique danger to the American project and the well-being of their peers. I’m not going to argue down every point or defend the wrongs affixed to Trump’s public record. I will, however, remind you to keep things in perspective.

A year ago, when we all knew more or less as much about Trump as we do now—i.e., every issue that arose thereafter was, as I’ve quoted before, hardly surprising but freshly disappointing—the future Trump antagonists didn’t think him so bad on the merits. In fact, as my friend River Tam noted recently, folks on the Left spend the last year and change telling us that Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Mike Pence were all no better (or worse!) than Trump.

For just a sampling, you can just read (for the the following URLs ranging from Salon and Vox to the Washington Post and CNBC.

Rubio:
http://www.vox.com/2016/2/20/11067932/rubio-worse-than-trump

http://www.cnbc.com/…/rubio-cruz-scarier-than-trump-investo…

Cruz:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/00a425fa-a360-11e5-9c4e-be…

http://www.salon.com/…/ted_cruz_is_worse_the_only_thing_sc…/

http://www.usatoday.com/…/cruz-trump-not-viable-c…/82718646/

Kasich:
http://www.salon.com/…/stop_mooning_over_john_kasich_hes_n…/

http://www.vh1.com/news/259050/cruz-kasich-trump-the-same/

Pence:
http://thehill.com/…/300052-warren-pence-no-better-than-tru…

https://www.thenation.com/…/trumps-vice-presidential-pick-…/

http://www.sacbee.com/…/…/erika-d-smith/article89702297.html

If even John Kasich, this cycle’s Jon Huntsman but with more sanctimony and less economic conservatism, is the same or worse than Trump, then our new reality-show commander-in-chief is hardly a unique threat to the Republic. The absurdity and hypocrisy of this blanket leftist hysteria against Republicans is not lost on more critical observers:

In February, Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York magazine and the author of a forthcoming book explaining how super-terrific Barack Obama’s presidency was, wrote a piece titled “Why liberals should support a Trump Republican nomination.” He listed three reasons: Trump would lose, Trump would wreak havoc on the GOP, and Trump would be better than the other Republican candidates.

“If he does win,” Chait wrote, “a Trump presidency would probably wind up doing less harm to the country than a Marco Rubio or a (Ted) Cruz presidency. It might even, possibly, do some good.”

The day after the election, Chait declared on Twitter “This is the worst thing that has happened in my life.”

Okay, then.

Shortly after the election, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece titled “There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter,” likening some 60 million Americans to a racist lynch mob. Last year, Bouie penned an article with the headline “Donald Trump is actually a moderate Republican.”

Of course, Chait and Bouie are not alone. Progressive figures such as Paul Krugman, Matt Yglesias, Robert Borosage, Amanda Marcotte, and Bill Maher all said during the primaries that Trump was less scary than, say, Rubio or Cruz. (See Warren Henry’s excellent survey in The Federalist for details.)

Moreover, Trump’s history of left-leaning politics is arguably at least as great a concern for conservatives as for liberals—he’s already pushing massive infrastructure spending, because somebody has to show Bush and Obama how to make borrow-and-spend budget disasters great again. Democrats (backed by welfare-corporatists) may well end up aligning with Trump to fight conservative Republicans on such priorities, just as Republicans aided Obama in beating back progressive Democrats’ opposition to free trade.

One of the reasons the conservatives who opposed Trump seemed so quick to get over his upset win is that we simply had more time to mourn. Cruz and Kasich dropped out of the race a half-year ago. Other preferred candidates bowed out months earlier. Even the most stalwart opponent of Trump (and presumably Clinton) from the Right has had a long time to prepare for the disappointment that was inevitable with this election. Jonah Goldberg might have channeled the beating heart of movement conservatism when he said of the general election, “This ends in tears no matter what. Get over it.”

That was eight months ago.

Eight months from now, I expect many more heads will have cooled on the Left, as well. That’s not to say progressives (or conservatives) will or should forget the darkness that pulsed through Trump’s campaign appeal. That’s not to say that anybody should drop principled objections to the many concerning statements Trump made since bulldozing his way into the race last summer. Or blithely ignore disturbing characteristics of his advisers or policies. Compromise of your integrity is no more necessary to engage Trump than to engage any president or politician.

However, the cultish conviction that Trump can be denied normalizing is a shibboleth of denial. He won the election; he is going to be president. He is already normalized. That ship is out to sea. Accepting reality for what it is, Italian immigrant Luigi Zingales offered invaluable insight on engaging Trump through the parallel of Italy’s charismatic yet scandalous billionaire playboy former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

We saw this dynamic during the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was so focused on explaining how bad Mr. Trump was that she too often didn’t promote her own ideas, to make the positive case for voting for her. The news media was so intent on ridiculing Mr. Trump’s behavior that it ended up providing him with free advertising.[…]

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character. In different ways, both of them are seen as outsiders, not as members of what in Italy is defined as the political caste.

From here on out, the only way conservatives or progressives are going to do battle with whatever bad ideas will emerge from the Trump administration—and win support for good ideas from the people and in Washington—is to move beyond personality and identity politics to a contest on the merits of policy. The more that Trump is treated like an ordinary president who won an ordinary election through ordinary voters with ordinary interests, the easier it will be to bring his star back to Earth and subdue his nuttier proposals on the merits. By and large, conservatives in Washington and beyond the Beltway seem to have learned this lesson through months of preparation. Perhaps, at some point, our progressive friends will, too.

In the refreshingly measured words of a retired left-wing satirical pundit:

I don’t believe we are a fundamentally different country today than we were two weeks ago. The same country with all its grace and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength, and resilience exists today as existed two weeks ago. The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barack Obama.

Every so often, even Jon Stewart is right. If not, then perhaps, as a former Democratic candidate for my congressional district in Virginia proclaimed in the wake of Trump’s election, the “Democratic Party deserves to die.” But America is not dying; we will survive the night.

This is not the end of all things. Just the end of another beginning.

"Hillary Clinton can do this for you." 
"What is, 'Not a damn thing.'"


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It’s Not Racist To Want Respect

“I am interested in him for love of myself, and the reason for the precept is in nature itself, which inspires in me the desire of my well-being in whatever place I feel my existence.” –Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“We’re dying out here, and nobody cares about Kansas… I wanted to fly, once. Then I got too sick and nobody could afford to help me and Obamacare ironically made it even harder to get medical coverage and now I catch myself staring up at the sky with an envy you’ll never understand.” –GB ‘Doc’ Burford

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“Hillary Clinton can do this for you.” “What is, ‘Not a damn thing.'”

I watched the cold open for Saturday Night Live’s first post-election show almost on loop. Kate McKinnon’s rendition of Hallelujah is a moving tribute to the recently departed Leonard Cohen, but also a haunting ode simultaneously reflective of Hillary Clinton’s stunning political collapse and evocative of many millennials’ happy, golden college days. In that last capacity, it inspired some of the greatest sadness I’ve felt after the Election Day surprise, and for that moment I suspect I could appreciate the immense sorrow of decent, honest people who voted for Clinton and honestly believed, for whatever reasons, that she would have made a good president.

Going into this cycle, I wanted Hillary Clinton to be defeated, and I wanted Barack Obama’s legacy largely undone. I’m not sorry that such a result came about. But as much as I opposed them politically, I’m compelled to admit I didn’t want them to lose like this—humiliated and broken by a candidate of such marvelous deficiencies that his own voters acknowledged him unfit for the office. I didn’t want that for my friends, whom I dearly love, who invested their hopes and dreams in what they hoped was an election that would be a catalyst for a better world. Clinton and Obama deserved to lose, and their Democratic Party deserved to fall, but in a mildly less cruel world, the falling could have been a softer note of optimism and new hope reminiscent more of 2008 than 2000. But alas, here we are.

Having said all that, the blame for Clinton’s humiliating electoral college defeat ultimately falls squarely on her, her blame-shifting campaign, and the media-elite cabal that conspired with them in a toxic way of thinking. Contrary to early reports, the 2016 election featured high turnout and the largest number of votes cast in American history. Trump may have gotten fewer national votes than Clinton overall, but that’s a meaningless game that nobody was playing. (Just ask Barack Obama, circa June 2008.) Clinton and the Democrats lost because they failed to make the case for why they deserved win, and seemed to consider the need beneath them. And in truth, through all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, they did not deserve to win. Through all the condemnation of Trump’s hate-filled campaign and its reportedly bigoted aftermath, the Democrats ran one of bitterness, contempt, and overt disrespect. The toxic irony did not go unnoticed.

The high-octane nightmare fuel of 2016 propelled partisan rancor to a fever pitch, where the usual leftist accusations of bigotry against Republicans as such have reached new precipices of belligerence. As noted in my previous article about Trump’s winning appeal, his only substantial loss in support relative to previous Republican candidates was among college-educated whites. As Nate Silver’s team essentially confirms at FiveThirtyEight, Trump made election-winning gains among all nonwhites measured (if Trump had done as poorly as Romney with nonwhite voters, Clinton would be president-elect) and held roughly even among women because his gains with blue-collar women cancelled out losses with the college-educated.

Evidence that raw hatred of Trump was concentrated among (mostly liberal) affluent, urban whites extends beyond exit polls. According to Pew, white people are the only ethnic demographic of Clinton supporters where a large majority struggle even to respect Trump supporters, rising to a full two-thirds among college-educated whites. Most Clinton-backing blacks and Hispanics people have no such trouble acknowledging that people had defensible reasons for voting Trump—even though they plainly disagreed with those reasons.

There is something very revealing in this breakdown. Overwhelming majorities of Hispanic and especially black voters opted for Clinton, even if by election-swinging smaller margins than for the last two Republican presidential candidates. And yet, those same nonwhite Clinton supporters, whom we are told have the most to lose from a Trump presidency, seem uniquely able (or willing) to understand and respect the perspectives of those (mostly white) people who disagree. Most white people voted for Trump, but the large minority that didn’t largely live in different worlds. The bulk of white Trump voters are blue-collar, non-collegiate types who have long been infamously acceptable targets of mockery and condemnation from college-educated whites—a cloistered, coastal, classist lot that is famously given to such unironic nonsense as “intolerant of intolerance.”

Gleefully uncharitable critics would say that affluent white progressives are, as a group, snobby, insular, and self-righteously intolerant. That’s plainly a stretch for most. Still, even The Onion acknowledges a palpable lack of urban-progressive self-awareness in a perfectly mischievous post-election article titled, “DNC Aiming To Reconnect With Working-Class Americans With New ‘Hamilton’-Inspired Lena Dunham Web Series.” (That satire is likely based on a real-life collusion between Hamilton and the Clinton campaign on Broadway. Some things you can’t invent.) The aforementioned Saturday Night Live had this milder presentation of the same sentiment (notice the relative calm of the black characters vs. the hysteria of the whites):

This elite socioeconomic and political solipsism naturally metastasizes from and reinforces an urbane tribalism and its attendant echo chamber around What That Really Matters. The “conversations” college-educated whites (and the educated nonwhite progressives who live among them) endlessly congratulate themselves for “bravely” having are taken as the true and normative priorities of the polity as a whole. The conclusions and assumptions of these affluent cosmopolitans are taken as the logical and rational denouement of facts, logic, and empathy per se. The surface demographic diversity they systemically mistake for substantive understanding of vastly different walks of life is taken as a sign that their altruistic political preferences are honest-to-God (if they believe in Him) “empowerment” of the marginalized and downtrodden. Hollywood and New York-based media continuously reinforce these perceptions, as do the gentry Democrats of our segregated capital. Naturally, free of the daily cultural experiences, cues, and perspectives that underlie more conservative worldviews, these affluent, educated, urbane progressives struggle to grasp how good people could oppose them. But millions of good people do, and do so strongly.

One facet of this problem is, as Claremont Review of Books editor William Voegeli once put it, doing good for too many (affluent white) progressives is “more about the doing and the doer than it is about the good.” That is, whatever progressives “sense” is the right approach to social justice must be right, whatever the actual data, and anybody opposed to it (say, because the facts don’t line up) must therefore be an advocate of repression and villainy. It is not surprising that Trump voters, especially younger ones, have little trouble respecting Clinton supporters, because conservatives as a rule, especially younger ones, generally can understand progressive thinking and as such assume (or choose to believe) that progressives mean well. Hence the endless right-inflected jokes about “bleeding hearts,” “tree-hungers,” “Kumbaya liberals,” “strongly-worded letters,” and other remarks that convey a link between leftism and naivete or silliness. By contrast, leftists often assume conservatives are motivated by stupidity, bigotry, exploitation, or bad faith—often in combination—and as such are more likely to expel political dissenters from their social networks and discriminate against them in hiring.

Apropos, blue-collar white Trump voters disproportionately respect Clinton supporters, even though they know the feeling is not mutual, while their white-collar white non-peers overwhelmingly refuse to respond in kind. As a poor, disabled Kansan with three degrees put it in Medium:

Twitter’s response so far seems to be pretty much this: Trump winning is a big win for racists everywhere, this is all about racism, it’s a “whitelash” against Obama, what are we gonna tell our kids, I’m crying now, etc etc etc.

So that’s Narrative A, that racism has won and we’re all boned.[…]

It makes sense, then, that Narrative A is so popular among my liberal friends. It also makes sense that they’re so heartbroken at this election; they’ve spent so much time mocking, deriding, belittling… that when they lost… well, how would you feel? How would you feel losing so soundly, on every level of American government, to the people you’d been making fun of for so long?

So. Right away, just going with that Vox piece, I feel like a big part of the distress, and a big part of the reason people want this to be about racists, is because of how horrifying it would be to confront the truth that making fun of people you dislike makes you an asshole.

Easier to feel like you’ve been wronged, like you’ve been hurt, and kind of gloss over the people that you’ve been laughing at and mocking for so long who just thrashed you in an election.

Maybe, just maybe, you’re acting like the bully in a bad 80s teen movie who just lost and won’t stop crying about it. […]

Trump won because a bunch of desperate people nobody’s listening to decided to go for the guy who pretended to listen.

This is not to deny that plenty of Trump supporters behave horrifically (as do plenty of Clinton voters), nor to suggest that many (mostly white, affluent) progressives are dispositionally averse to substantive empathy and charity. Obviously, this is not true. To Trump’s credit, he has condemned violence and harassment in his name, and I hope any bad actors among his flock take that to heart. But it was always more likely that jilted Clinton supporters would be the ones rioting in the streets demanding a constitutional crisis to overthrow a duly elected government, if only because their coalition includes the self-described activists who have been rioting episodically for years. As Billy Cooper shadily tweeted, “Love trumping hate involves a lot more assault and arson than I anticipated.”

The vast majority of his supporters of diverse demographics did not vote for Trump because they subscribe to or condone racism, sexism, homophobia, or whatever other aspersions are cast against them. They voted for him because the Democratic nominee excoriated them and refused even to ask for their votes, and the Democratic establishment is pretending policies like Obamacare is “working” while they are actually ruining people’s lives. They voted for him because he was the Republican, and she was the Democrat. They voted for him because they are concerned unchecked immigration might lead to European-style violence and societal chaos, among other ills, but Clinton’s party refuses to take this seriously. They voted for him because they want to arrest they cultural mayhem dominating college campuses before it can hurt them.

They voted for him because they have deep, legitimate, substantive concerns about the current and future challenges facing America, but smug people on TV want to talk about “locker room talk” while virtue-signaling people on social media insist ad nauseam that sexism and a “phony” email scandal are the only conceivable reasons Clinton was “not 50 points ahead.” They voted for him because Trump addressed many of their concerns, albeit crudely (a plus for some), while Clinton, her supporters, and the media (but I repeat myself) dismissed it all as racism or bigotry. They voted for him because the guy pretending to listen to you is probably better than the woman who doesn’t even bother.

That Trump would wreck the people who hate his voters like Miley Cyrus starting a war was the dripping icicle in the desert. As Clive Cook aptly describes the new reality, the deplorables struck back:

Apparently it takes more than four years of college to understand this: You don’t get people to see things your way by calling them idiots and racists, or sorting them into baskets of deplorables and pitiables (deserving of sympathy for their moral and intellectual failings). If you can’t manage genuine respect for the people whose votes you want, at least try to fake it.

However, forgive me if I go further. It really ought to be possible to manage some actual respect. The complaints that Trump is addressing deserve better than to be recast in caricature then dismissed with contempt. […]

Trump is a reckless loudmouth, often saying things that beg to be misunderstood — but consider the endlessly repeated “Mexicans are rapists” controversy. What his supporters understood Trump to mean was that illegal immigrants have committed crimes, including rapes; that those people shouldn’t have been in the U.S. in the first place; and that if the system had worked, the crimes wouldn’t have happened. In the universally-sanctioned retelling, this became “Trump calls Mexicans rapists.” Perfecting the device, Tim Kaine explicitly accused Trump of saying, “All Mexicans are rapists.”

This nonsense utterly failed as persuasion. It didn’t refute Trump. It was a patent refusal to engage, expressed for good measure as a slur against people who disagree.

For all this, Trump voters largely decided whom to vote for in the last weeks before the election, when he was arguably on his best behavior (i.e., by staying out of the news). This grappling with different options might be part of why they’re more likely to respect their Clinton-voting peers, who mostly made up their minds months ago. Among other things, it’s an odd claim that voters motivated to empower bigotry could not figure out which candidate was best for that cause until late October. It’s roughly as bizarre as the implication that Trump’s gains with nonwhites demonstrate America’s exceptional danger to nonwhites. (Unless, of course, one concedes that Obama’s America has been exceptionally inhospitable to “people of color.”) But in any case, Trump made an argument that his campaign was greater than the sum of his flaws, and Democrats refused to see how this could be appealing.

Trump and his campaign went to blue-collar communities, even in the core of the Democrats’ supposed “blue wall,” and treated them like they mattered. He talked a populist, Sanders-style game on trade policy that could be disastrous if he’s serious, but he took their concerns head on. He told them he felt their pain and offered the only set of solutions that responded directly their particular concerns. Hillary Clinton and Robby Mook’s Democratic operation, according to high-level Democratic insiders, refused to do this. Bill Clinton, “your standard redneck” export from the flyover states, tried anyway because he knew it was important, but as his wife and her supporters loved to remind us, he wasn’t on the ballot. And it wasn’t enough.

Democrats long enjoyed listing off the states that hadn’t gone Republican since President Reagan or the first Bush like a talisman to exorcise the specter of Republican relevance. But the inverse of that project is perhaps more instructive now. Bill Clinton won a two-pronged wall of states so dominant that it actually isolated thwarted GOP-voting states into three non-contiguous silos. This time, Democratic-voting states are clustered in isolated pockets more or less where one would expect them to be. The states Bill won twice that Hillary lost include: Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—with near misses in Maine and Minnesota. Bill also won Georgia and Florida once, each in different elections. Hillary lost both.

The Democrats banked on turning out high turnout in urban areas to overcome Trump’s appeal to rural voters. And Clinton did rack up huge margins in urban cores. Meanwhile, the rest of the country—the suburbs in red states, suburbs in purple states, suburbs in blue states, mid-sized cities, smaller cities, and, of course, rural areas—swung overwhelmingly beyond Clinton’s reach, relegating her supporters to impotent urban bubbles mostly near the coasts. It’s not difficult to appreciate how Trump and Clinton voters made entirely different electoral cost-benefit analyses through entirely different conversations about entirely different priorities.

As The Washington Post shows:

urban-suburban-rural-split-election-2016

The Washington Post

The 2016 cycle turned out to be a change election, and the Clinton campaign did not reflect that. Voters are deeply frustrated with a host of issues, from the escalating disaster of Obamacare to the cancerous spread of political correctness that assails the president of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia for quoting the author of the Declaration of Independence and a Virginia precursor to the very First Amendment that guarantees the right of anti-Jefferson advocates to represent everything wrong with higher education. They are increasingly convinced—across race, income, and vast stretches of the country—that the reigning center-left establishment does not wish them well, so they pounded the table and voted for a man they distrust and many thought might be bigoted because, as progressive like to say in other circumstances, they had to do something.

And for those understandably hung up on the bigotry they saw permeating Trump’s campaign, I won’t argue down that point, as it’s both completely legitimate and much less pertinent than it seems (beyond reinforcing the obvious need to watch the Trump administration like a hawk). To highlight this truth and offer what I hope is an olive branch of insight, I’ll turn to an invaluable insight black Ole Miss trailblazer James Meredith taught us 27 years ago in going to work for Jesse Helms: if the bigot is the only one offering you a job, you take it.

In a progressive election postmortem for The American Interest, Artemis Seaford sums up well the reality of reckoning honestly and constructively with the cultural and socioeconomic divides of Trump’s America:

There is nothing prima facie objectionable with such a reaction. However, just below its surface lies the proposition that nearly half American voters have finally shown us their true bigoted, misogynist colors, and the implication that it is up to us, liberal savants, to show them why they are wrong. Going down this route means going about liberal “business as usual.” It means digging in our heels in the face of an external threat and doubling down on our positions, taking them even more for granted than before.

A more productive response would be to engage in thoughtful soul-searching about what we missed. This will require recognizing that tens of millions of Americans voted for Trump despite his bigotry, not because of it. Our demand that they simply put universal values above their own perceived self-interest was a step too far, and their refusal to comply does not automatically make them racists. But it does say something about the moment we live in that we have so far failed to put our finger on.

It’s a horrible situation for everybody when two fantastically repulsive candidates are the top-tier options in what has long been widely perceived as a binary system. But when wedged between, if you’ll indulge a rhetorical leave of charity, the Scylla of a corrosive progressive oligarchy that seeks to raze everything you value and the Charybdis of a uniquely unqualified boor whose grating treachery is your best hope of devouring those who would subdue you, there is no moral high ground. Might, as all good souls know, does not make right. But when no option is right, it’s not unreasonable to prefer to have might at least insecurely on your side than reliably against you.

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President-elect Trump: It’s the Socioeconomics, Stupid!

“You have not converted a man, because you have silenced him.” –John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn

“What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here. Elmer Gantry shows up looking like Boris Johnson and just says whatever shit he can make up to convince the masses that this is their chance! To stick to ALL of them, all who wrecked their American Dream! And now The Outsider, Donald Trump, has arrived to clean house! You don’t have to agree with him! You don’t even have to like him! He is your personal Molotov cocktail to throw right into the center of the bastards who did this to you! SEND A MESSAGE! TRUMP IS YOUR MESSENGER!” –Michael Moore

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Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ

I did not vote for Lex Luthor Donald Trump. I did not vote for the Democratic nominee, either. No matter who won, I was bound to be disappointed. But the Republicans won, and the world could be so much worse. I realize the people who wanted or expected Hillary Clinton to become president are devastated by the stunning upset a woman whose rise, yet again, was deemed inevitable. President Obama (who also triumphed electorally over Clinton while getting fewer votes) went so far as to describe the prospect of a Trump election as “a personal insult” that would essentially repudiate his legacy.

His legacy is so repudiated by a country that still approves of him, at least in polls. But his voters were not #WithHer.

As hard as it may be for some to grasp or accept, white working-class voters reportedly hold—note the present tense—a more favorable impression of the black guy who’s leaving office than the white woman who used to work for him but failed in her bit to succeed him. That is a dynamic those blue-collar whites share, like Tom Hanks’s Doug on Black Jeopardy, with the black and Latino Americans who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney but voted for Trump. Nate Cohn noted this development in The New York Times before the election, when even Trump’s campaign still believed he would lose:

On their own, Mr. Trump’s gains among [white voters without a college degree] have been enough to cancel out four years of favorable demographic shifts for Democrats among Hispanic and well-educated white voters.

He has even won supporters among some of the same white voters who backed Barack Obama in 2008. It suggests that Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama might have a little more in common than you might think—at least from a political standpoint.

Overall, however, Trump’s margin among white voters was almost identical to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But notwithstanding iterative episodes and accusations of racism, sexism, or other types of bigotry, early reports indicate the president-elect won appreciably better margins among almost every key Democratic demographic than previous Republican candidates. Trump improved seven points on Romney’s showing with black voters, eight points on his showing with Latinos, and nine points with Asian-Americans. Perhaps most saliently, Trump did 11 points better among Latina women than Romney, outshining his increase among Latino men. Trump even managed to do slightly better among immigrants (i.e., naturalized citizens) than with Latinos or Asian-Americans overall.

It gets more interesting from there. College-educated whites were one of the few demographics to vote relatively less Republican for president in 2016 compared to 2012—largely, but not entirely, balancing out Trump’s gains among non-college whites. Trump actually performed better among college-educated minorities than minorities without college degrees—an inverse of the breakdown with whites. Among Latinos in the crucial swing state of Florida, Trump even outperformed against Clinton relative to congressional Republicans against Democratic opponents. He lost non-college Florida Latinos by 42 points but their college-educated peers by only 27. He won Cuban-American voters by five points. This relatively strong Latino showing was instrumental to Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State

The data would suggest that millions of nonwhite voters in the least white presidential electorate in American history presumably did not consider Trump or his campaign particularly bigoted, or they did and voted for him anyway. Similar analysis would apply to the vast heartland sea of blue-collar whites who, again, voted for Obama twice before opting for Trump this time around. Likewise, Millennials went more for Trump than Romney, and Clinton’s margin among women was virtually unchanged from Obama’s in 2012.

To argue, given the data, that Trump beat Clinton because his supporters are hateful bigots is to say, in effect, that racism attracts young, nonwhite, and pro-Obama voters, and that women are largely indifferent to sexism. The hard truth of the matter is, as Nate Silver notes, Hillary Clinton would have won the election had the electorate voted only two points less Republican than it did. But nonwhite Americans instead voted at least seven points more Republican, amounting to a four-point (at least) swing overall, and so we have President-elect Trump.

You might as well blame the “coalition  of the ascendant” for President Trump as ornery whites. Of course, analysts and politicos living in the simulation of a world imagined by insulated and contemptuous elites would never do that.

The available numbers paint a rather sobering picture for the Democrats. In 2012, Obama won voters who approved of his presidency by a larger margin than Clinton. Likewise, a few more Americans said their financial situation had improved in 2016 than in 2012, but Obama bested Clinton among those voters by 21 points. A plurality of 41 percent both years said their financial situation hadn’t changed. But those voters chose Obama by 18 points; this time, they broke evenly between Trump and Clinton. Even voters who wanted to maintain or expand Obamacare (more on that soon) shifted from Obama to Trump by nearly 12 points. These data help flesh out the electoral finding that many voters, particularly blue-collar whites, who believed in or identified with Obama decided that Trump was a better choice than this year’s Democratic slate. What that says about the Republican and Democratic parties will assuredly be the subject of ongoing debate. But there’s more.

Had Clinton performed as well among blue-collar whites as Obama in either of his elections, it would not have mattered that so many nonwhite voters chose Trump. But the divide between the more rural, less-educated, flyover America and the more coastal, urbane, gentrifying America is essentially becoming a sociopolitical wall. Dave Wasserman noted that Trump won 76 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel and only 22 percent of counties with a Whole Foods—a thoroughly predictable image of the profound electoral divergence between college-educated and blue-collar whites. It’s worth noting that this divergence has been growing steadily since 1992, but the margin spiked substantially between Obama and Clinton.

Perhaps one of the most revealing reasons so many voters chose Obama and Trump is the only of four qualities on which Trump bested Hillary: change. A large plurality of Americans voted for the candidate they determined could “bring needed change.” This meant Barack Obama in 2008, and most voters were willing to stick by him in 2012. But in 2016, “change” voters went for Trump by 69 points, notwithstanding that Clinton won handily on experience, judgment, and empathy. The large minority of voters who saw their lives worsen over the last four years backed Trump by 59 points. Voters agreed with Democrats that their nominee was better suited to the rigors of the presidency, whatever their views on the issues, but they rejected what she and the Democratic Party stood for as agents of a toxic status quo. And that made all the difference.

Much has been noted about the fact that Trump voters are wealthier, on the whole, than Clinton voters, and many people, especially on the Left, think this proves that Trumpism is just some noxious mix of racism and xenophobia, divorced from economic concerns. But the devil is in the details. We already know that Trump flipped the script on white support for Republicans—where previous candidates did better among more educated whites, Trump traded that position for huge margins among whites without college degrees. Obama won voters without college degrees by four points in 2012, while Trump won them by eight this time, for a 12-point rightward shift. (The opposite shift occurred with college graduates, though it was smaller.) That has socioeconomic implications for Trump and Clinton’s political coalitions.

Trump only won middle-income and wealthier households by just two points. By contrast, Romney’s margin was four times larger. This makes sense if you put together two aforementioned facts: Trump hemorrhaged (without entirely losing) traditional Republican strength among college-educated whites—the second-wealthiest demographic in the country—and actually did better among educated nonwhites (black, Latino, and Asian) than non-college minorities. (Perhaps educated nonwhites are beginning to converge, ever so slightly, with their white socioeconomic peers.)

Clinton won by 11 points among poorer voters, because nonwhites are disproportionately poor and vote disproportionately Democratic. But that margin is a full 11 points weaker than Obama’s performance against Romney. If you filter income by race, which the exit polls declined to show for whatever reason, available evidence strongly suggests that support for Trump among whites correlates mightily with income, even as the inverse is true for nonwhites.

In the end, it’s not the voters’ fault that Democratic candidates failed to appeal to them. To paraphrase the campaign of Hillary’s politically unique husband: it really is the socioeconomics, stupid.

Wealthier voters, especially more affluent whites, moved strongly away from Trump, in keeping with the general revulsion toward him and his supporters from elites. But he won anyway, because poorer whites and minorities overall moved even more strongly toward him or just stayed home. While we were talking about misogynistic recordings and the umpteenth instance of racist ramblings, middle-Americans voters were agonizing over their families’ economic security, with little time or inclination to fret overmuch about iterative outrage that probably struck them as a sideshow.

Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” comment was so damning precisely because it viscerally captured everything Middle America—including, as noted above, plenty of blacks, Latinos, women, LGBT, and Asian-Americans—loathes about elites: the moralistic contempt, the smug liberalism, the social justice redlining in colleges and among media elites that seems almost tailored to mock and exclude them, the insidious beast of political correctness that hides behind a false flag of empathy. Conventional wisdom holds that electoral victories require voters be inspired to vote for something and not just against something else. (Just ask John Kerry.) Clinton, a poll-tested synecdoche of establishmentarian elitism, flipped the script; voters were more driven to oppose her than support Trump, and that proved enough.

As a former Bill Clinton adviser told the Huffington Post, “Hillary Clinton in many ways represents a world many people in this country would like to move on from.”

In that regard, this black woman probably speaks for millions of Trump supporters in her celebration of the election night results:

By contrast, the Donald is, as Michael Moore semi-presciently warned (tedious liberal straw men aside), the revenge of the underclass. His election is the fruit of seed of resentment planted around when Obamacare squandered and poisoned the considerable goodwill with which Democrats came to power eight tempestuous years ago.

Apropos, Trump’s triumph is a defeat for the people who dismiss Obamacare’s manifold losers and even insult them, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias does, with demands for a more financially crippling mandate. The plurality of voters who believe the ACA went too far broke for Trump by 70 points. Obamacare premium hikes were particularly large in the critical states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, and Minnesota. To a somewhat lesser extent, rate hikes were also onerous in Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Clinton and Democratic Senate candidates underperformed in each of these states, ultimately losing almost all of them. (She eked by in Minnesota, but that was never supposed to be close.) Recalcitrant leftists are, even now, bemoaning the Republican victory as supposedly ruinous for the beneficiaries of Obamacare. But most Americans disapprove of Obamacare precisely because its benefits have been overstated and its considerable costs manifestly ruinous. This is, in the parlance of social justice, the lived experience of American voters, which underscores why Obamacare is unworthy of retention.

The illusory genius and belligerent condescension of progressive wonks and social justice warriors, of which Obamacare is but the easiest example, has put the Democratic Party in its weakest national position in generations. Not so long ago, Democrats mocked the GOP as a regional party. Now, nearly half the states are under unified Republican control, while one-third of the House Democratic minority in Congress hails from California, New York, or Massachusetts—three far-left enclaves that together account for only 20 percent of the national population. Meanwhile, in West Virginia—a state that went for her husband twice—Hillary won 53,000 fewer votes in the 2016 general election than she earned in the 2008 Democratic primary. This is a telling illustration of the Democrats’ post-Obama collapse in the Rust Belt. But the cataclysm extends far beyond that:

Progressives may have succeeded culturally and socially in shutting down various lines of thought or legitimate concerns about issues—from immigration to gun rights to campus sexual assault to energy policy to the toxic mythology of “cultural appropriation” to segregated “safe spaces” to the deplorable plight of blue-collar whites—as so many flavors of bigotry. But silencing or driving from polite society one’s detractors—or patronizing/insulting them with obnoxious celebrity leftism (thanks, famous actors!)—isn’t the same as convincing them. To the contrary, when Donald Trump came along and promised to upend the sententious, omnipresent repression of the silencers, the silenced proved willing and able to seize an opportunity, even though they dislike, distrust, and are otherwise concerned about that opportunity.

Against such a backdrop, it’s not surprising that the final polls seem to have featured something of a Bradley-style effect, where some voters who intended to (and did) vote for Trump declined to say so to pollsters. In my own networks, I lost track of all the black, brown, LGBT, women, etc. voters who leaned toward Trump and kept quiet about it, in part because of escalating hypocrisy and opprobrium from the eternal soapbox of the “tolerant,” “empathetic” and “inclusive” who seem increasingly anything but. For a case in point:

laci-green-before-and-after-trump

There has been a proliferation across social networks of grieving Clinton supporters threatening to sever ties with anybody who backed Trump. This is exactly the wrong lesson to take from an election that upended your whole perspective on the country. If your response to the reality of people deeply disagreeing with you is to demand special privileges and retreat into a bubble—or, as the satirists of The Onion cogently put it, a “fanciful, wildly inaccurate mental picture of the country”—you’re likely to find the real world is not moved by those who refuse to engage it. Trump and his voters won the election without you (or me) and your echo chambers. You have no support to withhold and, without Trump-aligned friends, no way to influence a Trump presidential agenda that is not beholden to your approval.

As many of my friends—including a large combination of progressive and conservative opponents of Trump—pointedly observed, the obnoxious virtue-signalling and fanatical accusations about the supposed bigotry and “deplorable” character of Trump supporters is a large part of why a lot of people voted for Trump. In my own networks, countless Trump skeptics, many of them minorities, voiced this notion explicitly, and some even changed their votes accordingly. (To be honest, I thought about it.) That Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s showing with nonwhites and maintained his showing with women suggests the bipartisan elites’ (me included) preoccupation with incidents of bigotry and other ills in Trump’s campaign only managed to sway upper-income whites. To put it bluntly, nobody else—of any race or demographic—cared enough, except for those who were largely voting for Clinton anyway, and many went toward Trump.

This doesn’t mean that the nastiness of the 2016 campaign should be forgotten or swept under the rug. A lot of people, on the progressive Left and now-defunct #NeverTrump conservative Right, have many legitimate qualms with the president-elect. However, no amount of rioting protesting, recycled aspersions, or vituperative slanders against one’s political opponents is going to annul Trump’s ascent to the White House or GOP control of the entire federal government and thorough domination at every level below it. (Though such reactions are likely to speed the process of reconciliation between #NeverTrump and the #TrumpTrain.)

The election is over. The know-nothing hoi polloi have humbled their know-everything betters. Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States, and the policy priorities of GOP voters remain traditionally conservative, not trade- or immigration-obsessed. Through whatever pain and grief this historic upset must have caused them, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, and Minority Leader Pelosi, among other prominent Democrats, have all committed to accepting and working productively with President-elect Trump. Even the left-wing partisans of The Huffington Post have dropped their long-running anti-Trump editorial note in favor of a “clean slate” going forward.

I fully expect progressives to renege on any promise of comity ahead of the next cycle. Indeed, things that Democrats used to call “obstruction,” “treason,” and “terrorism” (like dissent, executive restraint, filibusters, opposition to an imperial presidency, etc.) will suddenly be patriotic again! but for now, their leaders are largely taking the mature, responsible step toward reconciliation, as opposed to vandalismextravagant whininganti-election violence against an electoral loss (remember when such behavior was a threat to the Republic and legitimacy of constitutional norms?), child abuse, or peddling sophistry against the established rules for national elections. The time for theatrical hyperbole and partisan absurdities—up to and including the unsubstantiated invention of a hate-crime wave in “Trump’s America”—is done.

President-elect Trump hasn’t done anything yet. Given his oleaginous approach to issues throughout the campaign, he almost certainly will ignore more than a few of his political promises, as all politicians do. The time will assuredly come to oppose and protest this or that proposal, from left or right, based on your political priorities. If Trump actually tries to discriminate against Muslims, start a trade war, dismantle NATO, or somehow impose white nationalism, take him to task (peacefully). And when he does or proposes good things, acknowledge, congratulate, and encourage him. (Even for a politician, Trump seems unusually susceptible to Pavlovian conditioning around his popularity.) But if his detractors instead cry havoc continuously over the mere fact of his presidency, they will hemorrhage legitimacy with an electorate that has already heard it all before and decided against them. Nobody benefits from that, except Trump and his already-winning coalition. His voters have apparently calculated that a Trump administration won’t be as awful as his critics have long inveighed. The easier people make it for them and others to affirm that calculation, the more successful Trump’s presidency will be, for better or worse.

America is still a shining beacon on a hill that empowers its citizenry to succeed freely and live safely. We are still the freest, most prosperous, most hopeful nation in the history of Earth. We remain that mighty superpower who, through the might of our valor and determination, defeated imperial fascism and saved the entire Old World of our forebears from a thousand years of darkness. Perhaps this glorious experiment will end, and the Dream will die as assuredly as all men must. But that is not today, nor will it come next January. If the presidency of Trump is enough to fell the Republic or irreparably corrode its vigorous constitution, then we were already at the end of all things, and this is the credits rolling. Otherwise, as President Obama and Secretary Clinton dutifully noted, we owe the president-elect an open mind, and we ought to work as hard as we can to ensure America is always great.

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The Soft Bigotry of Progressive Intentions

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ―Frederick Douglass

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“I wish being a good person was as easy as wanting to help the children.”

 

In the heated summer of the 2000 presidential campaign, Texas Gov. George W. Bush went to the NAACP Convention in Baltimore and championed education reform, economic opportunity, and racial equality. In reflecting on demographic achievement gaps, the future president famously declared, to applause, “I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

This was a callback to a September 1999 speech Bush gave to the Latin Business Association in which he addressed academic underachievement among black and Latino students: “Now some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

It is a tragic irony of Shakespearean cruelty that, in 2016, the NAACP opposes education reforms that are already helping black children and families. In its hostility to charter school and school choice, the NAACP (along with Black Lives Matter) is fighting against black communities and undermining black progress. Given the chthonic horrors of public education (if the intergenerational afflictions of that socioeconomic Tartarus can be so called) in too many lower-income neighborhoods, it surprises nobody paying attention that black voters in several states overwhelmingly support school choice, including charter schools.

Unfortunately, the NAACP has opted to subordinate the needs of the black community to the political interests of another core donor constituency of progressive politics—teachers unions—even though the facts indicate that those progressive donors would rather leave black kids incarcerated in poverty and ignorance than let them be free of union control. In this way, the NAACP has—much like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who forsook her once strident support for school choice to kneel before the teachers unions—melded smoothly into a social justice establishment that exalts the interests of its donor class over those of the people it purports to serve and represent.

Jason Riley sums up the breadth of the maddening reality quite well over in the Wall Street Journal:

Numerous studies employing gold-standard random-assignment methodologies have shown that underprivileged black children with access to charter schools are much better off than their peers in traditional public schools. They not only learn more but are also more likely to finish high school, attend college and avoid drug abuse and teen pregnancy. Inner-city black students with access to the best charter schools regularly outperformed their white peers from the richest suburbs on standardized tests.

Charter-school students with disabilities outperform traditional public-school students without disabilities. The Black Lives Matter activists who fret about racial disparities in incarceration rates and support the NAACP’s anti-school-choice posturing might consider the fact that our jails and prisons are not full of high-school and college graduates.

Blacks are 16% of the public-school population in the U.S. but 27% of charter students. The NAACP is faulting charter-school proponents for targeting the very communities where the demand for school choice is most acute. According to the civil-rights activists, whether black students are learning anything matters less than whether they are sitting next to white students. Never mind the empirical data showing that black children need good teachers and safe learning environments far more than they need white classmates.

This theme of exalting demographics over results hearkens back to an education reform struggle, half a decade ago, in Wake County, North Carolina. In that case, a well-intentioned integration policy aimed at closing racial gaps in academic achievement had the actual effect of masking the ongoing problem while geographically separating underperforming kids from the support structures of their families and communities. When Republicans gained control of school policy in 2010, they understandably moved to allow parents to keep their kids in their own communities while improving those local schools.

This effort had the side-effect of ostensibly “resegregating” some schools—because different areas had higher concentrations of white and nonwhite families—and the allusions to Jim Crow and Brown v. Board came like clockwork. This slander could only work insofar as the self-proclaimed champions of “equality” and “racial justice” ignored or prestidigitated away the most essential fact: the progressive policy ended because it failed to do anything but hide its own failures. In truth, the Wake County reformers gave the lie to progressive assumptions about the realities of the substantive progress due to underprivileged Americans. So of course the warriors of social justice—and those who profit from its failings—cried, “Bigots!” and let slip the whistles of slander.

As I wrote at the time:

Accepting that diversity is valuable and progress is not painless, the benefits of the program were dubious at best—schools were increasingly overcrowded, most black and Latino students were not proficient in reading or math, and only 54% of poor kids were graduating. As a biracial mother of two Wake County students put it, “right now, it’s as if the best we can do is dilute these kids out so they don’t cause problems. It sickens me.”

Even the Republicans-abolish-integration article inadvertently makes a case for what Paul Fitts, a Republican candidate for Wake County Commissioner, would describe as achievement-oriented schools grounded in communal involvement. Namely, qualified poor and/or minority students were underenrolled in advanced math classes under the previous “integration” policy. The kicker: school officials say they’ve known about this problem for years, but many parents were left in the dark. In other words, sending kids to faraway schools stifles parental involvement and allows ongoing systemic problems to fester under the negligent eyes of self-interested bureaucrats.

This is the mettle of structural oppression: A constellation of social justice do-gooders fretting over race relations and “the children” while consigning underprivileged (mostly black and Latino) children and their families to mediocrity and malign neglect. This is how intergenerational poverty and underachievement are reinforced through the doublespeak of talking a good game about equality.

The war on black children extends all the way to the White House. The Obama administration fought tooth and nail to undercut school choice, from Louisiana to Washington, D.C. The government ignored the objections of black parents, who overwhelmingly benefit from and attest to the profound benefits of having options already available to the wealthy.

In the exceptionally odious Louisiana episode, Eric Holder’s Justice Department argued explicitly in a court of law that empowering black students to escape dangerous, failing schools—and the dependent cycle of poverty and ruin—would “impede the desegregation progress” from the Civil Rights Movement. This is how the administration chose to misrepresent the fact that the state’s vouchers, available only to low-income kids assigned to low-performing schools, overwhelmingly go to poor blacks who manage to beat the growing wait-list for limited spots.

It takes a special kind of legalistic depravity to invoke the hard-fought, blood-soaked triumphs of civil lights leaders to secure the best educations for black children as a vehicle to drive today’s black children back into a stultifying ocean of despair. (It’s worth noting that Bobby Jindal, the then-Governor of Louisiana who vigorously championed the academic emancipation of black youth against a hostile federal government, was the first nonwhite person ever elected to that office. Likewise, the Mayor of Washington is black, as is a large chunk of the city council.) This depravity is no less damning for carrying the imprimatur of America’s first black attorney general in service of the first black President of the United States.

By contrast, Gov. Jindal won reelection amid his campaign for education reform with a historic two-thirds of the vote, sweeping every parish in the Pelican State. It’s not clear if any data exist on the demographic breakdown of the 2011 electorate, but Jindal won a majority of the vote in several majority-black parishes, including MadisonSt. JamesSt. John the Baptist, and Tensas, even as 80 percent of black voters are registered Democrats.

Down the Gulf, Florida Gov. Rick Scott championed school choice, merit pay, and other academic reforms, and he campaigned heavily on them in his reelection bid to win over black voters. Subsequently, he managed to grow his support from among the black vote to 12 percent. That may seem paltry, but it amounts to double his showing among black voters compared to 2010, while black turnout increased by three points. That’s a difference of 61,000 black votes in an election Scott only won by 66,000 votes.

But that actually undersells it. Had Scott’s 2014 black vote total languished at the six-percent share he won in 2010, with the Democrat’s share holding anywhere near 2010’s 92 percent, the final tally would have been 95,000 votes more Democratic. That means Rick Scott’s margin of victory was entirely contained within his improved share of the black vote. I repeat: the Republican Governor of Florida is only in office today because a growing black electorate decided to grant him reelection after he gave them good reason to do so.

Since then, Scott’s continued fight for education opportunity for the underprivileged has kept him at odds with the state teachers union and NAACP chapter. But the governor retains a solid core of support within the black community. In January, Martin Luther King III came to Tallahassee after the holiday for his father to stand with black families and Gov. Scott against the regressive machinations of the progressive establishment.

This dynamic of Republicans pushing for education reform and winning support from black voters but hostility from progressive activists is by no means restricted to the South. In the Northeast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expanded school choice his very first year in office. Democrats who buck the progressive establishment on education even credited him with “launching the school-reform movement throughout the Northeast,” as he fought for vouchers in an election year. Thereafter, Christie won reelection with double his previous share of the black vote (from 10 to 2o percent) and nearly half of Latino voters.

These stories abound, and they provide a robust array of evidence that black voters value expansive education reform more than progressive donors can pay to stifle it. But that is a precarious equilibrium that can fail at any time. Fortunately, in Florida as in Louisiana and Washington, school choice for underprivileged children is winning, for now, and progressive opposition to progress seems to be collapsing.

That’s not to say all charter or private school options are fantastic or even better than all traditional public schools. Some programs are struggling and bad schools have been or will be shuttered, as the system rightly demands. Other reforms are propelling kids to the once-inconceivable heights of college and upward mobility. Ultimately, a system that gives families workable options encourages the kind of policies that can provide life-changing benefits to disadvantaged kids. But in any case, school choice options ought to be measured by the results, not by how staunchly the progressive donor class finds them contrary to its political and financial interests.

I mightily doubt President Obama, his black attorneys general, or well-meaning BLM activists mean any harm to lower-income families who just want a fair chance at success. (If you insist on the utmost charity, we can add teachers unions to that list.) But at some point, the progressive establishment must be made to understand that good intentions do not substitute for good result and cannot balance out actual harm. The pernicious effects of structural bigotry are not any less asphyxiating because those who sustain them practice the correct platitudes about social justice.

As things stand, today’s leaders must choose between the actual welfare of the downtrodden and the union-funded oppression of the  Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

May they choose right and true.

Capitalism: The motivating fear that something, somewhere, could be more convenient


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The Tyranny of Social Justice

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” ―C.S. Lewis

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Capitalism: The motivating fear that something, somewhere, could be more convenient

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law a broad salvo for powerful special interests against the less privileged New Yorkers he purports to champion. I’m referring, of course, to the latest instance of grotesque regulatory capture that is the Empire State’s new anti-Airbnb legislation. Put mildly, it has the insidious effect of protecting politically connected businesses—i.e., the hotel industry—from the healthy, consumer-friendly pressures of free-market competition.

To be clear, the chairman of the Hotel Association of New York City, Vijay Dandapani, admits this openly:

“This smart and innovative legislation will allow law enforcement agencies to better target, track, and penalize lawbreakers, while also protecting one of New York’s most vital economic contributors—the hotel and hospitality industry.”

Famed New York hotelier Donald Trump would be pleased.

The usual term for such manipulation of government power to serve special interests is cronyism. New York has a well-documented hostility to the kind of policies that encourage innovation by forcing companies to sink or swim on the strength of the comparative value they provide consumers, rather than the elasticity of their government connections. So, as my college friend Jay Schweikert once said of the 2016 cycle, this development is hardly surprising but freshly disappointing.

But, as C.S. Lewis notes of the worst tyrannies, Cuomo and the New York cronyists social justice warriors don’t just satisfy themselves with the mere fact of regulating away opportunities for the politically disadvantaged. As they seem always compelled to do, these elites invoked the eternal progressive shibboleth of looking out for ordinary people while actually screwing them over.

Democratic Assemblywoman and bill sponsor Linda B. Rosenthal of Manhattan described it to The New York Times as follows:

“New York is taking a bold step that will hopefully set a standard for the rest of the country and other countries in the world that are struggling with the impact of Airbnb on affordable housing.”

 The same article included this telling contextualization of a statement from Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi:

Regulators and affordable housing advocates around the world worry that Airbnb is making it easier to illegally rent out apartment units for short stints to travelers, taking units off the market for full-time residents and driving housing costs higher. Mr. Azzopardi said that illegal rentals “compromise efforts to maintain and promote affordable housing by allowing those units to be used as unregulated hotels.”

If you simply took the Times reporting and New York officials’ statements at face value, you might be inclined to think state leaders had scored a victory of some merit against rapacious corporate powers. But this willful legerdemain disguises two severely inconvenient but highly relevant truths. First, the new law imposes steep fines, not on Airbnb, but instead on ordinary people, like you and me, who advertise openings through the service. (A federal lawsuit argues this is illegal and unconstitutional.) So if you want to fill some empty beds in your place to help pay your rent, you could get slapped with a $7,500 bill from a government that ostentatiously pretends to fret that your cost of living is too expensive. Second and relatedly, Airbnb, unlike the hotel industry, provides flexible income and economic opportunity to people who can’t afford lobbyists:

The politicians are responding to hoteliers and unions that claim that mini-Donald Trumps are buying up properties and renting them as “illegal hotels.” This doesn’t check out: More than 95% of New York Airbnb hosts sharing their entire home post only one property, and the company last year yanked roughly 3,000 illegal listings out of some 44,000 in New York. The hotel industry also riled up some affordable housing groups to say that Airbnb is driving up the cost of rent. One irony is that more than three-quarters of hosts say that sharing their space helps them pay rent.

The real complaint is that Airbnb is unwelcome competition, and here’s how you know: The company already offered Empire State regulators everything they claimed to want. Airbnb said it would ban New York hosts from renting more than one property; require online registration for hosts; ban users who break policies three times; and collect state taxes so that hosts couldn’t cheat. That’s right: Airbnb wanted to help New York dig up more revenue.[…]

This is a classic restraint of trade, and all the more odious that it will hurt the people Democrats claim to champion. Airbnb points out that hosts in zip codes with the highest percentage of black New Yorkers earned $43 million from rentals in 2015, and that more than 21,000 millennials host an Airbnb property.

The astute observer will note that progressives imposed exorbitant housing and hotel prices on Airbnb users, many of them lower-income minorities, from New York to San Francisco, long before modern technology made Airbnb possible. The progenitors and supporters of these regulatory labyrinths almost certainly had the best intentions in maintaining policies that keep rents high and undercutting innovation, like Airbnb, that helps people pay those rents. But as famed paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant reminds us, some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.

A similar dynamic played out with the curious story of ridesharing services in the notoriously progressive metropolis of Austin, Texas earlier this year. The taxi industry in the Lone Star capital pushed through a package of onerous regulations, including fingerprinting requirements for drivers (who are already subject to background checks), in the guise of promoting “consumer safety,” a “level playing field,” and other anodyne lies. In reality, the rules undercut Uber and Lyft’s ability to operate efficiently and compete with taxi companies in the city. Incidentally, the new security requirements were about as conducive to safety as the TSA, with comparable downsides for minorities. Brishen Rogers sums up the point well in a white paper for the UChicago Law Review:

[Background] checks are no panacea. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has emphasized, background checks have limited predictive value and can have a disparate impact on minority drivers. More generally, however, there is no indication that criminal law will not deter assaults just as well in Uber cars as it does in taxis. In fact, criminal law may work far better, since any passenger who suffers an assault by an Uber driver will actually be able to identify their driver. Not so in a street-hailed cab.

Rogers goes on to note, among other things, that ridesharing companies’ transparent ability to track data on driver and passenger interactions afford Uber and its peers the ability to combat the rampant racial discrimination for which taxis are notorious. But notwithstanding all that, the taxi industry succeeded in chasing Uber and Lyft from Austin, and 10,000 drivers  who benefited from flexible schedules and supplemental income, as even famed Obama loyalists acknowledge, were effectively pink-slipped.

For those keeping score: progressives who claim to value consumer safety, non-racism, accountability, economic security, and equal opportunity directly favored an allegedly racist industry with weaker mechanisms for accountability by reducing economic security for thousands of people through diminished opportunity without making anybody safer. The taxi industry’s expulsion of ridesharing from the second-largest state capital in the country is primarily a blow against the members of and aspirants to the city’s middle class who benefited from a boon in transportation choices.

That cronyism for progressive donors (in this case, Big Taxi) made for effective manipulation of progressive voters’ obsession with good, social justice intentions (to drive out competition for those donors) to achieve harmful results (see above) is how the game works.

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“I shop at Whole Foods, and I’m here to help!”

The treacherous campaigns against the sharing economy are reminiscent of Obamacare springing from its Trojan fact checks and administrative lies to torch Medicare recipients and the besieged middle class with catastrophic deductibles and coercive spikes in costs. Obamacare, the exclusive product of “economic justice” warriors and the progressive donor class, saved its worst for the little guys who can’t afford progressive elite’s sanguine abstractions about a poor product and growing suffering. But, as with everything else, we are to believe this cratering fiasco is good for the people it mobs. Apropos, Matthew Yglesias at Vox (because, of course) argues the solution to Obamacare’s rising premiums is stiffer penalties on cash-strapped folks who lost their former plans and can’t afford the mandated new ones.

As technology improves and ambitious entrepreneurs develop more disruptively valuable products and services, the friction between legacy industries and innovative market paradigms will only increase. Desperate but well-connected benefactors of obsolescing fiefdoms will ever more rapaciously seek to restrain the economic progress that would subdue them. They will always claim to champion the interests of the very constituents they ravage for their misbegotten sustenance, as taxis and hotels cannibalizing the income of their once-emancipated subjects. But either progress will devour the dependents of cronyism, or the restraints will nibble away at the powers that impose them.

Someday, perhaps, New York, Austin, Washington, and other locales will have leaders who understand this—and make the right call.

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Like Honey for Flies: A Lesson from Derek Black

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” ―1 Corinthians 13: 1, 11-13

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There was something intimately familiar to me in the story, as conveyed by reporter Eli Saslow in The Washington Post, of reconstructed white nationalist Derek Black. To start with the low-hanging fruit: we share a name, were both born in the same year to Southern parents, have familial ties to the same region of the same state, and we’ve both spent a significant chunk of our childhoods there. As luck would have it, I even briefly considered applying to the New College of Florida, and had I done so, I might have actually met him or his friends. We have also, though at very different times in our lives and for very different reasons, admired and opposed Barack Obama.

You might be wondering why I’m going through the exercise of comparing bits of my backstory to that of a young former star of white nationalism—the cancerous parasitism in the Republican polity that fed the rise of Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, I can’t relate to the vicious racism of Black’s past and find the white nationalist community he renounced to be nigh unspeakably repugnant. But in that other Floridian expat’s story of redemption, I do find something that hits close to him—and it might well be the root of the answers to the late affliction that is this election cycle.

When the students of New College discovered Black’s identity as a David Duke acolyte, many understandably wanted nothing to do with him. But where others saw the toxic instantiation of a wicked concept to shun, some inspired souls saw an opportunity to win a convert from racism to reconciliation.

“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.

“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”

“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”[…]

Matthew Stevenson had started hosting weekly Shabbat dinners at his campus apartment shortly after enrolling in New College in 2010. He was the only Orthodox Jew at a school with little Jewish infrastructure, so he began cooking for a small group of students at his apartment each Friday night. Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew. Now, in the fall of 2011, Matthew invited Derek to join them.[…]

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.

Thus began an unlikely friendship between a young white nationalist and a young Orthodox Jew and his multi-ethnic, interfaith Gentile friends over a weekly Jewish dinner. In the course of ongoing conversations that spanned months of dinners, emails, and meetups at local bars, Black’s white nationalism gradually softened and then succumbed completely to the patience, empathy, and charity of this diverse set of friends. Less than two years after Stevenson launched his defeat-racism-over-Shabbat campaign, Black wrote to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group he once considered an “enemy,” to renounce and apologize for the entire worldview he was born and bred into and had championed publicly for half his life.

Score one for the angels.

As a black man (and black conservative), I’ve encountered my share of racists and racism. As a gay man (and gay conservative), my share of homophobia and anti-LGBT bigotry. As a middle-class kid in the Ivy League, my share of classism. As a Southerner in the Northeast, my share of toxic parochialism. Sometimes, I handled these situations rather poorly (as in the umpteenth time a white progressive resorted to violent hysterics over a substantive disagreement about racism), not that most would begrudge me that intemperance. Often, though, I try for something like the Matthew Stevenson approach.

One December, some years back, I was home from Yale for winter break and went to a backyard house party on a mild Virginia night. A good chunk of the crowd were rednecks or had a similar middle-American vibe, as was normal in my youth but had become remarkable, in an anthropological way, after years of Ivy League immersion. The handful of attendees who were friends from my high school knew (and didn’t care) that I was gay, but my code-switching “mannerisms” are such that for the majority of partygoers the thought that I was queerer than a $3 bill seemed never to occur to them.

As often happens (to me) in such situations, more than a few spoke easily and naturally to and around me in a way most probably would not in “mixed company.” In the beginning, this meant an endless flow of casual homophobia.

“They were hanging with some queer.”

“He drinks like a fag.”

“That’s so gay, nigga.”

“If some faggot were to touch me, I’d…”

It took me aback. Not because it was unfamiliar—I had grown up with such people and such language—but because I had somehow, without realizing, forgotten how pervasive this kind of thinking was and how much I must have once been naturally part of it.

As I don’t have the luxury of coming from a world where there’s much to be gained by overt indignation over bigotry, I rarely start direct confrontations over these incidents. Such an approach, in my experience, has the tendency to produce more heat than light, to the detriment of progress or a good time. And life is too short to be an empty, eristic symbol of perpetual grievance.

So instead of conveying offense at the partygoers’ offensiveness, I bracketed it and guided the conversations elsewhere. I got to know these ostensible bigots and let them get to know me. It is one of the great blessings of a military upbringing that one learns well how to make friends often and quickly. It wasn’t long before the fact of my sexuality meandered through these easygoing chats, but by then my new friends took it in stride. Most were surprised, some guys were curious, several girls were excited, but nobody was any longer hostile. What had been threateningly queer and ignominious had become thoroughly friendly and unremarkable.

I have lived through more of this genre of scenes than I could ever hope to recall. Some involved homophobia, others racism or parochialism. Some take weeks, if not years, to reach harvestable fruition. In the most uplifting of them, things even come full circle and some erstwhile purveyor of casual ugliness will call out a friend for the kind of misbehavior that would make somebody like me feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. Not every story has such a happy ending through all the pain, but a lot of them do, and the world is thus made a little better. And some of these people are still dear friends of mine.

I don’t think I’ve ever had substantive dealings with anybody quite as dramatically and publicly odious as Derek Black, but I would like to think that if I were friends with Matthew Stevenson in Sarasota between 2011 and 2013, I would have gone to those Shabbat dinners and contributed to the transformative power of empathy and charity. Whether a Christian, a Jew, or a secular humanist, this would seem a humanitarian duty to a brother in desperate need of healing. I’m glad Black was so helped, and I hope his friends were likewise ennobled by the painstaking project of redeeming him.

It’s something of a truism to say that much of bigotry is ignorance, but it tends to be true. The people backing anti-LGBT legislation, rambling about “white genocide,” fretting about black criminality, reading hatred into anything conservative, or trafficking in all manner of caricatures and stereotypes often would think differently, if only a little at first, if they had sufficient opportunity to do so. Many wouldn’t necessarily seek out such opportunities (or see the need to) but would—as my, Stevenson’s, and Black’s experiences show—be receptive to new ideas if they came with empathy and the charity it yields.

If we would want somebody to rescue us when we needed saving, it is a cruel hypocrisy to dismiss or condemn the curiosity and frustration of a lost soul who is willing to hear us out. This reality will apply even to Trump supporters, from the sociopolitical abyss of the white working class to the well-meaning despair of Republicans who yearned for better, when this election is over. If the American project is to survive this election, the antagonists of Clinton, Trump, and the protest-voters will have to find at least half the charity for their political opponents that Stevenson’s Shabbat group managed for an avowed white nationalist.

It all gets easier, of course, when we remember that the people around us, no matter how broken or misaligned, are still people we can recognize and relate to. I’ve written about my own sympathy for the rightly routed skeptics of LGBT equality, and, ironically, Derek Black’s early post-apostasy encounter with his father highlighted something that every LGBT person or straight ally ought to recognize on some visceral level:

Derek still had his dry sense of humor. He still made smart observations about politics and history. “Same old Derek,” Don concluded, after a few hours, and that fact surprised him. His grief had been so profound that he’d expected some physical manifestation of the loss. Instead, he found himself forgetting for several minutes at a time that Derek was now “living on the other side.”

The people we think we don’t understand—or couldn’t understand us—because of differences in sexuality, politics, race, class, heritage, “lifestyle choices,” or other distinctions, are almost always people we could know quite well if we remembered that we’ve known and loved them or people like them all along. That kind of authentic realization and sincere engagement with the humanity of difficult, troubled people is in many ways antithetical to the toxic cultural trends behind “safe spaces” or navel-gazing protests that trigger hostility and reinforce outrage rather than build foundations for constructive reckoning with the variety of flaws in how we all approach the world.

Matthew Stevenson showed his peers that Derek Black isn’t a strange, foreign animal; he’s the quiet kid in class, or the guy who smiles when you pass him in the hallway. He’s the boy next door, and just like our other neighbors, he can be influenced, for good and ill, by how people choose to engage or repel him. If the dutiful love of his friends can so thoroughly disabuse him of the foundational views he was reared to champion, imagine what all could be possible if more of us were willing to meet people where and as they are, as though we actually gave a damn.

About a decade or so ago, when I was a junior in high school, my IB English teacher assigned the class the English translation of Mexican writer Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chococlate. That magical realist tale of star-crossed lovers and tragic misunderstandings held a few gems, among them a metaphor the protagonist heard from her grandmother:

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us, but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen, for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. For a moment we are dazzled by an intense emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it. Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul. That fire, in short, is its food. If one doesn’t find out in time what will set off these explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.”

There are, perhaps, amazing truths we could get others to see—or clarifying enlightenment we could learn from those around us—if we believed, in some genuine sense, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and our neighbors are more like us—and more valuable to us—than we sometimes care to admit.

 

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Pride and Terrorism: Reflections on Orlando

“People like me are constantly subjected to immense violence. I expect violence walking alone late at night… I expect random acts of hate violence on the street. [But] I do not expect violence when I am dancing at an LGBTQ club…” –Jacob Tobia

Sunday morning, after news of the Orlando terrorist attack broke, I received a text message from an old friend I hadn’t connected with in a while. A Jewish UChicago Law graduate (and passionate Duke alumnus) from suburban New York, he is a stalwart #NeverTrump conservative who interned for Utah Senator Mike Lee and campaigned mightily for the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from start to finish. Like both senators, this friend is socially conservative to a fault, and we have sparred often and bitterly through the years over gay rights, from the Obergefell decision to the various iterations of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the circumstances in which my future husband and I should be able to adopt kids.

Some might wonder how I would have the patience for such a friendship, and I don’t have an easy answer to that question for the truly incredulous. But some people are worth the long project of winning their hearts bit by bit, even through the inexorable pain of the many potholes and snares along the way.

His text read: “Just want you to know that as I wake up to this terrible news in the midst of Pride week, that I am thinking of you. That is all. Hope you are well, otherwise.”

It was a welcome surprise, considering.

As the unexpected thoughtfulness of that gesture has lingered, it’s been surreal to see the furious amalgam of LGBT allies—from the ACLU to a vast network on social media—blaming Christian opponents of gay rights, among others, for the murderous evil of a radicalized adherent to the superlative homophobia of Islamism. Most social conservatives, like just about everyone else, recoiled in horror and sadness from the undisputed evil of anti-gay terrorism. Accordingly, many of them, like my Jewish UChicago Law friend, were dumbfounded and insulted to be public targets of blame for villains they revile engaging in conduct they abhor.

I can understand—or at least maybe grasp—the underlying sentiments that animate some of this antagonism that seems as unintelligible to its recipients as it is painfully obvious to its progenitors. The simplest but perhaps most important thing to say to baffled social conservatives to explain the invective against them in the wake of Orlando is that religious terrorism against LGBT Americans did not begin in Orlando.

The more consistent LGBT critics of social conservatives perceive a culture that produced the attack on Pulse in the homophobic fanaticism of both conservative Christianity and Islam. A friend of a friend on Facebook, for example, sees the roots of the potentially closeted terrorist’s violently internalized homophobia as much grounded in the toxic Islamism of Afghanistan as in the decades of anti-gay cultural hostility inflicted by American Christians.

This awareness of Christian mistreatment of gays is hardly relegated to the fringes of society—where you’ll find its unrepentant celebrants in the likes of Pastor Roger “they deserve what they got” Jimenez of California’s Verity Baptist Church (who no more represents the Christian mainstream than the shooter represented American Muslims)—but extends all the way to the leaders of the American Body of Christ. In the recent words of Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

Before we go any further, I want to state clearly, lest there be any confusion, that I do not blame Christians for the horror in Orlando. Rather, I admire the staff of Chick-fil-a who went out of their way, as though in a modern-day parable, to support the victims of the tragedy at Pulse and their families. What I hope to accomplish in writing all this is something of a bridge between wholly different perspectives, so that social conservatives and LGBT allies can better understand one another—pain, grievances, and all.

Having said that, now I’ll be blunt: queers have a long, nasty history with political and cultural Christianity that far too many Christian conservatives seem unwilling or unable to appreciate. There are the kids kicked out of their own homes, expelled from institutions, inveighed against from the pulpit (don’t even get me started), bullied relentlessly into depression or even suicide; there are the adults who were tormented at workfired from jobs, kicked out of hospitals, kicked out of mallsslandered across continents, denied basic services, and scapegoated for every manner of misfortune—and were fought tooth and nail by Christian conservatives at nearly every turn for every iota of dignity and respect they managed to accrue from society or the law.

There are the people who know too well what Storm meant when she answered Senator Kelly’s question in the first X-Men movie about “normal people”: she hates them, sometimes, “because I’m afraid of them.” And they have good reason to be afraid—to hold hands in public, come out at work, or put an arm on a significant other’s shoulder during a transit ride. It’s no surprise to the LGBT community that the second-most common type of hate crime in America by far, according to the most recent FBI data, is anti-LGBT violence. (For comparison, anti-Muslim violence was less than 3 percent, and anti-Christian attacks were among the lowest of any demographic.)

And the truth is, we never really know when we go out somewhere in the world which of you will suddenly attack us for being who we are, or who you assume we are. But the thought occurs to us more often than you might think. Among other things, this is why my boyfriend and I, who were nearly victims of hate crimes in supposedly tolerant places, have concealed carry licenses and the means to defend ourselves, if it ever came to that. It’s almost why I used to feel a mercurial combination of gratitude and shame at having grown up in (and exaggerating this aspect of) a culture that discourages PDA, which in turn excused my once indomitable aversion to holding my boyfriend’s hand in public.

This is why Orlando hurts so much for gays hundreds of miles away who knew nobody inside, living or casualty.

Granted, many Christian conservatives today would not favor any of that pain, but the (ongoing) history is there. It does not help that breathtakingly few prominent Republicans even bothered to mention the LGBT nature of the Pulse massacre, even though that aspect was integral to why the tragedy occurred in the first place. Moreover, some, like The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson, went so far as to dismiss vital questions about gay rights issues in wake of a transparently anti-gay attack as “an unnecessary dividing line.”

At best, this excessive discomfort with even talking about gays is appallingly ignorant and insensitive. At worst, it is emblematic of the kind of malign indifference or deep-seated hostility to the peculiar struggles of LGBT Americans that underlies (and some would say justifies) LGBT supporters’ open revulsion at and rejection of what they interpret as the crocodile tears of their enemies. As conservative journalist and LGBT ally Betsy Woodruff put it rather poignantly:

After years of supporting some of the most discriminatory and hateful legislation aimed at the LGBT community, some top Republicans finally found a way to exploit the community as it grieved the Orlando shootings.

In this vein, well-intentioned overtures to gays from some on the Right—from The Resurgent’s Dave Scharoun to evangelical darling Ted Cruz—rooted primarily in conservative opposition to violence against gay people come off as patronizing and disingenuous. It is a supremely low bar to say, in effect, “We may have viciously opposed just about every social, cultural, and political initiative that would have empowered you to pursue happiness as productive citizens—and in so doing actively worked to make your lives more miserable than they needed to be—but at least we don’t want to kill you like those people we hate over there. Why won’t you support us?”

That is not a compelling message. Especially not when aggressively LGBT-friendly candidate Hillary Clinton is laying out plans (whatever you think of their substance) to destroy the Islamic State while calling out America’s Muslim “allies” for being insufficiently committed to extirpating Islamic radicalism.

It is certainly a noteworthy point that even some of the worst anti-gay organizations, like the Family Research Council, which most gay rights advocates consider an anti-gay hate group, offered explicit support to the LGBT victims of Orlando (and in so doing managed somehow to convey a greater degree of sympathy than the bulk of elected Republican officials), while the worst anti-gay jurisdictions in the Middle East would make the Pulse terrorist seem tame and merciful by comparison. But we’re not in the Middle East.

Whether or not social conservatives find that interpretation of their sympathy and culture war history fair (and those honest or sufficiently self-aware will concede at least much of it is), this is how the situation looks to a great host of LGBT people and their allies for many good reasons.

In response to much of this, some social conservatives and their political allies will incline understandably toward incredulity or exasperation. They maintain sincere, principled objections to same-sex marriage and various gender identity mandates. To be sure, there are some on the Left for whom such opposition is a non-negotiable personal failure over which no social or political bridge is possible. For most others, though, there is a navigable world of fertile seeds for common ground and mutual understanding. The paths that lead to and through it are all accessible by a deceptively simple code of conduct derivative from the Golden Rule:

Act like you give a damn.

What does that mean, you ask?

Well, for starters, if you notice a radical Islamic terrorist attacked an LGBT space to kill LGBT people, acknowledge the primacy of LGBT suffering in that tragedy. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, talk about the manifold ways in which America has been—and in some ways continues to be—a hostile place for gay people. See: the aforementioned point about hate crimes. If the Family Research Council and Ted Cruz can pull off a passable effort, so can you.

A real-life instance of this was a speech Marco Rubio—one of the few GOP officeholders to acknowledge the anti-gay nature of the Orlando attack—gave at Catholic University in summer 2014. Even as he reaffirmed his unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, he acknowledged the monstrous but little-known history of government-sanctioned discrimination against gays, and the legitimate grievances gay people have today because of such ills. There’s certainly more the Florida senator could do to better represent his LGBT constituents, but his comments represent a helpful show of what I hope is genuine good will.

If you want to get more advanced, you could spend a fraction of the resources you use to oppose same-sex marriage or other gay rights issues to, say, engage gay parents, taxpayers, and community members about particular challenges facing their families, which will exist whatever your opinions of them. You could explore—and dare I say champion—policies that might help alleviate such challenges without compromising your values.

Real-life examples of this would be then-Sen.-elect Pat Toomey’s (R-Penn.) announcement of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even though he would never get a chance to vote on it, or Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-NC) surprising decision to vote for that repeal bill, with no evident political gain, because it was “the right thing to do.” There’s also the case of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who posted a lengthy and detailed explanation of his vote for an amendment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) that reaffirmed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. The explanation even went so far as to call out Amash’s conservative allies for woefully misrepresenting the amendment’s text and effects. Etc.

But even for those social conservatives who remain skeptical of such policy reforms, the mere exercise of continually engaging LGBT people to hash out such things would almost certainly lead to a learning by osmosis of some concerns, struggles, frustrations, and hopes that go beyond politics and underlie true compassion. It’s the kind of empathetic approach that, if scaled well, would go a long way to resolving the GOP and conservative movement’s enduring difficulty with young and minority voters.

You can find a gold standard of empathy and a way forward in the cogent remarks of Utah’s Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at a vigil for the Orlando victims:

I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me. Jim Dabakis even told me I dressed nice once, even though I know he was lying. You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that I very often did NOT deserve. And it has made me love you.

I cannot recommend his entire speech enough. Seriously, go read it right now. I can wait.

But if nothing else, the next time you have an occasion to ponder the fury or frustrations of LGBT people in your midst, however baffling or seemingly inscrutable, reflect on this timeless insight from Carlos Maza in the Washington Post:

Many LGBT people have spent years keeping problems — especially problems related to being LGBT — to ourselves. We have become masters of seeming fine, of convincing ourselves that we are fine, when we are not fine. Because we badly want to be fine.

There is a good chance your charming, confident, smiling gay friend feels deeply scared and unwelcome in the world.

Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you — and that you want them here, alive, now.

As it stands, too many LGBT people believe that conservative Republicans don’t care or actively despise them, and so much about the response to the Orlando attacks will reinforce that perception, to everybody’s detriment. That, in the end, is the tragedy that keeps on stealing from all of us.

We can and must do better.