Token Dissonance

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

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Go Be a Watchman

“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” -Isaiah 21:6, KJV

“Remember us better than we are.” -Vincent Brand to Caliban, Penny Dreadful

A few friends have asked about my thoughts on the latest “racially charged” national controversies—which is not terribly surprising; I’m a politically active black conservative who managed to turn even my own wedding into a controversy—and I’m going to dust off this old medium to gather my thoughts in one hopefully coherent place. 

For starters, I must confess it sometimes takes me a second to remember which outrage we’re even talking about. 

There was the infuriating abuse and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that directly triggered ongoing protests, riotous destruction, and curfews across the country. What’s especially salient about this misconduct is the video of an officer who is clearly unconcerned about being videotaped with his knee on a restrained man’s throat—and his law enforcement colleagues plainly finding nothing concerning enough about the situation to intervene. As many have put it, if this is how law enforcement behaves when they know they’re being recorded, how much more awful must they be when they know (or think) they’re not. This is what qualified immunity impunity looks like.

Speaking of qualified immunity unaccountably overzealous policing, there was the recent murder of Breonna Taylor. In case you missed it, she was an innocent woman whom Louisville police killed after her boyfriend understandably invoked his Second Amendment rights while calling the police for help (bless his heart) to defend the couple against an apparent home invasion by unannounced police who couldn’t be bothered to check the details of their no-knock warrant. If there were any substantive accountability for such things, they might have bothered. 

There was the earlier incident of white vigilantes (including a former law enforcement officer, because of course) in Coastal Georgia (a region where I have deep ancestral roots) chasing down and killing Ahmaud Arbery, allegedly because of months-old robberies to which no produced evidence connects him. It took national outrage to get anywhere with that prosecution, and the recused law enforcement officials who declined to prosecute their buddies, the McMichaels apparently still don’t see what all the fuss is about. Because of course.

And there was the thankfully nonlethal (talk about lowering the bar) but still troubling case of Amy Cooper. For viewers just tuning in, that woman stared down a camera and employed the classic “crying white lady” tactic to sic the police on a black man in New York City for having the audacity to ask her to follow clearly posted (and not unreasonable) rules that apply to everybody else.

After watching Minnesota police arrest a CNN crew live on air for lawfully reporting on protests against imperious police misconduct, I posted this comment on Facebook:

I hate violence. I’m repulsed by riots. I detest looting. I have every sympathy for the difficult task of restoring order amid violent chaos.

Having said that, I have some questions, which I ask sincerely and respectfully, and would appreciate a sincere and respectful answer to:

What is one to do when the progenitors of violent chaos are precisely the people charged with keeping the peace and protecting the innocent? What is one to do when the fearsome powers entrusted with the government monopoly on violence to protect us are fundamentally untrustworthy? What are we to do when the reasonable exercise of any core civil right–no matter how fundamental, no matter how well enshrined in the First, Second, or Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution–is met with violence from the very government ostensibly bound by and existing for the protection of our civil rights?

What are we to do? What will you do?

I would love and deeply appreciate a compelling answer to these questions. I’m no extremist, but watching this video makes me want to burn down everything those people ever loved.

I pose these questions now to everybody reading this (and thank you for staying with me this far), because they matter. Some of these issues really do transcend race. Police brutality and misconduct against black people are very much a product of a broken system that refuses to hold law enforcement responsible for its wrongdoing, which afflicts and terrorizes people of all races, even if unequally. If we could somehow fix the racial dynamics in policing, that would in no way mitigate the need to abjure qualified immunity, effect more reliable and present video recording, make crime labs independent of law enforcement officials who rely on them, and so on. At the same time, the need to fix problems that transcend race should not be an excuse to avoid addressing the issue of race where it remains a problem. 

The paroxysms of rage that have flowed from these incidents, and the narratives they feed, are as viscerally understandable as they are ineffably exhausting. In a very real sense, there’s almost nothing new to say, beyond the minute specifics of this or that incident, because we’ve all been here before. Well, we “all” in the sense that many of us lack the luxury of ignoring or “moving on” from these kinds of things because even when we think we can, we find that the way we interact with other people and the world has irreversibly changed somehow—and many others are now quite practiced in finding ways to make these things about anything other than larger issues that have a lot to do with race. 

A lot of folks like to think of themselves as not having “a racist bone” in their bodies, whatever that means. We all want to be the heroes in our stories, and being “colorblind” or “not caring” about [insert demographic trait] has a seductive appeal to the better angels of our nature that allow us to believe the best about ourselves, our peers, and the systems that have afforded us our (real and potential) successes, such as we know them. And anway, isn’t that what MLK was all about? (Spoiler alert: No.)

Bearing no ill will toward black people or other minorities—and not actively doing any harm that you recognize—is perfectly compatible with being an integral part of the profoundly evil dynamics that killed or threatened people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Christian Cooper. These things don’t happen in a vacuum, nor do they spring sui generis from the minds of peculiarly evil people who were inexplicably, just the day before yesterday, members in good standing of their (probably mostly white) communities. 

These things start small, but they are everywhere taught and enforced, often in subtle but persistent ways. People don’t “naturally,” “innocently,” or “accidentally,” cross the street when they see a black person on the sidewalk or tense up when a black couple strolls past them or find themselves in glaringly all-white (or nearly so) friend groups in ethnically diverse environments. They learn these habits from the same social conditioning that led Amy Cooper (no known relation to Christian) to understand that it would matter that she felt threatened by “an African American man” and was putting on a show of crying—and that the man she was threatening with this farce would know, without needing to be told, how and why it mattered. 

I’m angry—well enraged and exhausted, to be honest—about all of these incidents that are currently captivating the news cycle, and we could fill vast libraries with books explaining why. But in lieu of the time for all that, I’ll attempt the simpler project of explaining, as succinctly as I can (which is to say, not very), how I came to start noticing when I was one of, if not the only, black people in a space, what that has to do with these controversies, and what I think we can take from all that.

Although I experienced it on occasion, I didn’t understand racism all that well as a child, because I grew up in about as diverse and integrated (both are critical) an environment as probably exists on a large scale in America: the U.S. Army community. Perhaps unlike the leadership of any other major employers, the share of commissioned officers in the U.S. Army who are black or Asian American is roughly the same as each group’s share of the overall U.S. population, according to the Department of Defense. My father has been an Army officer for well over a decade, but for nearly all of my childhood, he was enlisted—a population that’s even more diverse than the officer corps. (Yes, this means nonwhite soldiers are more likely to be enlisted than officers, but I’ll hazard a guess that the disparity is weaker in the Army than just about any employer of comparable size.) The Army isn’t the most diverse overall of the Armed Forces (that would be the Navy), but its leadership (i.e., officers, especially generals, and senior NCOs) noticeably is.

This meant that I grew up in a world relatively divorced from many social “cues” that teach people the kinds of things Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper learned about race. Army bases largely lacked an obvious black or Hispanic underclass driving taxis, working drive-thrus, waiting tables, etc. There was no “ghetto” or “hood.” Kids largely got their clothes, food, and supplies from the same places—the Post Exchange (PX), Commissary, or malls near base—lived in the same neighborhoods, had parents working for the same employers, and had more or less the same contemporary cultural references. Multiracial kids were (and are) common, as were (and are) interracial relationships, like my own and a large number of my friends.

It’s not that race didn’t matter, or that we never saw or thought about it. It did, and we did. Certain incidents from that era (like a couple of racist middle-school teachers from the West Coast who apparently never learned how to “deal” with black people) still haunt me. I also want to make clear that I am not talking about the experience of being a soldier—which I only know vicariously and is profoundly different—but only an Army brat, i.e., a dependent child who grew up in the world the Army built for its soldiers and their families. But I didn’t experience, as an Army brat, a dynamic of persistent racial separation and antagonism (subtle and overt) that led me to believe that my friends of different racial backgrounds had any reason to see or experience the world fundamentally differently. 

This all changed in college and the civilian world I graduated into after. Before college, I seldom found myself as the only black guy in a crowd, and it was something I seldom thought about. In college and after, this was common, and it kept coming up until I began to notice it. Before college, I had little direct experience of a black working class overseen by a mostly white managerial class. At Yale and in New Haven, this was the norm. Before college, most of the black kids weren’t sitting together in the cafeteria, keeping largely to themselves (although some did). At Yale, many did, and it was enough of a thing to keep coming up across all four years of my time there. Before college, I thought the police were my friends and knew some military police personally. After college, I’ve come to distrust law enforcement viscerally and know that I should never talk to the police. Before college, I seldom had the sense or understood what folks meant when they said that “such and such” was a “white space.” By the time I left Yale, and certainly in the world after, I came to know exactly what folks mean by that. 

What is it that they mean? A black friend, whom I met when we were both Ivy League undergrads and recently got an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, put it this way, on the topic of the incident in Manhattan’s Central Park:

#AmyCooper was a “Head of” – level person at Franklin Templeton and she went to Chicago Booth for business school.

So when we say [we] can’t get ahead in our careers, it may be because there is an Amy running our department…

The “Amys running our department” are key (but not the only) progenitors of “white spaces.” They’re the aforementioned people crossing the street, tensing up in a space, clutching their wallet, or “just checking in” when a black person arrives on the scene—or even suggests he or she might be thinking about arriving anywhere that “Amy” thinks she (or he) might wish to belong and do as they will. They are the media and political elites who wax poetic about “justice,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Donald Trump, or public schools while living in mostly white neighborhoods, sending their kids to mostly white schools, and slipping fluently into “coded” and patronizing language (at best) when they encounter minorities whose political, cultural, social, or other views don’t align with what they find “typical.”

The “Amys running our department” are the white gays, from D.C. to San Francisco, whose social (and social media) presence is reliably a sea of white faces, but will have you know they would have voted for Barack Obama a third time. They are my effectively segregationist MBA peers at UVA Darden whom I can refer to in the vaguest terms and still find that just about any minority classmate knows exactly whom I’m talking about (as I expect is happening with any of them reading this right now). But amid their all-white (or nearly so) socializing, networking, dating, and, well, segregating, those peers would have you know they tutor black kids, donate to good causes, and care about the “real” injustices and diversity out there. Some of them might even have posted a status or two about the incidents we’re here discussing. They can also be relied upon never to lift a finger to make sure their black peers feel more welcome and included, if it involves any inconvenience for them. 

This is not to say they are all bad people. Were I socialized as they were, looking as they do, I might well think and behave as they do. There, but for the grace of God, go I. But again, people don’t just find themselves in reliably segregated spaces in diverse environments—whether socially, professionally, or otherwise—by accident. You get to such spaces by making choices. You choose to say hi to the white classmates sitting around you, and not the black ones. You choose to walk up to white people at the bar or in a party, but not the brown ones. You choose to take offense or ascribe more uncharitable motives to the comments or actions of black people in a given situation than you would have or do to white people. You choose to find reasons why people who don’t look or perhaps sound like you don’t “fit” into your office or church or social group, which just so happens to produce demographic homogeneity that makes minorities feel unwelcome. 

The general public may never know how the real Amy Cooper treated the black people in her life, but there are reasonable, little things we all can do to stop being or avoid becoming an “Amy running our department.” Among them: notice when the demographic dynamics around you are out of sync with your environment, and change it. Speaking only for me, I don’t care for “white guilt” or find much lasting value in apologies for crimes the person speaking didn’t commit. I don’t generally care what charities you donate to, politicians you vote for, or “causes” you support. (But we can and should talk about those in other contexts!) What matters to me, in this context, is what we do with our direct spheres of influence. 

Sometime after I started noticing the many forms of racial segregation that permeate “meritocratic” American life, I started periodically asking myself a series of questions to help maintain a sort of focus. Do I have genuinely good relationships with people of different racial and other backgrounds? Would they say so, if asked, and I wasn’t there? Am I reaching out to classmates or friends who aren’t professionally “useful” to me? Am I as generous and charitable with people I’m less attracted to? Am I holding people to standards I wouldn’t want held against me? Am I being deliberate about changing things I don’t like about my environment? Am I getting the kind of feedback I need to improve for real, rather than just in my own head (or in the eyes of people who might share in my contribution to underlying problems)? What am I willing to do to become the kind of person I want to be? What am I not? Why?

Perhaps others will find this type of periodic introspection helpful. Perhaps not. What I can say is that far too many of us have far more in common with Amy Cooper or those police officers than we like to admit. The better we are at recognizing and owning the banal, petty ways in which people like “us” become (or, indeed, already are) people like “them,” the better we may get at correcting for and even preventing such wrongs. That is, perhaps, the best we can hope for at this point. It’s either that, or the riots.

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2016: The End of All Things

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


“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:


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.





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.


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

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:


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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Right Quick: Grand Old Demographics

Much of the commentary and analysis on the last election has focused on how Republicans are losing big among the young, minorities, women, etc. and what the GOP can and should do to change this. Many on the Left predictably want Republicans to “moderate” and some on the hard right want the Party lambaste Romney as a bad candidate and prescribe the panacea of doubling down on ideological purity. Bracketing that discussion for a moment, I want to focus on three relatively overlooked features of the Sixth of November.

First, Romney won 1 out of every 5 votes cast by black men aged 18-29 (my demographic). For comparison, the last Republican to crest 20% of the overall black vote was Richard Nixon in 1960 (32%), and no recent Republican has yet beat Gerald Ford’s 16% showing in 1976.

Second, Romney outperformed Republican U.S. Senate candidates across the country, from Virginia to Wisconsin to Florida to Texas. (Yes, more Texans voted for Mitt Romney than Ted Cruz. Think about that for a minute.)

Third, and the observation that inspired this post, non-Romney Republicans underperformed supposedly safe demographics where it mattered. Whatever the reasons for the mixed message in the Midwest, The American Conservative reminds us to keep an eye on the plains:

“Relative to the rest of the country, the “Big Sky” region is old and white; the percentage of young voters actually decreased by 7% in Montana between 2008 and 2012. Such factors would seem to work in Republicans’ favor.

Neither Berg nor Rehberg held particularly “extreme” views by his state’s standards, and neither were unexpected victors in heated primary contests, i.e. Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock. Rehberg, who lost to Tester, had represented Montana’s at-large House district since 2001; Berg had represented North Dakota’s at-large House district since 2011–both were the “establishment” choices. Neither candidate attracted national attention for controversial remarks i.e. Akin or Mourdock, and were known commodities in their state.

And yet Berg underperformed Romney by 9.2%, while Rehberg underperformed Romney by 10.5%. Thus, a significant portion of voters in these states “pulled a switcheroo,” opting for Romney plus a Democratic senate candidate.

Where even the rainbows want divided government

However the GOP opts to modernize its message and expand the conservative appeal, I hope new leaders make a concerted effort to reach people everywhere. Voters are complex animals with complicated beliefs and motivations. We can’t afford to take any of them for granted.