“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
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.
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.