Whom to Blame For Trump? You

A few days ago, I spoke to a Harvard Law alumnus, inter alia, about the recent presidential election. The alumnus had supported Barack Obama, worked as a plaintiff-side civil rights litigator, and also happens to be black. Ordinarily, he votes Democratic. Yet this year, he voted for Donald Trump.

There are many people to blame for Trump’s victory.[1] But one among the blameworthy is you, dear reader. The Democrat. The liberal who’s too cool to be a Democrat. The leftist who’s too cool to be a liberal.[2] When the American Left has lost a black Harvard-Law-educated civil rights attorney to Donald Trump,[3] it has done something very, very wrong.

For years, liberals have valued being self-righteous and telling others that they were racist and wrong above changing hearts and minds and above getting votes. Now we all suffer the consequences of what is not just mere smugness, but unalloyed callousness and hypocrisy.

Now, most of the members of this community have not unnecessarily insulted a Trump voter or blindly hurled accusations of racism like spaghetti in a food fight (though there certainly have been exceptions). So, perhaps some of you are upset that I lumped you in with people who incessantly rage about privilege and laugh at white tears memes, but that’s my point exactly. That is the same kind of upset that ordinary white voters feel when liberals lump them in with Klansmen.[4]

In any case, we now all bear responsibility. In another world, I might be content to simply rhapsodize about how liberals should countenance more open-minded conversations, even when other people are wrong.[5] But with Trump’s election, the urgency of the situation has mushroomed.

It is no longer enough to be a good example. Now we must all speak up when we see other liberals talking and writing wrongfully and irresponsibly about others.

A favorite pastime among liberals is to rage about how poor (and middle-class) white folks vote Republican against their own interests. Yet somehow, these same liberals missed that screaming at these same folks that they’re stupid and racist and misogynistic beyond repair was pissing into a gale.[6] It seems that many liberals preferred that the objects of their vitriol vote Republican than vote Democrat if they weren’t doing so with contrition and shame. And now we all get to enjoy the fruits of that conceit.

Despite prognosticators’ hand-wringing, Donald Trump did not win because people who were down-and-out truly believed his promises of a brighter economic future. Exit polls[7] show that 1) people for whom the economy was the most important issue went 52-42 for Clinton, a +14 shift toward Democrats compared with 2012; and 2) people who thought the economy’s condition was “poor” shifted +9 toward Democrats, while people who thought the economy’s condition was “good” shifted +24 toward Republicans.

That said, this was indeed a race about race. However, it was not about racism as liberals have framed it, or at least, not in a way that benefited Trump. Many people, like the alumnus I spoke to, voted for Trump not because of his racism, but in spite of it.[8] Consider that 15% of Trump voters had a negative opinion of him, compared with 5% of Romney voters in 2012, indicating low faith among many of Trump’s own voters that he represented their values or their interests.[9]

I tutored for a while, so I can assure the reader that telling a student they’re an idiot does not, in fact, teach them calculus or biology or bestow any knowledge or intelligence whatsoever upon them. And likewise, telling people they’re racists and misogynists does not do a damn thing to change their minds.[10] Does anyone believe differently?[11]

Look, I’m not saying that Trump voters aren’t at least sometimes selfish doofuses or obnoxious racists, but only that incurable bigots are not the whole of Trump’s support and that liberals have often been even more alienating than Trump. Instead of doing the hope-y change-y stuff Obama asked for, liberals spent the past few years telling ordinary people[12] that they needed to repent for slavery. Instead of building a permanent coalition, liberals prattled on endlessly about white privilege. The American Left drove away millions of voters just so they could feel morally superior.[13]

For a group that often derides others for fearing change, liberals seem mighty fearful of the changes happening around us. So could you imagine for a second that some of your moderate and conservative fellow Americans were similarly frightened when they saw their friends, acquaintances, and countrymen lose their jobs, their homes, and their lives? Yes, their fears of terrorism are probably disproportionate to the threat, and their other fears of economic[14] and social change are not directly comparable to fear of bodily harm, but can you imagine for even a moment that they could hold such fears without active hatred toward other Americans?[15]

Would you want to be one of these people that liberals have denigrated? Would you trade bodies with a high school dropout living in Glenville, West Virginia or a sales manager in Overland Park, Kansas? Would you rather be a Muslim, gay, Asian, black, woman, you-name-it Harvard lawyer living in New York City, or the richest white man in Morgantown, Kentucky? (And don’t think that a Trump voter wouldn’t necessarily make a similar choice.)

I’m not saying you have to agree with all Trump voters’ beliefs or even accord them particular respect to get a liberal elected to the White House. Donald Trump sure doesn’t have any respect for his supporters. But you have to at least respect the fact that these people have 62 million votes amongst themselves, and if you want to win, you have to bring at least some of them to your side.

Stop being jerks to them. Stop calling them racists. The opinions of a man from Rockwood, Pennsylvania on Eric Garner, Syrian refugees, or frankly, anything else, does not affect any of you but through his vote. So why get so caught up in telling him his opinions are wrong if they not only won’t change his vote but will actually push him to vote against your interests?

Now, politics and elections are not football games. We do not pick the side we want to defend just because the wind is blowing a particular way. That would render the entire enterprise moot. There are real values and outcomes at stake, and on important matters, liberals (and conservatives) can and should say, “this is what we believe in, and we will not retreat from this hill.” But the ideas that all Trump voters are unrepentant racists and that all white people are sublimely privileged (and that both groups need to be informed of these things) do not count as such important matters.[16]

Liberals are often complaining that conservatives don’t care about the impact of their actions. Well, it’s time for liberals to prove they aren’t hypocrites of the highest order. If other people matter to you, then suck it up. If you truly care about others like you all say you do, then suffer through the pain of not telling someone they’re wrong just because you can. If you really think that Hillary or Bernie or whoever would have been a better president for all Americans, then live up to your supposed beliefs and do what it takes – including asking other liberals to refrain from making unhelpful accusations and unfair claims – to get people to vote blue.

You know who got Trump elected? You did.[17] Now fix it.

[1] There are many people and groups more blameworthy on my list, but many of those things are par for the course and in any case, the fact that they are also factors do not preclude what I’m talking about from being a but-for cause of the election outcome. Furthermore, one generally ought to take the log out of one’s own eye before taking the splinter out of one’s brother’s eye.

[2] I will generally use the word “liberal” in this piece to refer to all three groups, but to be quite clear, Mx. Anarcho-Syndicalist, I am speaking to you.

[3] The alumnus I spoke to did not for a moment doubt or try to explain away President-elect Trump’s racism. Yet Trump got his vote.

[4] Or, as the analogy has often been drawn, when ordinary Muslims get lumped in with ISIS or al Qaeda.

[5] Unsurprisingly, that piece did not seem to convince too many people.

[6] There’s been a number of pieces saying that Republican voters are not reading recent outreach pieces in liberal-leaning publications and thus such outreach is therefore pointless. To that I ask, what was the point of calling these voters racist in the first place if such voters would never encounter such screeds? Either calling people racist and misogynistic for the last several years was a huge waste of time that had no purpose or effect but to boost liberals’ egos, or conservatives and moderates are in fact capable of sensing liberals’ attitudes toward them. (And this is in addition to the fact that such pieces seem to suggest that all Trump voters are Klansmen or worse. I can’t imagine why that would upset anyone…)

[7] Some might say that polls are unreliable in this brave new world, but I am not aware of data that indicate that exit polls, as opposed to pre-election polls, suffer from the same weaknesses. Furthermore, we’re talking about major shifts of 10% or 20%+, not a bias of 2-3%.

[8] While that alumnus made a choice different from mine, it’d be facially absurd to claim that he is racist or uncaring. Some (ignorant and rude) people might say he is merely stupid, but if such a person, who has passed all the intelligence tests of modern liberalism – save for voting for Clinton, is stupid, then who among us can stake a reasonable claim to intelligence?

[9] Also, Trump won proportionally more voters from every racial minority than Romney did.

[10] To the extent that they are all racists and misogynists, which I strongly dispute.

[11] And if not, why did you all say these things anyway? Why was it more important for you all to beat these people over the head with how bad, wrong, and uncaring they were rather than win their vote? Why was it more important to stay on your moral high-horse than win some votes? And by the way, how’s the view from up there? Can you see what 2020 looks like? Because I’m pretty ambivalent that these voters will necessarily turn against Trump even if he fails to deliver on his economic promises so long as liberals keep up their divisive rhetoric that Trump voters are scum (which certainly they haven’t disappointed on so far).

[12] Consider that the ancestors of many of these people more likely came as poor working-class immigrants in the late 19th century than ever held a single slave in the antebellum South. A center-right white American might seriously dislike Trump and care for minorities’ welfare, but it’s not unreasonable that self-respect would bar people from voting for a party whose members tell them they’re incorrigible racists forever tainted by slavery.

[13] I mean, how does it feel to have told poor Appalachians that if they weren’t with you, they were irredeemable moral sewers?

How does it feel, sitting in your Cambridge (soon to be New York and D.C.) apartments, armed with your Harvard educations, telling down-and-out Nebraskans that they’re a bunch of turd wallets for wanting a better life?

How does it feel to know that you put millions (perhaps billions) of lives at risk? Does it feel as good as white tears taste?

I certainly hope it feels good, because a lot of bad things are going to happen to a lot of decent people.

Oh, and thanks for saying to rural Missourians that they aren’t allowed to have opinions about others, but it’s more than okay for liberals/people-too-cool-to-be-liberals to say to these folks that their $22,000 annual household income means they are too privileged to feel threatened by the changing world around them.

[14] And look, until the Democrats’ platform is straight open borders, at least to anybody from a war zone, Democrats also put provincial economic interests ahead of an all-encompassing notion of human bodily integrity.

[15] Honestly, this seems a bit like projection on liberals’ part: “because I have such antipathy for Republican voters, those voters must necessarily have antipathy toward me.”

[16] And not the least because those ideas aren’t true.

[17] Some of you may note the irony of writing a not-very-nice piece calling out others for being not-very-nice, but on a meta level, it works both ways: if this piece is prima facie convincing, then I’ve done my job, and if it’s too harsh to be convincing, well, then it ought to implicitly show unconvinced readers that being rude to people is not an effective method for getting them to go your way.

Jim An

Jim An is a member of the Harvard Law School Class of 2018.
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