Trump voters: Where they’re coming from, where they’re going

Long-term, is there anything progressives can do to cool them off or win them back?

The most fascinating character of the 2016 election cycle isn’t Donald Trump, it’s the voter who has identified with Trump and stuck with him in defiance of all previous conventional wisdom. Again and again during the Republican primary campaign, Trump said and did things that in any other cycle would have been career-destroying gaffes. And whenever his opponents waited for the resulting wave of voter anger and shame to wash him away, his popularity grew.

That tactic has been less successful in the general-election campaign: Trump’s Judge Curiel and Captain Khan attacks both hurt him, and while the double-digit lead Hillary Clinton built after the conventions has receded, she still seems to be ahead. But even this outcome, if it holds, leaves many progressive bewildered: How can 40-45% of the electorate imagine turning the country over to an inexperienced, unstable, hateful, and — let’s be blunt about it — ignorant man? What can they possibly be thinking?

So the most interesting question of 2016 is not what to do about Trump, because the answer is obvious: beat him. If he loses, he will probably be too old and too disgraced to trouble us again in 2020 or beyond. But the voters he has awakened and given a political identity will still be here. Particularly if they buy into Trump’s ego-saving excuses about skewed polls and voter fraud, or if he starts an alt-right Trump News to continue pandering to their worst fears, they may come out of a 2016 defeat more alienated, more angry, and perhaps more violent than before. (If the country is so far gone that voting no longer works, what’s left but guns?)

Obviously, not everybody in that 40-45% sees themselves as part of a Trump movement. Many are simply Paul Ryan Republicans who can’t face another four years of Democratic rule, with all that would mean for the Supreme Court, taxes, regulations, and other long-term issues. Many voters of all stripes are disgusted with their general-election choices, and will happily line up behind someone completely different in the next cycle.

But what if 10-20% are enthusiastic Trump supporters and will be looking for another Trump-like candidate in 2020? (After all, somebody is showing up at his rallies and cheering wildly. Crowd size and enthusiasm may not be reliable predictors of victory — just ask Bernie Sanders — but they do mean something.) If they are sufficiently alienated and angry, and if they include (and make excuses for) an even smaller violent element, 10% is more than enough to destabilize a democracy.

So who are they? What do they want? Do they have legitimate grievances the rest of us can or should respond to? And if we do respond, is there any hope of soothing their anger and welcoming them back into more orthodox political channels?

Who are they? Non-college whites. A lot of good work has been done on this question, painting their portrait in both statistics and narratives.

In the primaries, the core of Trump’s support came from whites without college degrees. Look at the exit polls from the Ohio Republican Primary, the only one won by John Kasich. Overall, Kasich beat Trump and Ted Cruz 47%-36%-13%. Those results were virtually the same across both genders and all age groups. The Republican electorate was overwhelmingly white (94%), but although Trump did worse among non-whites (28% rather than 36%), the finishing order was still Kasich-Trump-Cruz.

Hidden in that apparent homogeneity, though, were two very different Republican Parties having two very different primaries. Among those who never attended college, Trump beat Kasich 47%-34%. They tied 41%-41% among Republicans who had taken some college courses but not graduated. Those with bachelor’s degrees went for Kasich 52%-31%, and among those with postgraduate degrees it was no contest at all: Kasich beat Trump 60%-25%.

That educational divide preceded Trump, and was already apparent in a Pew Research survey conducted over a year ago. On many issues, college Republicans were split, while non-college Republicans were united. For example: asked whether immigrants strengthen or burden the country, college Republicans narrowly said strengthen, 44%-42; non-college Republicans decisively said burden 62%-26%. Other questions created night-and-day differences. Was South Carolina right to remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds? College Republicans said yes 56%-37%; non-college Republicans said no 57%-36%. College Republicans liked elected officials who make compromises, 52%-46%; non-college Republicans preferred those who stick to their positions, 64%-33%.

If Trump does lose to Clinton, it will probably be because of his inability to hold college-educated whites, who Mitt Romney won by 6% in 2012.

Who are they? Not who you think. The Washington Post published a lengthy summary of an even longer report from Gallup, based on 87,000 interviews. The gist was that common stereotypes of Trump voters are false: They’re not poor whites who have lost their jobs to Mexican immigrants or Chinese competition.

According to this new analysis, those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.

Yet while Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off themselves, they come from places where their neighbors endure other forms of hardship. In their communities, white residents are dying younger, and it is harder for young people who grow up poor to get ahead.

They also don’t live in neighborhoods that are being overrun by immigrants.

Although Trump voters tend to be the most skeptical about immigration, they are also the least likely to actually encounter an immigrant in their neighborhood. …

[Jonathan] Rothwell [the Gallup economist in charge of the survey] finds that people who live in places with many Hispanic residents or places close to the Mexican border, tend not to favor Trump — relative to otherwise similar Americans and to otherwise similar white Republicans.

Among those who are similar in terms of income, education and other factors, those who view Trump favorably are more likely to be found in white enclaves — racially isolated Zip codes where the amount of diversity is lower than in surrounding areas.

In other words, when they cheer his attacks on immigrants and foreigners, Trump’s supporters are reacting not so much to their own experiences as to the experiences they imagine people like them are having. They are not poor, but worry that their children will be. They are susceptible to absurdly negative stereotypes of immigrants because they don’t know any actual immigrants. They live in communities disproportionately afflicted with health problems related to despair: depression, substance abuse, and suicide — even if they are not depressed, addicted, or suicidal themselves.

Their “deep story”. In the current issue of Mother Jones, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild reports on her five-year study of Tea Party supporters in Louisiana. (The article gives us a taste of her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land.)

When I asked people what politics meant to them, they often answered by telling me what they believed (“I believe in freedom”) or who they’d vote for (“I was for Ted Cruz, but now I’m voting Trump”). But running beneath such beliefs like an underwater spring was what I’ve come to think of as a deep story. The deep story was a feels-as-if-it’s-true story, stripped of facts and judgments, that reflected the feelings underpinning opinions and votes. It was a story of unfairness and anxiety, stagnation and slippage—a story in which shame was the companion to need.

To Hochschild, this underlying narrative explains the attraction of otherwise baseless conspiracy theories like Obama’s Muslim faith, government plots to confiscate guns, and so on. People believe such things not because the objective evidence is compelling, but because they are looking for stories that externalize their inner experience. [1]

What the people I interviewed were drawn to was not necessarily the particulars of these theories. It was the deep story underlying them — an account of life as it feels to them. Some such account underlies all beliefs, right or left, I think. The deep story of the right goes like this:

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black — beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? [2] As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.

I checked this distillation with those I interviewed to see if this version of the deep story rang true. Some altered it a bit (“the line-waiters form a new line”) or emphasized a particular point (those in back are paying for the line-cutters). But all of them agreed it was their story. One man said, “I live your analogy.” Another said, “You read my mind.”

Political correctness. To college-educated liberals, one of the most mysterious aspects of right-wing discourse is the rage against political correctness, as if it were a problem on the scale of illegal drugs or the lack of good jobs. To liberals, PC is just a way of talking that shows respect for people and groups that have traditionally been disrespected. So if adult females in the workplace want to be called women rather than girls, or if I have to learn how to use words like cisgender and transgender, it doesn’t seem like that big a sacrifice. I grew up saying that hard bargainers jew people down, but decades ago I learned that Jews don’t like that expression, so I dropped it. It just didn’t seem like that much to ask of me.

So how does this attempt at courtesy become an issue of such portent that it is “ruining our country” (as Ben Carson put it)? Why do white working-class men need a Trump to defend them from this terrible scourge?

Melinda Selmys of the blog Catholic Authenticity proposes an answer.

My tentative hypothesis, which I think is probably true in at least some cases, is that the objection to political correctness is not actually so much a knee-jerk defense of racist or sexist attitudes as it is an inarticulate objection to classism.

Classism is problematic, in that every intelligent person on the left knows that it is bad, bad, very bad – but none the less, leftist discourse is constantly, profoundly classist. Discussions of how to end oppression, including the oppression of poor, marginalized, and less educated people, are routinely carried on in language that can’t even [be] parsed by someone with a high-school reading level. As a theoretical category of social problem, the poor and underprivileged are given great respect. But when an actual person who can’t spell very well, speaks in a regional dialect from a lower-class area, and can’t express himself very articulately tries to argue that he also needs protection from oppression, he’s often dismissed as an “entitled” white man who doesn’t understand the systemic barriers endured by marginalized groups.

Let me illustrate with an analogy: Imagine you’ve recently moved to a foreign country, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get the language right. Your accent is awful, your nouns have the wrong genders (inanimate objects have genders?), your verbs the wrong tenses, and whenever you try to use an idiom, you end up saying something ridiculous. [3] The natives might respond to your mistakes in a variety of ways.

  1. They can ignore your screw-up and respond as if you had correctly expressed what you obviously mean.
  2. They can correct you politely, and then respond to what you mean.
  3. They can correct you sharply, as if you are an idiot child, and refuse to acknowledge your meaning until you can manage to express it properly.
  4. They can ridicule you for saying something so stupid.
  5. They can put the worst possible construction on what you say, and use that interpretation to reinforce their negative stereotype of visiting Americans, i.e., that we’re all assholes who constantly insult them and then try to wriggle out of the situation by lying about our command of their language.

If you experience a lot of 1 and 2, you’re likely to see the natives as patient and kind. If 3 and 4, you’ll be wary of them and inclined to shut up even when you have something worth saying. (Later, you’ll resent feeling muzzled. You’re every bit as smart as these people, and you’d run rings around them if they had to speak English.) If 5, you’ll probably conclude that they are the assholes; they know perfectly well what you mean, but they’re misconstruing you for their own hostile purposes.

Most working-class white Americans are — let’s be clear about this — native speakers of American English, so the analogy isn’t perfect. But serious political discussion in this country is dominated by professional-class people who use language in a college-educated way. The talking heads on TV, the columnists in newspapers, and almost all our politicians are college-educated people who sound like college-educated people. [4] Even the ones who don’t — James Carville comes to mind — often seem to be doing a man-of-the-people shtick rather than just talking.

So when a working-class person talks politics, professional-class people tacitly assume the discussion should happen in their language and be judged by their standards. [5] And the worker’s “mistakes” are often slapped down hard: Either he is an idiot who should shut up and let smarter people talk, or his ignorance of the currently approved vocabulary shows that he is some kind of reprehensible person: a racist, a sexist, a homophobe.

So it should be no surprise that a lot of working-class whites (or even professional-class whites whose degree is in a technical field rather than a liberal art) cheer when Donald Trump bullies and insults the people they feel have bullied and insulted them.

What can we do with this? Understanding someone doesn’t mean you have to give in to them, and often you just can’t. For example, politically correct language was invented for a good reason: Traditional ways of speaking can institutionalize traditional injustices. (Who would you rather have running your department: a man or a girl?)

Also, the way the world feels to a group of people, as compelling as it may seem to them, is not necessarily how the world is. Your deep story might embed assumptions that are unfair or untrue. Hochschild’s line-cutting metaphor, for example, contains an assumption of entitlement: I was in line first. And (as Hochschild explains), a lot of the “advantage” of the line-cutters comes from the self-imposed restrictions of the line-standers: They find it dishonorable to take government hand-outs like food stamps or welfare, even when they qualify. So they face a choice between dishonor and falling behind people who don’t share their scruples. That sucks for them, but it’s really not the fault of blacks or refugees or career-driven women.

If we can’t just agree with Trump voters, we still can do somethings with these insights:

  • Look for legitimate grievances where we can make common cause with them.
  • Frame our proposals and arguments so as not to alienate them unnecessarily.
  • Disrupt right-wing attempts to manipulate them.

So, for example, working-class whites who live in dead-end communities (like factory or mining towns after the factories and mines close) have a real problem we should be able to sympathize with. But since climate change and cheap natural gas are real, we can’t just bring back the coal industry and the mining jobs that it used to provide. And if “making America great again” means recreating the manufacturing economy of the 1950s, we can’t do that either. But we need to recognize that our current low-growth, low-opportunity economy is creating a real sense of hopelessness — and not just for inner-city non-whites.

Trump capitalizes on that white hopelessness by offering scapegoats: Immigrants and foreigners and the other line-cutters have taken all the opportunities, and that’s why you (and your children) don’t have any. Liberals have our own story to tell here, and we need to tell it loudly, putting aside our fear of offending rich donors: You have so few opportunities because wealth has gotten over-concentrated at the top. America has had decent (if unspectacular) economic growth for seven years now, but it all flows up the pyramid, not down to people who get paid by the hour. When working people have money, they spend it and create jobs for other working people. But past a certain point, money at the top just stays at the top. The 1% may want you to identify with them, and to think of their taxes as your taxes, but you really have more in common with black and immigrant workers than with the Kochs and Waltons.

The problem isn’t that late-comers are cutting the line, it’s that the people already seated have shut the doors.

When we design government programs, whenever possible those programs should change the landscape, rather than require people to form new relationships with government and ask it for help. When I went to a state university in the 1970s, for example, I benefited tremendously from subsidies that were invisible to me. My parents paid the price the university charged, not noticing or caring that it was artificially low. That’s how we should make college affordable again, rather than by asking “needy” students to prove that they qualify for government help. I freely and guiltlessly use public parks and libraries and highways because they belong to all of us; it would feel completely different if I had to apply for government aid to defray the cost of membership in private systems.

We can focus our attacks on the demagogues and propagandists who create right-wing conspiracy theories, rather than the low-information voters who believe them. The believers need our instruction, not our ridicule.

And finally, we can listen to the Trump voter’s concerns with more forbearance, even the ones we see as misstated, self-serving, or based on misconceptions. To the extent that our verbal or analytic abilities are superior, we could help them refine what is legitimate in their complaint and express it accurately, rather than humiliate or stereotype them.

I realize this forbearance can turn into what is called tone policing — making oppressed groups tiptoe around the too-easily-offended sensibilities of their oppressors, sometimes to the point that they have to apologize for noticing their own oppression. [6] But I suspect that what most annoys a Trump voter isn’t the black or woman or immigrant who asks for better treatment; it’s the fellow white or man or native speaker of English who is holier-than-thou because of his newly discovered PC superiority to the unwashed masses who still use the bigoted old words.

So I close with this modest suggestion: If you are confronting non-PC talk as an ally of traditionally oppressed groups rather than as a victim of oppression, dial down your outrage. Correct the speaker lightly, and give a generous construction to what he probably meant. Explain rather than reprimand. Remember: Even if whiteness or masculinity give them other advantages, people who sound like hicks, have limited vocabularies, and never got the benefit of a liberal education are also a despised class. They need allies too.

[1] If you’ve ever known someone with full-blown paranoia or depression, or experienced it yourself, you’ve seen how outward-projection-of-inner-reality works.

The fundamental fact of a paranoid’s inner life is a feeling of danger. Fleshing out the details of the plot against him is actually a soothing experience, because if the danger is out there somewhere, then it might be managed somehow. So he can’t accept your argument that his delusion is baseless and he is actually safe. Even if you convinced him, he would need to uncover a different threat, because he is in danger. That’s the one sure thing he knows.

Depression follows a similar pattern: The depressed person knows that he sucks and his life is hopeless, and so he constantly generates narratives that elaborate on that knowledge. If you argue down one story, he’ll just have to find another.

Same thing with politics: You mean Obama isn’t a Muslim? Well, he must be a Communist then.

[2] Probably the same way J. D. Vance (the similarly father-abandoned white-working-class author of Hillbilly Elegy) paid for Yale. In his book, Vance discusses how surprised he was to discover that if you can get accepted and qualify for financial aid, a rich school like Yale will probably cost you less than a run-of-the-mill university. One disadvantage of growing up surrounded by non-college-educated people is that quite possibly no one will tell you this, so you won’t bother to apply.

[3] One of my friends tells the story of a Russian, who at the end of a big meal proudly showed off his command of English by announcing that he was “completely fed up”.

[4] Going to college at Michigan State didn’t just teach me things, it changed my accent. The Midwest, where I grew up, has two white accents: an educated one that is the model for TV announcers, and a rural/working-class one that resembles lower-class Southern or Appalachian accents, and shows up in a lot of country-western songs. I suspect that Trent Lott, who grew up as a sharecropper’s son but speaks in the educated Southern accent now, had a similar undergraduate experience at the University of Mississippi.

[5] That’s what classism is: the assumption that the manners and habits of your class define what is right and proper.

[6] The Daria theme song either expresses or satirizes such tip-toeing:

Excuse me. Excuse me.
I’ve got to be direct.
If I’m wrong, please correct.
You’re standing on my neck.
You’re standing on my neck.

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  • dhkinsey  On September 5, 2016 at 10:01 am

    a bit off subject but Bernie won the primary the depth of our rigged system needs to be admitted and fixed this will alleviate the alienation that causes many to go for a trump

    • weeklysift  On September 5, 2016 at 10:34 am

      No. Just no. There is one very slanted reported that claims this, but I’ve read it and its reasoning is totally bogus.

    • weeklysift  On September 5, 2016 at 10:50 am

      OK, I’ll elaborate just a little. The official totals have Clinton ahead of Sanders by 3.8 million votes. In order to undo a margin that big, you need to claim that every irregularity of any kind in any of the primaries was an intentional part of a grand pro-Clinton conspiracy organized by the DNC.

      The problem with that is that the DNC doesn’t control the primaries, the states do. And a lot of the states where problems occurred (Arizona, for example) are red states. Across the board, Republicans were rooting FOR Bernie to do well in the primaries, either because they believed (rightly or wrongly) that he’d be easier to beat, or just to keep the Democrats divided.

      But somehow, all these Bernie-rooting Republicans conspired with the DNC to nominate Clinton. That’s what you have to believe to buy the Bernie-really-won story.

      • Larry Benjamin  On September 9, 2016 at 9:13 pm

        Not to complicate things, but aren’t the Democratic primaries in red states run by Democrats?

      • weeklysift  On September 10, 2016 at 7:04 am

        They’re elections. They’re run by the state election commissions.

      • Larry Benjamin  On September 10, 2016 at 8:01 am

        OK, but the parties must have some influence, because the Democratic and Republican ones sometimes differ – one is a caucus while the other is a primary, one is open while the other is closed, or they’re on different days.

      • weeklysift  On September 11, 2016 at 5:10 am

        Some states let the parties decide the dates of their primaries, but the rules about who can vote are matters of state law. (California has a wrinkle; the parties can decide whether to let no-party-preference voters to cast ballots in their primary. Democrats allow it and Republicans don’t.) The management of the polling places and the counting of votes are done through the same processes as general elections.

        Caucuses are completely managed by the parties (which throws a wrench in the anti-Bernie conspiracy theories, because Sanders did much better in caucuses).

  • Eric Walle  On September 5, 2016 at 11:18 am

    Hi, Doug. In the paragraph beginning “Trump capitalizes…”, it seems to me that you meant to write “fear of *offending* rich donors”. That aside, I appreciate your analysis and the wealth of suggestions for understanding, and interacting with, “Trump voters”. Thank you very much.

  • GJacq726  On September 5, 2016 at 11:22 am

    As someone who works in applied social science, we also can’t overlook that emotion trumps reason almost categorically. I would add that we need to acknowledge the emotion to even get to a rational discussion, which is a very uncomfortable prospect for many. Compassion is not easy.

    • 1mime  On September 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      That is so true. I worked in a position that required me to interact with parents of children. What I quickly learned, was that until the upset parent had an opportunity to “vent” the emotional side of their concern, and until they were satisfied that you “heard” their deepest feelings, there was no possibility of constructive discussion or solutions.

      • GJacq726  On September 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm

        Exactly. I worry that the barrage of inflammatory language is both tapping into and exacerbating deeply held emotion that may reach a point of societal pathology that will require professional help. Haven’t figured what that would look like just yet.

  • 1mime  On September 5, 2016 at 11:28 am

    So much to think about after reading this post. Indeed, most of us look at the conundrum of “why would any rational person support Donald Trump” with the focus in the wrong place. Your 3-step approach is helpful for all who genuinely care about people who either are or feel left out in America. The challenge is that Clinton, if she wins, doesn’t have 4 years to work through some of these challenges, she really has a very limited ability in two years. With the House assuredly remaining in Republican control – they control the purse strings – and a Republican Party which has every intention of shutting Clinton down in any achievement – especially one that would focus on “their” blue collar base, progress is going to be a tough slog.

    We can’t quit trying. This is where Sanders’ clarity of vision (regardless whether it was attainable) was so important. Raising the minimum wage, jobs, wall street reform, free public college tuition – all of these goals spoke directly to those who feel lost or ignored. Of course, there is the very real question of why these voters would still choose a Trump over a Sanders…but maybe that’s where the anger and payback are best realized. Fine article –

  • Bob Hurst  On September 5, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    A couple of your columns coalesced for me, namely the current one about language and how liberals talk down to others and the August 29th column about PC and trigger warnings. I think the real problem with PC is how it is presented. Instead of presenting it as a polite way to be more inclusive of everyone, the lack of PC is presented as a moral failing, an example of racism or sexism or any of numerous other sins and moral lapses. Playing a moralistic trump card hardly ever works. It doesn’t work for the antiabortion people and it doesn’t work for the pro-PC folks.

  • flypusher  On September 5, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Your analogy of trying to communicate in another language is interesting. I work in biological research in the Houston metro region, and we have people from all over the world coming here to work, so I hear English being spoken with all sorts of accents and with varying degrees of proficiency. I never have laughed AT someone for mangling spoken or written English, and I’m always willing to proofread or give speaking advice. Some people have apologized for accents/ grammar mistakes, and I’ve always said that there’s no need to apologize, because I can’t speak a 2nd language anywhere near their level. If you make an effort, I’ve meet you at least halfway. I could do the same with Trump supporters, provided they are willing to honestly converse. But those of them who really do see non-White people as inferior, or that women shouldn’t do anything other than stay home and raise children, they are a lost cause, and I won’t waste even a nano-second on them. I also wash my hands of the ones who are such hypocrites that they ignore the reality of Trump’s unfitness for any elected office and have a handy rationalization for anything bad he’s done.

  • coastcontact  On September 5, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Where are Trump voters coming from? BLS statistics ( indicate that 1/3 of the population has either no high school diploma (7.8% of the work force) or High school graduates, no college (25.9% of the work force). Those people are desperate for anyone who can help them. Donald Trump has offered hope. Hillary Clinton’s history of honesty makes the rest of the nation leery of her ability to lead. That is the reason Donald Trump can win in November.

    • flypusher  On September 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      The trouble with saying vote Trump because HRC is dishonest is you have to completely ignore Trump’s very long track record of dishonest business dealings and the fact that his campaign lies are biggest lies of all. It’s a losing argument if you’re directing it at anyone who has been paying attention.

  • Michael  On September 5, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Let’s reframe this article to talk about hostility to trade deals like NAFTA and TPP that have lead or will lead to manufacturing job loss. The democrats are deeply guilty of selling their working class down the river while talking up benefits of trade. Yes. Say again, the democrats are championing these deals. Common people should abandon that worthless party in drives. Journalists focus too much on immigration and name calling words like bigot and ignore the Trump policies that square 180 degrees against Bill Clinton, Obana, Hillary Clinton. Read Thomas Frank’s angry critique of the fake liberal Democratic Party. Secondly, you misjudge by saying all Trump supporters are not college educated. Run some new polls, I am surprised how many educated professionals are ok with Trump.

  • Larry Benjamin  On September 5, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    As usual, an outstanding analysis. I would only add that there are more Americans than I would have suspected who crave a dictator who will do what has to be done, regardless of the short-term consequences. They aren’t going anywhere after Trump loses, and the rest of us ignore them at our peril.

    • weeklysift  On September 6, 2016 at 6:17 pm

      I have a thought experiment on that: Imagine that coordinated military coups happen in all the major countries, bringing to power people who are committed to doing whatever needs to be done about climate change. Good? Bad?

      • Larry Benjamin  On September 6, 2016 at 7:22 pm

        Bad. Very bad. We would expect that a military junta would do whatever it takes to solve the problem, regardless of how many innocent people would die. They could impose extreme measures that might have some long-term benefit, at the cost of short-term suffering. Imagine if they shut off all non-renewable electric power from sunset to sundown. Raise the price of gas to $100 per gallon, and outlaw all car trips with fewer than four occupants in the vehicle. Not allow products to be sold if they have to be transported more than 100 miles from their place of manufacture. Forcibly relocate people in rural areas to cities. And of course, punish any dissent swiftly and ruthlessly.

        You’re essentially asking if we would trade our freedom for our great-grandchildren’s survival. Maybe it would work, but it wouldn’t be a world we would want to live in. At some point, maybe we have to accept that climate change is inevitable, and instead of arguing over how to stop it, we should figure out how to deal with it.

      • weeklysift  On September 6, 2016 at 8:24 pm

        My point in posing it is that conservatives aren’t the only ones who can be tempted by a dictator. Clearly, I haven’t got the temptation right yet.

      • Larry Benjamin  On September 7, 2016 at 6:54 am

        OK, I missed that. I suppose there are a few progressives who would be tempted by your scenario, or others like outlawing private gun ownership, or requiring all hospitals to provide free abortions, or something else.

        However, despite their continual praise of “freedom,” I think conservatives are far more amenable than liberals to what they would consider a benevolent dictatorship. Trump’s success can be attributable to this. A few weeks ago, a Slate article asked if, given the choice between an outrageous Democratic candidate like Sean Penn, and a repulsive Republican like Ted Cruz, how many Democrats would vote for Penn despite his obvious lack of qualifications, or if they would vote for someone like Cruz who shared none of their core beliefs but is clearly capable of carrying out the job of being president.

  • Pam.grimmer  On September 5, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    Hi Doug,

    Being one of the uneducated Trump supporters, I really enjoyed your newsletter this week. A very good perspective. Hope all is well with you.

    Pam Grimmer


    • 1mime  On September 5, 2016 at 10:40 pm

      Well, now you have no excuse for voting for him (-;

    • weeklysift  On September 6, 2016 at 6:19 pm

      Hi Pam,

      Good to hear from you. I’m always surprised when my blog reaches people I know from other areas of my life. Things are good here; I hope all is well with you and yours as well.


  • Paul Bennett  On September 6, 2016 at 9:27 am

    Hi. I am a long time reader and I think this is one of your best. Thanks! I apologize for this long email but I hope this story is helpful in supporting your article on Trump voters.

    I grew up in Yonkers NY during the desegregation of the late 80s. We were white and like most of our neighbors my parents worked regular jobs and we’re really just working class people who had most of thier life savings in their homes. So when Liberals (I say this as a born and raised Unitarian Universalist! ) forced public housing in the white side of town and had school busing, any objection was considered “racist”. I grew up next to Bronxville and Scarsdale, some of the richest (and WASPiest) places in America. There was no attempt to integrate those towns and the rich people in those towns considered whites in yonkers as racist!

    It was a messy situation. I don’t begrudge the NAACP for working to improve the lives of their members. I beleive a lot of whites in Yonkers in the 1980s were racist and discriminated in real ways. The thing that got me and most people in Yonkers worked up was that we were simply dismissed as racist when we tried to articulate our legitimate story including 1. Putting mass public housing in as originally planned would wipe out surrounding property values and 2. If sacrifice was required of us for justice why did the wealthy towns escape?

    I was beat up pretty bad within two weeks of the new school system by a group of kids from the projects. It happened because I was white (and very dumb!). Other rough stuff happened in that new school. When a local news reporter asks us for our experience going to school we said it was hard and said why. My sister went behind the newspaper reporter and saw her note pad. She noticed that the reporter just had a few quotes and was doodling mostly pretending to care. When the article was published, our (unsmiling) picture was literally side by side with a photo and story about a poor black family that was so happy about the new schools (they were smiling in their picture). We were made to look like the dumb racists even though my parents were trying to be good and send me to public school unlike many of my neighbors who fled.

    Trump-like politicians arose in Yonkers and fed off fear and hate. They almost caused the city to go bankrupt!!

    I am pretty sure that if policy makers and newspapers would have been able to separate the legitimate grievances of working white people from their unsophisticated ideas around racism and their real racism then things would have gone much better.

    As an anti Iraq war activist I once introduced Howard Zinn to a crowd of 3,000. It was an amazing moment. Howard Zinn is a hero for oppressed people everywhere. I even had dinner with him. One thing I never mentioned to him was that my Dad called into a radio show Zinn was on around 1990 and tried to explain to him what was going on. My Dad was very disappointed because Zinn simply dismissed my Dad’s argument as racist and faulty.

    To this day I am torn on “political correctness” and this article helps me. When it is a tool by the oppressed to correct oppressive language it’s great. When it is a tool by upper class whites to create superiority with working whites then it is wrong.

    Thanks so much!

    • weeklysift  On September 6, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Separating the legitimate grievances from all the other stuff is the key. If we could figure out how to do that on a large scale, that would be amazing.

  • Luke Swartz  On September 6, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Thank you for this (and your many other) thoughtful post!

    Here’s my own take on understanding Trump voters (which builds on your own):

    • weeklysift  On September 6, 2016 at 7:15 pm

      That’s a really good article, and I appreciate you working my ideas into it. Sift readers should follow the link and look at it.

  • Philippe Saner  On September 13, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    You might find this interesting:

    Hope the link works properly…

  • Rocjard Drewna  On October 22, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks for this. Years ago I read your “Red Family, Blue Family” essay and it shifted the purpose of all the reading and studying I’d been doing on cognition. That I’d found someone who tried and succeeded at portraying the “other” as not-alien was a welcome relief, and I’ve been educating myself towards post-partisanship ever since (i.e., I still “caucus” with the progressives, but I no longer identify with the tribal consciousness). I’m glad to see you come back to this — the world needs more “conservatives whisperers” to keep the Left honest.

  • Paul Bennett  On January 11, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Big kudos to you and your work!

    It would be great if you wrote about the role of “anti semitism”. I put it in quotes because it doesn’t have to be against Jews. It can be against the pre-determined middle group.

    For example, the Hakka Chinese are known as the jews of china ( and they also suffer as scapegoats when things go bad ( ).

    So all the talk of liberals, professors and NYCers is really mostly anti semitism.

    It helps divert the attention of the working class to another target instead of the rich.

    thanks! Paul

    On Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 8:34 AM, The Weekly Sift wrote:

    > weeklysift posted: ” Long-term, is there anything progressives can do to > cool them off or win them back? The most fascinating character of the 2016 > election cycle isn’t Donald Trump, it’s the voter who has identified with > Trump and stuck with him in defiance of all” >


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