Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

Understanding Trump voters #386: the personal is political

December 5, 2020

Like half the country, I’ve spent four years struggling to understand how the other half could vote for Trump. It seems insane.

A piece on by Jeff Valdivia has some insight.* He mainly discusses a podcast by Sam Harris (End of Faith author). They see Trump’s unspeakableness as perversely working in his favor. For all his self-praise, one thing he actually never claims is moral virtue. Welcomed by people sick of having their own virtue impugned. At last, someone who’s not a role model they must compare themselves (unfavorably) to. Harris thinks Trump offers a kind of “spiritual balm” of comfort for them.

A good example, says Valdivia, concerns fast food, the obesity epidemic, etc., with many Americans feeling shamed by a scolding commentariat. In this, and many other regards, Trump’s own shamelessness is appealing to his supporters, giving them a kind of personal validation.

But Valdivia, again citing Harris, says Trump’s appeal is best understood vis-a-vis the far left. With their moral censoriousness and virtue shaming on steroids: “a level of sanctimony that defies all reason.” Which normal people rebel against.

I recently reviewed Robert Boyers’s book, whose title fits perfectly here: The Tyranny of Virtue. It’s aimed at academia, where the slightest deviation from the left’s catechism incurs Savonarolan retribution. But such “cancel culture” has spread to the wider society.

Just one example: transgender issues. I fully support people wanting to live as their true selves. But this too has become an all-or-nothing, scorched earth orthodoxy. As with J.K. Rowling called a transphobic monster for making some actually obvious observations distinguishing between cis and trans women. It’s a real issue in sport, where genders have competed separately due to physical differences; a trans woman would have unfair biological advantages. Meantime, we see maladjusted teenagers suddenly deciding to change sex, with lifelong consequences, but no one allowed to caution them. A scientist, Lisa Littman, who dared to study the matter, was fired. If you’re not transfanatic, you’re transphobic!

Such deranged moralistic absolutism is very antagonizing. To the extent Trump is seen as pushing back against it, he mines a rich vein of political gold.

Recall how Hillary’s “deplorables” comment backfired, Trump supporters wearing it as a badge of honor. Refusing to be looked down upon by hoity-toity snot-noses. It’s one thing to disagree about an issue; quite another to call you deplorable. Or racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Especially racist. People’s feelings about race are often complicated. Few see themselves as “racist.”

For this judgmentalism many Republicans hate Democrats. Also because of the hard left, even though most Democrats actually reject it too. But much Republican hatred for Democrats is based on falsehoods. It’s mainly sheer tribalism — my tribe good, other tribe bad. And your tribe is a package deal. If it includes deeming climate change a hoax, or Biden’s election fraudulent, you buy the whole deal. America’s right is now enraged believing the lie that Biden won by fraud. Threatening violence.

Thus Valdivia sees crazy on one side driving crazy on the other; each continually upping the ante of our polarization. How can we break out of this? He reports on an initiative called Braver Angels, getting political opposites together to converse in a “safe space.” To elide the shouting and demonization to arrive at what co-founder Bill Doherty calls accurate disagreement. While seeing more in common than they’d realized. People being “more complicated and less evil” than we think, says Valdivia.

It isn’t rocket science; in fact, earnest initiatives like this are legion. But it requires good will and open mindedness to begin with (certainly scarce on the hard left). And what tiny percentage of the U.S. electorate would participate in such get-togethers?

A recent David Brooks column is also on point. It’s all about epistemology: how we know things. There are basic methods for that. Rejected by today’s Republican Trump cultists. This is part of the obvious growing cultural divide between urban educated people and those who see them as distant, condescending, having it easy, with different values. Causing cynicism and alienation. The “evangelists of distrust, from Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon” play into that, providing a tribal bonding. Conspiracy theories are effective emotional tools, conferring a perverse kind of power. Believers imagine themselves privy to some hidden truth. In sum, Brooks says today’s Republican identity is defined not by policies but by a paranoid mindset.**

He does believe that honest discourse, like in the Braver Angels thing, can help, narrowing the social/cultural chasm. However, he says, “you can’t argue people out of paranoia;” can’t talk them out of an emotional state. Brooks thinks a lot of it stems from economic anxiety, and we really have to make life more secure for people losing out, mainly those without college degrees. Yet, on the Newshour, he spoke of a neurosurgeon inhabiting the Trump alternate reality.

Brooks, Harris, and Valdivia do help demystify Trumpdom, from a psychological standpoint. However, as voters we really have a responsibility to see past our personal stuff and give thought to the bigger picture. And even from the perspective of raw self-regard and self-interest, does it really make sense to install so vile and feckless a president? Look at the covid disaster. Does this “make America great again?” Is it the role model you want for your children?

Or else you can blind yourself to such realities, which again is indeed a large element of Trumpism. But whatever reasons may lie behind your voting choice, it can’t possibly be a good idea to base it on flouting reality. That can only bite you in the behind.

At what point do you finally say, “Enough; this is insane?”

* Read it here:

** This partly explains polls underestimating Republican votes. They didn’t lie to pollsters; instead many wouldn’t answer at all, seeing polling firms as part of the elitist establishment they despise.

The Republican Party’s Future

November 4, 2012

Columnist George Will has said that, given the economy, if Republicans can’t beat this president, they should look for another line of business. (One might add, “given this black president.” This is not a basically racist country as lefties love saying; Obama was actually black before the last election; yet it does cost him some votes.)

If Romney loses, which I think likely, there will be a loud chorus of Republicans blaming their failure to nominate a “real conservative.” Like Rick Santorum? True, more Americans consider themselves “conservative” than liberal, but their conservatism doesn’t gibe with the fierce ideology of today’s Republican fire-eaters. Compassionate conservatism it ain’t. They are painting themselves into a narrow political corner. How often can they beat the drum for reducing government before voters get cynical because government only keeps growing, no matter how many tea-partiers are elected? And while Democrats demonize them as wanting to throw granny over the cliff, Republicans cannot deliver on their threats of cutbacks – not even Big Bird’s neck will meet the axe — so it’s a lose-lose position for them.

Of course we desperately need to curb spending; but it won’t happen without a bipartisan deal including taxes too. And Republicans won’t hear of it. Nevertheless, I believe Romney would actually make such a deal, achieving what Obama cannot. Yet, maddeningly, Romney seems to think he can’t say this. The lack of clarity  leaves Democrats free to posture as defenders of everyone’s government benefits, without being called on how to pay for it.

In 1992, after Democrats had lost five out of six presidential elections, some of them realized their leftwingery and interest group pandering wasn’t working, so spearheaded by Bill Clinton, they wrenched the party back toward the center. What Republicans need is not to ratchet up their ideological purity; but to wake up from that dream and wrench their party back toward the center. Otherwise they risk making Democrats the “natural party of government,” as they basically were for three decades up to the ‘60s.

Meantime, while the electorate is sharply divided, the voters in the middle – who actually decide elections – are not ideological nor swayed by policy arguments. They “vote for the man” they like better. They still like Obama better, skin color notwithstanding. Ronald Reagan was a big winner not because he was so conservative but because he was a “great communicator” whom people liked. But likeability counted for almost nothing in the Republican primaries. Romney would have been a far more appealing and credible candidate if he hadn’t had to go through the bizarrification machine of the Republican primaries. He’s tried to undo the damage, but probably too late.

Then there’s demographics. Republican voters aren’t reproducing as fast as Democratic voters; and, being older, on average, they’re exiting at a greater rate. Republicans’ core support base is white males, whose percentage in the population is inexorably shrinking. The demographic growing the fastest is Hispanics, not only by reproduction but via immigration, yet Republicans somehow thought it was a good idea to give Hispanics the finger. Of course they didn’t actually, but Hispanics can be forgiven for seeing it that way.

The irony is that President Obama gave Republicans a tremendous opportunity to gain Latino support because he failed to fulfill his promises for immigration reform and actually stepped up deportations, of over a million Hispanics. Welcoming immigrants – who come here to work and advance themselves economically – not to mention all those highly qualified foreigners whom American businesses desperately need but can’t get into the country – ought to be right in line with the Republican worldview. Instead they have succumbed to a brainless nativism. What a shame. (I was shocked recently to see The Economist listing Texas as only “leaning Republican.”)

And the Republicans have run a lousy, dumb campaign. With all the true things that can be said against Obama’s re-election (See for example my 7/12 post), why twist facts in ways that are bound to bite you in the ass? And after all the nonsense about “shipping jobs overseas,” what Republican campaign genius had the bright idea to spotlight the issue — with phony charges against Obama? All this erodes trustworthiness and the image of competence, and gets in the way of the main message. And while it’s healthy to change one’s mind sometimes, don’t make it seem constant and expedient – trustworthiness, again.

While both sides are equally guilty of running overwhelmingly negative ads, for Romney I think that’s been a fatal mistake. The conventional wisdom is that voters hate negative ads, but they work. However, voters already knew what they think of Obama and ads can’t much change that. But Romney is less known, and less liked, and hence needed to do much more to build up his own image as a palatable alternative, especially countering the negativity of Obama’s ads. It’s not enough just to show Obama’s weaknesses; you have to give people someone to vote for. 

If Romney wins, it will be in spite of his campaign, not because of it.

Note re Massachusetts: Senator Scott Brown is one of the few moderate bipartisan Republicans in Congress. How sad if he’s replaced with yet another regulation liberal partisan Democrat.

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This should be my last pre-election post. No matter who you’re for, vote; it’s the one sacrament we can all perform. And whoever you vote for, please remember that voters on the other side may be (in your opinion) wrong – but they’re not wicked.