“throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of a half-century” and leap vigorously into advocacy. Trump could not safely be covered; he had to be opposed.
The old media had needed happy customers. The goal of post-journalism, according to Mir, is to “produce angry citizens.”
The news agenda became narrower and more repetitive as journalists focused on a handful of partisan controversies—an effect that Mir labeled “discourse concentration.” The New York Times, as a purveyor of information and a political institution, had cut itself loose from its own history.
SO…how to analyze the results of last night’s midterm elections. There is both a lot going on here, and less going on than one might suspect. Let’s get right into it.
Referendum on Trump
The big question on everyone’s mind for last night’s election was this: how is Donald Trump going to affect the midterm elections? The answer: it’s a mixed bag. He seemed to simultaneously help and hurt the Republicans, and in some ways, perhaps most indelibly, not affect them much at all, which is the really big surprise. All in all, this election was more like a run of the mill midterm election than most of us thought it would be. The results of the party in the White House losing seat in congress were pretty standard, not even coming close to a “Blue Wave” of repudiation of Donald Trump, which was the big hope for Democrats in this election. Typically, the president’s party loses 25-30 seats in the house in a midterm election, and right now it’s looking to be a loss in the mid-30s for Republicans.
What does this mean? This means, on a national level, that Trump is nowhere near the Destroyer Of Worlds that he’s been made out to be for the Republican party.
If he was truly as toxic at the ballot box as Democrats hoped he would be, this election would look a lot more like when Barack Obama lost 63 house seats in 2010 or Bill Clinton lost 54 in 1994.
That’s right. Donald Trump did better, FAR better, as a bellwether in his first midterm election that either of the two most talented politicians in my lifetime. In fact, his party performed at about the average of the losing midterms for George W. Bush and Republican saint Ronald Reagan (George W. Bush’s first midterm was just over a year after 9/11, and should be excluded from the statistical pattern). If the Democrats thought The Bogeyman was going to drag Republicans down to bring a Blue Wave to Washington, they were wildly mistaken.
The senate races turned out to not be much of a referendum on Trump, and more a referendum on the treatment of Brett Kavanaugh in the recent Supreme Court nomination. Every close senate race that Trump campaigned for ended up as a win for Republicans, so that does indicate that he was able to rally the base to get off the couch and go vote, which is a good sign for him and the party. But it also turns out that every Democrat who voted against Kavanaugh in a state that Trump won lost their seat in the senate, and polling of Republican voters indicates that the Kavanaugh hearings were a major motivator for them. So the hail Mary to “save Roe v. Wade” thrown by the Democrats seems to have seriously backfired on them, and now Trump and Republicans have a clear path to continue reforming the federal judiciary for the next two years, and if Justice Ginsburg should fall into ill health in that time, Democrats will have basically no chance to block an even more conservative nomination, because they will almost certainly not have a single Republican senator they can convince to vote with them. If I could offer some advice for court watchers, it would be to familiarize yourself with Amy Coney Barrett. (Hint: she’s loudly and proudly pro-life)
Based on the Senate seats up for election in 2020 (1/3 each election, as a reminder), there is almost no statistical chance of Democrats regaining the senate, so if Trump should happen to win, we can almost be guaranteed one or two more conservative Supreme Court justices. This will be a major motivating factor in the next election, for both sides of the aisle.
All-in-all, this election was not anywhere near the bloodbath that many predicted for Republicans, nor anything even resembling a rebuke of Donald Trump. Were it not for the current occupant of the White House, there would be nothing at all remarkable about this midterm election. And even worse for Democrats, since Trump was not on the ballot and many Republicans stayed home during this election, I think it can be said confidently that Democrats would not have picked up anywhere near this many seats, and that Republicans may have even held onto the house. So it’s a loss for Republicans, but no more than any average midterm loss for the party in power. What that means for 2020 remains to be seen.
Mexican Word Of The Day: Beto
As in: You Beto take down all them yard signs!
The most-watched individual race in the country was probably the election for Texas senate between Robert Francis O’Rourke and His Evilness Ted Cruz. This was the sort of election that years ago would not have even been worth mentioning or covering, Texas being, well, Texas. But it was an unnervingly close race for Republicans, O’Rourke coming within three points of defeating Cruz.
It’s not easy to read the tea leaves to determine exactly what this means, but there are a couple of major factors that are fairly apparent that caused this race to be so close. The first is the California Factor: as is by now well known, approximately 1,000 Californians have been moving into Texas every day for a few years now. They have turned the metropolitan areas of Texas purple, if not outright blue. I have some familiarity with Austin, and this city’s reputation as a delightful place to live with a vibrant cultural scene, along with its semi-recent status as a mini-Silicon Valley, has been a major draw to Californians for a couple of decades now, with a major migration starting to occur in the mid-2000s. I am less familiar with the culture and goings-on around Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, but it appears that these cities are starting to attract these economic migrants as well. And economic migrants they are, as the class of people moving eastward to the land of ten gallon hats tend to be well-educated professionals, presumably largely of the upper middle class, and presumably moving either with a job in hand, or with highly marketable skills that allow them to move freely and find work easily. It’s hard to say if they find the lack of a state income tax appealing, but one might assume an upper middle class professional might smile a bit when they notice the effect that has on their bottom line.
The second major factor is that, to put it bluntly, Ted Cruz is the Hillary Clinton of the Republican party. O’Rourke put up a strong performance, no doubt, and is highly charismatic and photogenic, unfortunately just about the only qualities that matter in today’s tv age of elections. But he was also going up against one of the worst and weakest candidates the Republicans have to offer on the national stage. He is, much like Hillary Clinton, simply mechanical and unlikable. You can almost see the gears of ambition moving underneath his face whenever he speaks.
Now, he is a brilliant, accomplished man of substance, let there be no doubt about that. He has “authored 70 U.S. Supreme Court briefs and presented 43 oral arguments, including nine before the United States Supreme Court. Cruz’s record of having argued before the Supreme Court nine times is more than any practicing lawyer in Texas or any current member of Congress.” To say nothing of his long legal and policy experience at the state and national level. To compare his professional career and accomplishments to O’Rourke is worse than a joke, lower than an insult. A sampling of O’Rourke’s professional accomplishments prior to running for office is as follows:
Following college, O’Rourke worked as a live-in nanny for a family in Manhattan, then at Hedley’s Humpers as an art mover, before working with his uncle at a startup Internet service provider. During this time, he fell into a depression, unsure of what to do with his life. However, his friends Stevens and Klahr (along with his friend from Columbia University, David Guinn) joined him in New York, and they rented and renovated an inexpensive 2,000-square-foot factory loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Interested in the publishing industry, he found a job as a proofreader at H. W. Wilson Company in the Bronx, and wrote short stories and songs in his free time. He began to miss his family and lifestyle in El Paso, and returned to the city in 1998.
It might also be worth noting that he has not, to put it mildly, pulled himself up by his bootstraps. “His mother was the owner of a high-end furniture store, and is the stepdaughter of Fred Korth, Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy. His father served in El Paso as County Commissioner and then County Judge.” It also just so happens that his father in law is a billionaire (and the $20 billion kind, not the scrappier, pluckier $1 billion kind). On substance, experience, and knowledge of policy and law, there is nothing to compare here.
But O’Rourke has that magical ingredient for politics, that special sauce that’s the most important quality to get one elected to political office: he’s likable. He seems down to earth, as many aristocrats in political memory and history have seemed. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy, a trait (or affect) that many a man of privilege has been able to convey, many of whom were christened “Kennedy” or Roosevelt.”
Whereas Cruz has the core personality defect of many a successful man or woman: raw, naked, uncured ambition. For someone like him or Hillary, it seems like every sentence they speak can be translated as “I want to be president.” If their mouths don’t say it, it certainly comes across in their eyes…those creepy, creepy eyes. You can easily imagine them hyping themselves up in front of the mirror, practicing their affects, polishing their folksy aphorisms, perfecting their “aw, shucks” working class accents. It’s not a stretch to imagine someone like this with a backward-lettered motivational tattoo on their chest that they can read every morning to affirm their ambition and get them pumped up before they walk out the door.
Now this is not exactly an uncommon personality trait, and anyone who has spent time in certain social circles, particularly in places like New York or Washington, D.C., will know that this is pretty run of the mill for bankers, lawyers, politicians, and business people. And the higher up you go in the social strata of these universes, the more common and pronounced that trait is. However, since as I mentioned “likability” is a major factor in the success of a politician, it serves one well to have the good sense and common decency to at least hide it from everyone else. As well, since this is one of the most fundamental understood truths of politics, one would have to assume that people like Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are aware of it as well, and they still are unable to hide this aspect of themselves. So what we are seeing is almost certainly a muted aspect of their true selves and real ambition, and that may say something scary indeed about how deep the river of ambition runs within them.
I happen to know one person who has met Ted Cruz, a very politically active conservative who has dedicated her life to Republican causes and politics. Her impression of him was that “He’s the sleaziest son of a bitch I ever met.” And this is from someone on his team. Imagine how he comes off to moderate voters or apolitical citizens.
So O’Rourke doing so well against Candidate Cruz is somewhat akin to Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton…it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened against anyone else. This is not to discount the demographic changes taking place in Texas, which are sure to be a long term concern for Republicans in the future. But it is to say that we can’t read too much into or learn much from this one result, because it’s probably a statistical anomaly based on an extraordinarily weak and unlikable candidate. And let’s not also forget that he spent more money than God to lose this race (approximately $70 million), received mountains of fawning, un-probing press coverage, and was endorsed by every celebrity Hollywood could drag away from a martini for five minutes. So he had an unprecedented number of favorable factors for a nationally unknown, first time senate candidate, and was up against possibly the least likable senator of either party. There are lessons here and things to be learned in the forensic aftermath of this election, but as with the overall midterms, there is no sea-change or harbinger of a new era in American, or Texan, politics.
And of course, the final note that must be rang on the Texas senate race, the one which truly tells us what to be anticipating as we move towards the future, is that Robert Francis O’Rourke didn’t care about the senate anyways. Believe me when I tell you, he’s getting to work on 2020 TODAY. I hope you already knew this, but he had absolutely no intention of winning a senate seat to be a senator. If you thought he intended to win yesterday and spend the next 6, 12, or 18 years crafting policy and proposing legislation in the senate, I’ll give you a minute to sit back and laugh at yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Ok, so now let’s get real. O’Rourke’s very obvious, transparent plan was to win a seat in the senate, and then spend the next two years campaigning for president, just like a certain someone else we know. Do you suppose that he was paused by yesterday’s defeat, or that his pride was wounded in a way that would make him step back for a second and wonder if he’s truly qualified to run the free world, or if he could even win a presidential election? Do you think that a $70 million loss might make make him stop and reflect on his ambitions, instill a sense of humility, and for one moment second guess himself? Me neither. So prepare yourself for O’Rourke 2020, and soon.
For my part, I do wonder why Democrats are so excited about electing another über-wealthy white guy who’s a child of privilege to office as a “breath of fresh air,” but I guess if you’re a dreamboat, that’s all that really matters in politics.
And in case anyone still wonders what’s going on here, have you seen Politico lately?
Beto O’Rourke dodged a bullet. The Texas congressman came dangerously close to beating Ted Cruz on Tuesday.
Lest his groupies wallow for long in defeat, they should know there’s a lot for them to like about his loss: No getting bogged down in the drudge-work of a freshman senator in the minority or obligation to fulfill his duty to serve out his term.
And, to O’Rourke’s credit, there was no blowout, a fate that would have extinguished his star. Indeed, he showed an unapologetic liberal could compete and almost win in Texas.
O’Rourke’s narrow loss to Cruz instead sets him up to run full time for president — and jump immediately into the top tier of Democratic contenders.
O’Rourke has not yet indicated his intentions, but he has built, in the course of a few short months, a national brand and a national fundraising base that few Democrats can match. Conveniently, the chief knock on O’Rourke’s campaign, that he embraced staunchly progressive positions that played poorly in Texas, only heightens his appeal in a national primary for a Democratic Party that has been tacking leftward.
Even after beating O’Rourke, Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, stands impressed. “The Democrats don’t have anybody like him,” Roe said. “I’ve seen all of them. They don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa in 453 days.”
So those are the two biggest stories and take-aways from the 2018 election. There are of course other issues, Governor’s races (Florida and Georgia chief among them), voter turnout, ballot initiatives, outcomes in state legislatures, demographics and trends, etc. But unfortunately I’ll have to leave those to the professionals. I think the two issues above are the main topics of concern that are going to have the biggest impact as we move past this year’s Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime…until the next one.
I’ll leave you with a bit of wisdom from Joe Rogan, which I presume neither party is going to learn from after this election:
“When you win, you win.
When you lose, you learn.”
I’m about to do something I won’t do very often on my blog. I’m going to post commentary from someone else. This is a rarity, because I’m using my blog as a means to share my thoughts with the world. But sometimes, someone else’s thoughts or words so closely overlap my own, or convey something I’ve been thinking about and trying to say so well, that I just have to share what they’re saying and help spread their ideas.
This is one such case.
I will say, right off the bat, that I am not generally a big fan of Van Jones. I’ve seen a lot of him on CNN, and I saw a lot LOT of him during the 2016 election season. As a rule, he is a reliable one-note partisan instrument, or, to put it another way, the tritone of the left.
However, it seems that since the last time I heard from him, he has done a some soul searching, and some empathetic thinking, going a bit deeper into what happened in 2016 than his histrionic “Whitelash” comment in the immediate aftermath. I applaud him for thinking about a difficult subject that is obviously painful for him in a deep and empathetic manner, and in trying to sincerely understand why people may have different beliefs or vote differently than him.
The first few minutes of this video are essential listening for anyone on the left who wants to understand the 2016 election, or what average American conservatives are thinking and feeling lately. In the last few minutes he talks about some ways that conservatives appear to many people, and I think he’s right that they come off this way not only to people on the left, but to many people in the middle. He also discusses a few things that conservatives can do better, or should be able to do better regarding reaching out to minority voters. I disagree with some of his assumptions and some of the details, but all in all, I think he’s expressing several things that are deeply true, that we need to sort out in order to heal this country. Things that both liberals and conservatives can do better.
Again, I must applaud him for his effort, and while I have not been a fan of his punditry historically, I must be able to forgive and be empathetic to him, if I want people to forgive and be empathetic to me.
Please watch this when you can, and share with as many people as you can. I think this dialogue, and trying to do more of this with each other, will do us all some good.
Here it is:
*Regarding how uninspiring Hillary Clinton was as a candidate, I would like to present the joke I was making for the first month or so after the election whenever it came up: “It really is crazy that he won. I mean, he’s the worst candidate EVER……except for Hillary Clinton.”
*wink, wink* *snort* *laugh at my own hilarious wit*
I mean, let’s be honest: isn’t this the question at least half of the country is asking? And isn’t that just how they want to ask it?
It’s always the first question I’m asked when someone finds out I’m a Republican (I didn’t). Even before they get the words out, I can see it in their eyes. The bewildered look of “What the *____* is wrong with you people?” The desperate, pleading expression of “Please God, help me understand!” That look of “Jesus Christ, do I even want to know??” If you’re familiar with the comedian Lewis Black, it’s that sort of pre-apoplexy face of astonishment, confusion, and fear.
This post will answer the question of why someone who is not crazy, not a bigot, and has read a book at least once in their life would vote for Donald Trump.
The easiest way to start is by sharing the first time I heard someone give a cogent explanation for why they were voting for him. I was at a debate watching party, talking to a lawyer in his 60s. It was the first Clinton/Trump debate. We were at a large, airy bar, in a festive atmosphere courtesy of a local conservative think tank. At the time, I still couldn’t believe anyone was actually going to vote for this guy, even after winning the nomination, even after clearing fourteen lifelong politicians and two truly self-made achievers off the slate. The whole thing was still a joke to me. But here this lawyer was dead-serious going to vote for Trump, and after I stopped laughing, I asked him why. He quietly said “The president is for four years, the Supreme Court is forever.”
My reaction? “………….”
Ok. Well. Hmmmm…….s**t, that’s actually a real reason to vote for him. I had to concede that immediately. I really didn’t know what to say. I honestly hadn’t been able to imagine a single genuine reason to vote for Trump until then. And if there was one legitimate reason….there might be more.
This is the moment that made it real for me. “It” being a real thing in the real world where real people were actually going to vote for Donald Trump. I couldn’t argue with the guy or his logic. I had to admit that was as legitimate a reason to vote for any candidate as you’ll find in any election. As he said, if we get just one Supreme Court justice, that’s a huge win for conservatives. A generational win. If we get two, that’s like hitting the political lotto twice, almost certainly solidifying a conservative Supreme Court for at least one generation, literally for decades to come. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, if this is something within your reach with one election, that’s a game changer in the political landscape in your favor. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is.
And that’s the first thing you need to understand about people who voted for Donald Trump. It’s not necessarily about Donald Trump. It’s about run of the mill politics. It’s about your party passing your agenda and ensuring your vision is the one being propagated by the federal government. Do you want higher taxes or lower taxes? More regulations or fewer regulations? More Obamacare or less Obamacare? A liberal Supreme Court or a conservative Supreme Court? So that….that’s just business-as-usual. It’s got nothing to do with who the particular candidate is, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Mickey Mouse. Whoever advances your agenda is your “man.” If Mickey Mouse favors my kind of tax plan, I’m voting for Mickey Mouse, I don’t care what he says about ducks or about his squeaky voice or his tiny hands.
And on this one issue alone, what has Donald Trump done with our Supreme Court and our judicial system in general? Well, see for yourself:
In the weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, lawyers joining his administration gathered at a law firm near the Capitol [and] filled a white board with a secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges.
[…] Mr. Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard M. Nixon.
[…] Republicans are systematically filling appellate seats they held open during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office with a particularly conservative group of judges with life tenure. Democrats — who in late 2013 abolished the ability of 41 lawmakers to block such nominees with a filibuster, then quickly lost control of the Senate — have scant power to stop them.
[…] During the campaign, Mr. Trump shored up the support of skeptical right-wing voters by promising to select Supreme Court justices from a list Mr. McGahn put together with help from the Federalist Society and the conservative Heritage Foundation. Exit polls showed that court-focused voters helped deliver the president’s narrow victory. Now, he is rewarding them.
“We will set records in terms of the number of judges,” Mr. Trump said at the White House recently, adding that many more nominees were in the pipeline. Standing beside the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, he continued, “There has never been anything like what we’ve been able to do together with judges.”
So on this single issue, one that in itself can sway many rational voters, President Trump has delivered, and appears primed to deliver more, in spades. Now, I understand: this reshaping of the judiciary is utterly horrifying to someone who leans left on the political spectrum. But this is no different than how conservatives would view a similar judicial opportunism by a Hillary Clinton administration. Nor is it any different than the worst case/best case scenario (depending on your view) that you would see with any other Republican president. So in a deep and meaningful way, this election had nothing to do with Donald Trump, the same way every election is in some sense more about whatever random Democrat or Republican empty vessel that stands in for our own hopes, dreams, and agendas than the specific individuals who become those vessels.
Here’s another thing that will help Democrats understand why people voted for Donald Trump, but it requires a bit of harsh self-reflection about your own party: many people held their nose and voted for Hillary Clinton, choosing to vote for her not because she was their ideal candidate or first choice, but because she was the person in the position to advance their agenda. There are innumerable, well-documented reasons to lack enthusiasm for Clinton even if you’re a Democrat that I won’t go into here. But knowing this can help you understand Trump’s voters: if you can hold your nose and vote for Hillary Clinton, someone else can hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump. Yes, really. No I mean really. Your version of holding your nose and voting for your party’s candidate is just as horrifying and unimaginable as their version is to you. So I think this is a great place for some common ground and for voters in both parties who were stuck with historically bad candidates to have some empathy for each other. This is a point that can allow both sides a mutual understanding of how it feels to not only have to vote for a candidate you find at best unappealing, but a nomination process that exposes a horrifying dearth of leadership within both parties, and potentially within society at large.
And this brings me to my next point: what does Trump’s very nomination say about the Republican party and Republican voters? Doesn’t the nomination of this disgusting man-pig speak volumes about Republicans, who they are willing to vote for, and by extension who they themselves are and what they believe? I’m glad you asked!
This is a very important point that I think most Democrats are missing, that cannot be over-stated: Donald Trump’s nomination was not a ringing endorsement of Donald Trump, either as a human being or as a candidate. As I mentioned above, voting for Donald Trump in the general election was not necessarily an endorsement of him as a person, but simply a vote to advance one’s agenda, whoever the vessel may be. Likewise, a vote for Donald Trump in the Republican nomination was not a vote for Donald Trump The Man. It wasn’t a vote for Donald Trump as articulating or embodying our noblest conservative ideals. Nominating Donald Trump was, by and large, quite simply a gigantic “F U” from the Republican base to the Republican party establishment. Donald Trump was their weapon, a blunt instrument to be sure, but nonetheless the weapon they had at their disposal to express their dissatisfaction with being taken for granted by their party, for being lied to by their party, for their party turning their back on their values, and for the party establishment being, in general, a bunch of self-dealing, two-faced sellouts and elitists who had abandoned the principles of small government and stopped listening to the voices of their grass roots. Ironically, this is exactly what almost happened in the Democratic primary in 2016, and would have happened if the party hadn’t rigged the nomination for Hillary.
So here again, Democrats should be able to have a lot of sympathy for why Republicans voted for Donald Trump: he was a refutation of party politics-as-usual, and a means to punish the party establishment and tell them exactly where to go. Republican voters were Negan, the Republican party was Rick’s group from Alexandria, and Donald Trump was Lucille. Or, if you will, picture Donald Trump as a giant middle finger. For some reason I think that will be easy to imagine….
The last point I want to raise about why people voted for Donald Trump has, unavoidably, a bit of a ring of partisanship to it, but it can’t be helped entirely, and it is an absolutely crucial aspect to understanding what happened in this election, and what may continue to happen for at least a few cycles to come. Once again, I feel that explaining my personal experience will help you understand this phenomenon writ large. To put it simply, conservatives are very, very tired of identity politics, and of the modes of discourse common to today’s discussions of political issues when we engage our friends on the left. There is no way I could ever count the number of times I’ve been called a racist, for example, for disagreeing with today’s dominant liberal views about race in America, and for having completely mainstream, middle-of-the-road conservative views about say the intersection of economics, race, culture, and success in America. There are periods of time when I’m engaged in a lot of online political discussion that I am literally called a racist every day. The long-term effect of being met with the worst sort of personal slanders for the simple act of disagreeing and having a political view on the other side of the spectrum has built up an enormous well of resentment, which can easily turn into a powerful backlash if given the opportunity.
For example, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, there was a tsunami of stories about a sudden and drastic spike in hate crimes, most of which turned out to be false. One of my friends was posting about a slew of bomb threats to Jewish community centers, and was expressing his dire concern about how Trump had done this to America. I advised caution and to wait until the facts came out to see if any of these turned out to be hoaxes, like so many of the other stories that had received much attention and gone viral (the vast majority did turn out to be hoaxes). Almost as soon as I said it, one of his friends jumped in to call me an anti-Semite. When I responded that I was only saying we shouldn’t make a judgment until we know the facts, that we don’t even know if these are real, let alone how or if you could attribute them to something about “Donald Trump’s America” if they were, he simply said “I refuse to engage with a known anti-Semite.” I tried, politely, to get him to respond to my points on the facts, and he simply repeated he would not engage in a discussion with a bigot. I suspect he didn’t want to “normalize” me. Rather than defend my character and ask his other friend to tone it down, my friend, who happens to know something about my views regarding Jewish culture, not only let these accusations stand, but explained how it was reasonable to interpret my comments as expressing bigotry.
I have more stories like this than I can count. A salient fact here is that I am mixed race, half white and half black. While engaged in one political debate this year, I had a white man call me a house you-know-what for disagreeing with some of his political views. Let’s pause and chew on that for a minute. Political discourse is at such a degraded level, that a white person thinks he has the right to call a black person the worst slur in the English language for a disagreement of political views. What must be the state of mind of such a person? Soon thereafter, a black friend of his found a picture of me in a corporate environment, and proceeded to call me a good Uncle you-know-what, licking the boots of my white masters. The person whose wall this was taking place on not only didn’t try to moderate this discussion and ask them to pull back from their vitriol, he supported their attack on me. Several months later, on the wall of a different friend, a black friend of his found the exact same picture, and called me the exact same name, and then made some absolutely vile comments about white female ancestors of mine lusting after black men. And did my friend who actually knew me ask him to tone it down, or better yet, demand civility and an end to these disgusting insults? I’ll give you one guess.
So now, if you’re politically liberal, imagine you’re me for a minute. Imagine you’re a pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-immigrant, multicultural economic conservative, who is liberal on every social equality issue and goal, but has conservative views on how to achieve some of them. How do you respond to people who say such vile things? Ok, maybe you say “Just walk away and give up.” I can do that. How do you respond if some variation of this happens in the majority of political discussions you have? If you’re not a racist for having mainstream, milquetoast conservative views, you’re definitely a misogynist, or a homophobe, or a classist. And they are going to let you know it. What if this has been happening for the last ten years or more? What if it’s not just a majority of interactions with people who disagree about politics, but more like 75 or 90%? What if it’s not just you, but every moderate conservative you know?
If you want to understand what is going on in the mainstream conservative psyche, please, I beg you, take some moments, now and after you read this, to run a thought experiment and ponder how you might feel about politics or the other side of the spectrum if you have had this experience hundreds of times over the course of years. If you get nothing else from this essay, I hope you come away with a little more empathy for what it’s like to be a reasonable, normal person who is constantly accused of being the most vile sort of bigot almost every time you have a political discussion.
If you do, you’ll feel the inevitable result: a tightening coil of resentment ready to be released in a backlash, just waiting for the moment, and getting stronger by the day. I resist this feeling mightily, and try very hard to rein it in and keep my resentment in check, to remind myself that not everyone on the left is like this (though it feels like it sometimes), to stay aware that responding in kind will not make anything better, and will only contribute to the negative feedback loop that is dragging this country down not only in its discourse, but in its very soul. I make myself reach out to people I disagree with on an almost daily basis, to keep seeking out civil discourse and nurture it, wherever it may be found, to not isolate myself in a bubble, hell, just to see if I can defy expectations and today’s sad normalcy and just have a polite discussion about politics with someone who I disagree with.
But most people are not like this. Most people aren’t this introspective. Most people are not political nerds. Most people don’t engage in political debates or discussions every day. Most people simply don’t have the time to ponder these political problems from as many angles as possible, or read enough articles to make sense of it all. They have families to raise, jobs to worry about, houses to fix, parents to visit, lives to live. But you know what they do have in common with political wonks like me? They experience the insults and easy accusations of bigotry too. They have people in their lives who they care about call them names too. Their feelings are hurt too, when people who should know you’re a good person treat you with contempt for your political views, or silently watch others do it with tacit approval, secretly (or not) cheering them on. If you’re genuinely curious about what happened in this election, ask some closet Trump supporters why they stayed in the closet. Ask some Trump supporters who are out of the closet how many friends they’ve lost, and what kind of things people have said about them. Ask some of your friends who are simply boring moderate conservatives how they have been treated in political discussions over the last ten years. You may find some deep waters that you didn’t see running through our political landscape, and a lot of frustration that you didn’t know existed.
This is the last thing you need to understand about Donald Trump’s election: once again, it’s not about Trump. It’s about something else that’s going on in America. On this point, it’s about a backlash against more than a decade of pent-up frustrations of literally being silenced for your political views, lest you be publicly shamed as a bigot. It is that simple. That is the situation moderate conservatives find themselves facing in the current political climate. This is a thing that conservatives walk around with daily, a thing that we feel whenever we log onto Facebook, whenever we hear our liberal friends talking about politics around us and know we dare not join in, a thing that we see in the news every single day. We see bland, moderate conservative views labeled as the most extreme bigotry, and we are frustrated, confused, and angry. And lately….mostly angry.
I have to admit to feeling this way myself. I fight it as hard as I can, but when for example today I am called a “typical gun nut” for defending Second Amendment rights (I’ve never owned a gun and never will), I can’t help but step back and think “You know what? You deserve Donald Trump.” Now this reaction is nowhere near strong enough in me to get me to actually vote for him, but it clearly is for millions of other people. And every time it happens, I inch a little close to thinking “F**k it, next time, I’m gonna DO it.” Electoral backlash is a very real, and at least occasionally rational political phenomenon. I’m not here to say if it’s the right thing to do in this particular situation, but I am here to say that it is real, it is happening, and we will continue to ignore it at our peril. As one commentator noted, the left is lucky that Donald Trump is the worst thing they got in this electoral backlash. Based on the history of devolved, strife-ridden politics, it could have been much, much worse, and still has the potential to become worse in the future.
If you made it this far, I have to congratulate you for your tenacity, and thank you for your patience. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how to fix it. But I do feel that I have some insight into what the problem is, into how we got here, and into the motivations for the completely normal, civilized, moderate conservatives who voted for Donald Trump. I do believe that if our friends on the left could more often engage us as normal, civilized, moderate human beings, that it would do much to lessen the appeal of a person like Donald Trump as a type of electoral revenge. Beyond and before that, I believe that conservatives as a group and the Republican party as an organization have some very difficult soul searching to do, to find a solid principled stance, to build an intellectual foundation for their policies and beliefs that rests on more than simply anger at reactionary identity politics.
It is a terrible and dangerous thing to define yourself in opposition to, rather than for, a person, group, or idea. When this paradigm is the dominant norm of an era, a society slips precariously towards the edge of a precipice, beneath which lies the potential to tear it apart while we succumb to our worst tribal instincts. We are not there yet, but I think there is little doubt that we are heading in that direction, and when we get there, we are all going to regret it. As impossible as it sounds, Donald Trump is not that precipice. He is only a warning that we are approaching it. And if the warning looks like Donald Trump, can we afford to find out what awaits us over the edge?
“It seems so clear now…there are a lot of terrible people in America. Thank god I live in Manhattan and not America.”
So said my college roommate, philosophy buddy, and one of my dearest friends in New York the day after the election. I knew who those “terrible people” were that he was talking about…people in dreaded Flyover States, and even worse, southern states too far off the path of a direct flight to L.A. to even fly over.
This posed a problem for me: I now am one of those Flyover People, living in his version of Plato’s cave, watching the flickering shadows of Fox News, or perhaps as a Morlock waiting for Tucker Carlson to tell me when to come out and feed on Eloi in Manhattan. This is only a slight exaggeration of what educated Clinton voters seemed to be thinking and feeling after the election, continuing for months. I’m not certain that anything has changed even now, after a year of emotional and intellectual distance to reflect about “what happened.”
“What happened” on election day is a lot of things. But what happened in the aftermath is important too. Many of us strained and lost friendships, acquaintances, and even relationships with family and partners. If the experience of my friends and I is any indication, this was mostly a one-way street, Clinton supporters horrified at what kind of people they believed they had discovered themselves to be living among. I can only imagine the horror they felt when they realized they were floating on their urban islands in a sea of people who would actually vote for Trump. To quote the old saw, “How could he have won, I don’t know a single person who voted for him?”
Over the course of a day, I lost my college roommate as a friend, for the crime of trying to explain why other people voted for Trump on his Facebook page. He had some horrified things to say reminiscent of our last president’s attitude about ignorant people clinging to their guns and religion. As I tried to explain what values people who don’t live in Manhattan believe in and care about, he was getting messages from his friends asking if he was “actually friends with me” and how could he be friends with “someone like me.” A relative of his piped up that she had lived down south for a while, and had seen how blatantly racist they are down there, as plainly revealed in this election. Finally he deleted all of the comments and blocked me from seeing his posts.
I wish I could say this was an anomaly. But it was instead the norm. A coworker who I considered a friend and who I had spent many hours on the phone with having light-hearted conversations about politics blocked me from Facebook and Twitter for again trying to explain why people might have voted Trump, or arguing that the media and Democrat visions of “the end of democracy and free speech” might be exaggerated. Another friend simply took me off Facebook, having not even had a conversation about the election, and I faced various and vehement accusations of bigotry over the course of multiple discussions.
Having experienced this consistently online and in face-to-face conversations over the last year, I’m not sure where this leaves us as a country. I have found that just to be a Republican is too toxic for many Democrats to even deal with and face a conversation with me as a human being. I’ve seen this creeping into conversations for the last decade, and this election seems to have opened a floodgate of political hatred and shameless vitriol for one’s opponents that I haven’t experienced in my lifetime.
If the reaction to this election continues to be ferreting further into our political bubbles, building better cultural walls, and hating those with different views ever more, what does this mean for the future of our country? I fear we are moving dangerously close to the sort of partisan divisions that precede historical periods of fascism, political street fighting, and worse.
What if we did something different? What if we sought out people who disagree with us to have civil, respectful conversations about why they voted as they did, why they believe what they believe, and who they are as people? What if we asked them what they believe or why they voted a certain way rather than told them, or told ourselves we know without stooping to talking to them? We don’t all have to agree with each other or approve of each other’s choices, in politics or elsewhere in life. But we should, at the very least, try to understand where others are coming from and have enough empathy to try to appreciate why they might believe something different, in good faith and as good people.
I’m not holding my breath though. I just asked my old colleague how she feels about removing me from her life one year later, which should be plenty of time to reflect and cool down. She said she has no regrets about doing so, and to the contrary seems rather proud. Rather than invest in reconciliation, perhaps I should invest in something more practical: beans and bullets.
I am a conservative. I am a Republican. I am mixed race. I am educated. I am not a Trump voter, nor a Trump supporter. If you talked to me or saw my social media in the wake of President Trump’s nomination, you would know that this is in fact a rather significant understatement. If you saw me engage in political battle with Trump voters in my own local caucus (proudly in the only state to nominate Rubio), you would probably wonder what I could possibly have to say in support of them or their candidate.
Quite a lot, it turns out. One year later, after The Unthinkable actually happened, the fact that I have to start every political conversation with some sort of semi-apologetic preamble such as the above to even be listened to (or perhaps not), has rubbed me the wrong way enough times to start thinking of ways to explain to people not just who I am as a non-Trump-supporting Republican, but to explain also those who support him, or supported him, or may support him in the future.
Because one thing I do have in relation to Trump supporters that many of his critics on both the right and left do not, is empathy. Empathy for them as fellow Americans who carefully weighed the decision of who to vote for in a presidential election and came to a different conclusion than I. Empathy for them as people with good intentions who simply have a different vision of the world than me, or a different vision of who the lesser of two evils was in one particular case. Or just plain old empathy for them as human beings.
Perhaps this has something to do with the people close to me who voted for Trump. The first person I know who supported President Trump, even before the Republican convention, was an Indian immigrant relative who is the embodiment of the American Dream: educated, successful, and self-made. Over dinner, he explained not only why Hillary Clinton was awful beyond words, but why Donald Trump had qualities he admired that made him think he would be well-suited for the position of president.
At the time I assumed he was just an anomaly, like every other step Donald Trump took towards first the nomination, then the presidency. But a few months later, I met another self-made immigrant who was also a Trump supporter. And not the “holding your nose while you push a button” Trump voter, but a genuine Trump supporter. Through him, I became aware of a whole network of successful, educated immigrants from all over the world who both supported and admired candidate Trump for his business success, his frame control, and yes, his sheer “winning,” and who understood or even heartily supported his stances and comments on immigration.
I think the stone that finally shattered my glass house of incomprehension and incredulity was thrown by my friend from Harvard Law School, originally from Mexico City, who told me the night of the election that he had texted all of his relatives in Florida and told them to vote for Trump. Like I had with every step of this process, I laughed it off like the hilarious joke it was, and the even better joke it was going to be in the morning.
And then the morning came.
And the joke was over.
And suddenly I had to actually figure out what had happened.
In the year since, there has been a lot of discussion of disenchanted white working class voters, about subsets of such voters who voted for both Obama and Trump, about opioids, systemic cultural depression and economic despair, about what the Republican and Democrat establishment got wrong and didn’t understand about rural or red (and sometimes blue) America. There has also been a substantial phenomenon of far too easily attributing it all to the common bromides of racism, ignorance, backlash against a black president, etc.
But I think we need to take a hard look as well at the number of educated, minority, and even immigrant voters who not only didn’t shy away from Trump, but supported him exuberantly, at least compared to the alternative. There may be something going on here besides a lingering sadness stemming from the death knell of Norman Rockwell America, because that alone does not explain Trump voters or the actuality of this presidency. And if we don’t figure out what it is, and don’t think and act with empathy to understand why, we could very well be having this same conversation three years from now, wondering how it happened twice.