Look to Whom You Have Empowered

I know Trump voters. I’m related to Trump voters. I’m also not one of them.

I might even be one of those elites that they’ve come to mistrust — whatever that may mean. One thing that goes with this territory is that I’ve done a lot of listening lately.

My friend Mark Houser said it well on Facebook:

If you ask pundits and politicos why Trump won, they’ll say something like, “Trump found a way to appeal to the economic concerns of the working class.”

But if you ask actual Trump voters to explain why they supported Trump, they’ll say things like, “He’s not a politician,” “He speaks his mind,” “He’s an outsider,” “He’s going to shake things up/drain the swamp,” etc. (Note that all of these jive really well with “He’s not Hillary.”)

It seems to me that the economic explanation for Trump’s success is grossly overstated.

If you doubt that, ask yourself this: How many of Trump’s supporters could Hillary have drawn away if she, say, had been more aggressively anti-trade? Few, I think.

Mark’s explanations are the ones I’ve heard as well. Absolutely none of this is a message of hate.

We are less different than we may be tempted to imagine. They are not more American than I am, and I am not more American than they. I would like to think that our similarities are still relevant.

We all know that Hillary Clinton will never be in the White House again. Strange as it may sound, I can assure you that most of us in the “elite” — how I hate that term — are relieved she lost. Maybe we’re openly relieved, like I am, or maybe it’s in private, like certain Democrats I know. Many of us only voted for Clinton because Trump did not seem to be at all a suitable candidate; it was not from any love for her.

But there’s a serious problem here: Not all “not Hillary” options are equally okay. Some “not Hillary” options are also terrible — they’re at least as bad as her, and maybe they’re a lot worse.

Before the election I was worried about Trump’s policies. I remain worried today. I think they are bad policies, and I think that many of them are apt to go awry in predictable ways even if they are not administered by malevolent officials.

I also worried, though, about the people whom Trump would empower and encourage. These people do not think like the typical Trump voter. It is grossly unfair to suggest that they do. Yet Trump has undoubtedly built them into his coalition, and now that he has won, the signs are clear that he intends to bring them aboard.

I don’t imagine that the Trump voters I know could have named Steve Bannon before the election, or that they knew he held the views he does. But I knew: He’s a proud member of the alt-right who believes that multi-ethnic democracy is completely impossible.

I don’t think the Trump voters I knew could have said who Frank Gaffney was, although I knew of him: He’s a conspiracy theorist. For years he told anyone who would listen that Obama wanted to implement Sharia law. Now he’s hoping that people will forget that, because it was obviously nonsense all along.

I don’t imagine the Trump voters I know could have named Kris Kobach. But I could name him: He’s the man who wants to force all Muslim immigrants to register with the government. Nothing but evil could come of a policy like that.

Strange as it may sound to my friends in the “elite,” I’ve had to explain to Trump voters what the alt-right even was. I’ve had to explain why I and my colleagues had been getting death threats from them. They were incredulous. One response I got was to say that it was a false flag. They blamed Hillary Clinton, who must have been really mad about losing.

No, I had to explain, we’d been getting death threats for months. They came from people who openly celebrate the Holocaust and who look forward to doing it again.

Yes indeed, there are people worse than Hillary Clinton. Trump voters, I’ve listened to you about how bad she was. I’ve agreed with you, about a lot of it. I’ve listened when you complained of the toxic climate of political correctness on our college campuses. I agreed with you about that, too, and I even published about it — early in Obama’s first term.

Now I ask that you listen to me: Look to whom you have empowered. These people don’t represent your values.

It remains to be seen just how much power Trump will allow them. Already it’s clearly more than “they’ll have something to celebrate in a YouTube comments section.” And yet so far it’s clearly less than “they’re running the whole country.” But it’s closer to the second than it is to the first.

I’d love to be able to tie this post up neatly, but too much remains unknown right now. Or, I should say, too much remains in your hands. You put Trump in office, and you may be able to influence his behavior better than I could. So instead of a neat conclusion, I’ll tie it up with some profanity.

I’ve seen this a lot on Twitter:

Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker. End of story.

If that’s the end of the story, then we’re well and truly fucked. Let’s not let that be the end of the story, okay?

Update: Frank Gaffney has denied reports that he is involved in the transition team. “I know he’s a nice guy but he’s not part of the transition team,” said Trump adviser Jason Miller.

6 thoughts on “Look to Whom You Have Empowered

      • It’s not the continuum that I’m looking at as much as the tendency of the academic types to jump back and forth between the definition of racism that refers to such things as the hotel owner throwing acid in the swimming pool being used by African-Americans and the definition of racism that refers to such things as being a beneficiary of white flight to the suburbs and having gone to a middle and then high school that had 95% whites in it despite having been living in a 50/50 state.

        Racism that can be helped vs. racism that can’t be helped.

        And with recent discussions of such things as privilege, the WWC, so on and so forth, this ability to use the same word to refer to two distinct things (though, perhaps, being on different ends of a continuum), I think it’s very important that we hammer out whether we’re talking about racism as something that we, as a society, can overcome through works or whether we’re talking about racism as something more analogous to original sin that can only be made right through Grace.


  1. I am one of those people saying it on twitter (I phrased it “i’m not saying Trump won because of his racist rhetoric. I’m saying that winning despite it *is* white supremacy winning.”)

    But I definitely didn’t say “End of story,” nor am I seeing it in other people’s phrasing a lot. I don’t think it is the end of the story. But it sure is *important* to the story.

    This episode of “This American Life” pretty well illustrates this tragedy, in my opinion: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/600/will-i-know-anyone-at-this-party


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