The day after the election – after Donald Trump was confirmed the winner – I sent a quick e-mail to a colleague: “Fear and prejudice just won last night.”
His reaction was immediate and I’m paraphrasing, “Don’t say that! You’re using standard liberal stereotypes.”
Since March 2008, this site has been devoted to writing about the good, the bad and the ridiculous of ethics. I view ethics as non-partisan simply because the ethical values of respect, responsibility, honesty & integrity, caring, civic virtue & citizenship apply to everyone no matter what political coat they’re wearing.
From an ethical perspective, Donald Trump – in both word and deed – not only represented an affront to ethical values, he shamelessly pandered to our worst traits: fear, prejudice, arrogance, and a vastly distorted sense of nationalism.
You all know the quotes, and if that isn’t enough, we can all travel back in time, via the Internet, to review ample examples of the ghosts of American demagogues, past: Catholic priest, Father Charles Coughlin, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and bigot/governor and presidential candidate, George Wallace.
However, a recent commentary, by political analyst David Paul Kuhn, caused me to reexamine my hasty appraisal. Kuhn’s Op-Ed, in the Tuesday edition of The New York Times (Dec. 27), is entitled: Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump.
Here’s what Kuhn had to say, (along with some of my own comments in parenthesis).
“…Trump won the white working-class vote over Hillary Clinton,” Kuhn begins, “by a larger margin than any major-party nominee since World War II. Instead of this considerable achievement inspiring introspection, figures from the heights of journalism, entertainment, literature and the Clinton campaign continue to suggest that Mr. Trump won the presidency by appealing to the bigotry of his supporters. …
“This stereotyping of Trump voters… (Uh, oh, there’s the “S” word) …is not only illiberal, it falsely presumes Mr. Trump won because of his worst comments about women and minorities rather than despite them.”
(Okay, David, I’m listening.)
“In fact, had those people who agreed that Mr. Trump lacked a ‘sense of decency’ voted for Mrs. Clinton, she would have been elected the next president. …
“Several weeks before the election, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 51 percent of white working-class voters did not believe that Mr. Trump had a ‘sense of decency’ and ranked Mrs. Clinton slightly higher on that quality.
“But they were not voting on decency. Indeed, one-fifth of voters — more than 25 million Americans — said they ‘somewhat’ disapproved of Mr. Trump’s treatment of women. Mr. Trump won three-quarters of these voters, despite their disapprobation.
“Bluntly put, much of the white working class decided that Mr. Trump could be a jerk. Absent any other champion, they supported the jerk they thought was more on their side — that is, on the issues that most concerned them.”
(And what issues would those be, David, his promise to round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants?)
“…anti-immigrant blowback, for instance, was not what unified them. Mr. Trump proposed expelling illegal immigrants yet more of his voters, by a 50 percent to 45 percent margin, said illegal immigrants working here should be offered a chance to apply for legal status rather than be deported.” …
(Still, a slim margin.)
“…Mr. Trump personified the vote against the status quo, one still not working out for them. A post-campaign study comparing the George W. Bush coalition in 2000 to the Trump coalition in 2016 found that Mr. Trump particularly improved in areas hurt most by competition from Chinese imports, from the bygone brick and tile industry of Mason City, Iowa, to the flagging furniture plants of Hickory, N.C. The study concluded that, had the import competition from China been half as large, Mrs. Clinton would have won key swing states and the presidency with them.”
“This argument does not ignore bigotry. Racism appeared more concentrated among Trump voters. One poll found that four in 10 Trump supporters said blacks were more ‘lazy’ than whites, compared with one-quarter of Clinton or John Kasich supporters.”
(And here’s Kuhn’s key point…)
“But traits are not motives and don’t necessarily decide votes. Consider that four in 10 liberal Democrats, the largest share of any group, said in 2011 that they would hold a Mormon candidate’s faith against him or her. It would be silly to argue that, therefore, liberals voted for Mr. Obama because Mitt Romney was Mormon.
“Yet the Trump coalition continues to be branded as white backlash. The stereotyping… (There’s that word, again!) …forgets that many Trump supporters held a progressive outlook. Mr. Trump won nearly one in four voters who wanted the next president to follow more liberal policies.”
(They may want the next president to follow more liberal policies, but we’ll have to wait and see what actually happens. Let’s not forget, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and many in Trump’s own party disagree with some of his proposals.)
However, as Kuhn points out, “Democrats need only recall [President Bill] Clinton to understand how voters can support someone in spite of his faults. Mr. Clinton won re-election in 1996 despite a majority, including about a third of liberal voters, saying he was not honest. His approval rating reached the highest point of his presidency during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It wasn’t that Democrats and independents endorsed Mr. Clinton’s behavior. They opposed Republicans more.”
“We can look for the worst in our opponents,” Kuhn concludes, “but that doesn’t always explain how they got the best of us.”
While from an ethical standpoint, I continue to judge Mr. Trump and his campaign as ridiculously unethical (no honesty, transparency, self-restraint, out-of-touch with factual reality), I concede that bigotry, while clearly demonstrated at some of his rallies, did not play as central a role in his win as I believed.
Okay, Jamie, you got me. My first impression: (somewhat) completely wrong. One serving of crow, please… and don’t forget the ketchup.