|Donald Trump supporters as an August 5 campaign rally in Green Bay, WI. Associated Press.|
About Those Loser “Trumpkins.” By William McGurn. Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2016.
What is it that the much-vilified Trump voters are trying to tell us?
In the land of NeverTrump, it turns out one American is more reviled than Donald Trump. This would be the Donald Trump voter.
Lincoln famously described government as of, by, and for the people. Even so, the people are now getting a hard lesson about what happens when they reject the advice of their betters and go with a nominee of their own choosing. What happens is an outpouring of condescension and contempt.
This contempt is most naked on the left. No surprise here, for two reasons. First, since at least Woodrow Wilson progressives have always preferred rule by a technocratic elite over democracy. Second, today’s Democratic Party routinely portrays its Republican Party rivals as an assortment of nasty ists (racists, sexists, nativists, etc.) making war on minorities, women, foreigners and innocent goatherds who somehow end up in Guantanamo.
Thus Mr. Trump confirms to many on the left what they have always told themselves about the GOP. A New York Times writer put it this way: “Donald Trump’s supporters know exactly what he stands for: hatred of immigrants, racial superiority, a sneering disregard of the basic civility that binds a society.”
Still, the contempt for the great Republican unwashed does not emanate exclusively from liberals or Democrats. Thanks to Mr. Trump’s run for office, it is now ascendant in conservative and Republican quarters as well.
Start with the fondness for the word “Trumpkin,” meant at once to describe and demean his supporters. Or consider an article from National Review, which describes a “vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles” and whose members find that “Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.” Scarcely a day goes by without a fresh tweet or article taking the same tone, an echo of the old Washington Post slur against evangelicals as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”
We get it: Trump voters are stupid whites who are embittered because they are losing out in the global economy.
But a new Gallup paper suggests this may be a caricature that misses the fuller picture. The analysis is by Gallup senior economist Jonathan Rothwell, who looked not only at Trump voters but where they lived:
“The results show mixed evidence that economic distress has motivated Trump support,” writes Mr. Rothwell. “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support.”
In fact, in areas where people were more affected by immigration and competition from Chinese imports, support for Mr. Trump declined. By contrast, his support was stronger in areas low in intergenerational mobility. Could it be that what motivates Trump voters is not a purely selfish concern for how they themselves are faring but how well their children and their communities will do?
There are those, this columnist included, who would argue that the under 2% average growth rate of the past decade has done more to constrict income and opportunity for ordinary Americans than bugaboos such as the North American Free Trade Agreement or currency manipulation by China. In the same vein, there’s a strong case to be made that Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” is the path to the Trump voter’s goal of “Making America Great Again.”
The people are not always right—even schoolboys know about the tyranny of the majority—but a self-governing society ought to welcome the engagement of its citizens. In this light, a more fruitful approach might start by taking note of the surprise popularity in these year’s primaries of an outsider businessman in the GOP and a socialist over in the Democratic Party.
The result? A conversation that opened not with a taunt but a question: “What are the American people trying to tell us?” Unfortunately, it’s hard to get there when ordinary people with concerns about the future for themselves and their families are hectored and lectured about how loathsome they are.
It all calls to mind a witticism from Bertolt Brecht from 1953, after East German workers who revolted over measures requiring more work for less pay were met with Soviet tanks. In a poem that was not published until years later, Brecht, a playwright who had publicly supported the crackdown, wryly defined the problem as a regime losing confidence in its people rather than the other way around.
“Would it not be easier in that case,” he quipped, “for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?”
On TV, through Twitter and in person Mr. Trump has long made clear that his epithet of choice for those who disagree with him is “loser.” How ironic that the same people most loudly complaining about what a vulgarian Donald Trump is are now using the same insult to dismiss the ordinary Republican voters who happen to disagree with them.