Yesterday, I wrote about how the certitude of demographic destiny stunted the minds of Millennial progressives and brought them to a point where Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss reduced them to tears and meandering angry arguments instead of much-needed introspection. I didn’t anticipate having such a clear example of this problem reveal itself by noon yesterday, when Slate published this column by Jamelle Bouie, titled: “There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter: People voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes. They don’t deserve your empathy.”
And yes, he means it:
Whether Trump’s election reveals an ‘inherent malice’ in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency. Trump campaigned on state repression of disfavored minorities. He gives every sign that he plans to deliver that repression. This will mean disadvantage, immiseration, and violence for real people, people whose ‘inner pain and fear’ were not reckoned worthy of many-thousand-word magazine feature stories.
If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question. That you have black friends or Latino colleagues, that you think yourself to be tolerant and decent, doesn’t change the fact that you voted for racist policy that may affect, change, or harm their lives. And on that score, your frustration at being labeled a racist doesn’t justify or mitigate the moral weight of your political choice…
To face those facts and then demand empathy for the people who made them a reality—who backed racist demagoguery, whatever their reasons—is to declare Trump’s victims less worthy of attention than his enablers. To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration. At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic. At worst, it’s morally grotesque.
This is the sort of extremist reaction one can expect from people who have never had to deal with the idea that they are not positioned on the right side of history. When exactly did these voters become no good? Was it in 2016? Was it in the primaries, if they cast a vote for Trump then? Was it earlier?
It can’t have been that much earlier, after all, because back in 2012, many of these voters were voting for Barack Obama, not itself a sinful besmirching of their personal morality. When 209 of the 700 counties that voted for Obama twice shifted to voting for Trump, was that the point of no return?
Consider: How did Trump win over so many Obama voters? Was it by appealing to their basest elements of racism and a desire for white supremacy? Or was it just by promising ad nauseam that he would work to serve their interests? Nate Cohn of the NYT notes that it was the latter:
What part of Hillary Clinton’s message was aimed at less educated white voters? It just wasn’t at the core of her appeal this year. It was nothing like 2012, when President Obama relentlessly focused on the middle class, Bain Capital, the auto bailout, etc… Trump had the same pitch to white working-class voters in Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio, wherever, as Obama: He would fight for the working class over special interests, and his opponent is bought by Wall Street and would advance the forces of globalization. Democrats have to grapple with the fact that they lost this election because millions of white working-class voters across the United States voted for Obama and then switched to Trump.’
Another difficult question is: is it only those who were actually Trump voters who are now deemed no good, or does that franchise extend to all non-Clinton voters everywhere? Is a vote for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or Evan McMullin now no good, since it was not focused on blocking the moral menace of Donald Trump? What about non-voters – for those black and Hispanic Americans who were presumed to deliver Hillary Clinton to the White House but stayed home, are they no good as well? Consider that if those voters had come out at equivalent levels in just two counties, Trump’s margin would have been much narrower: “In Wisconsin and Michigan Trump’s win margins were razor-thin. Clinton could have taken back 26 electoral votes simply by turning out Obama coalition voters in two counties.” Are these non-voters the worst of the worst for betraying their party and failing to act to stop a morally bankrupt candidate? Why not?
The danger here is that it is not a far leap at all from what Bouie writes to what Noam Chomsky claims here.
On Nov. 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government—executive, Congress, the Supreme Court—in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history. Apart from the last phrase, all of this is uncontroversial. The last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous. But is it? The facts suggest otherwise. The party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.
Dear reader: you can see the direction this is going. It is not a good one, for the sake of democratic comity or faith in our system of government. It is a dangerous one indeed. Thankfully, for all the overextended ludicrousness of these arguments, Americans remain a remarkably tolerant people, as David Harsanyi notes today in his pushback against the narrative of raising hate crimes against Muslims (in fact, anti-Semitism remains a lot more popular, even if it’s rarer than you’d ever guess).
To believe “there is no such thing as a good Trump voter” is to extend to each voter a full moral responsibility for every bad aspect of a Trump presidency prior to any of it having occurred. It is to assume the worst of Trump, and the worst of his voters – to paint him as a modern dictator who will rule America as a racist, and that his voters will cheer this on. Extending this logic to the other side is a dangerous thing to do.
What if those who believe that it is an incredible moral wrong to drone people from the sky voted for Barack Obama in 2008 anticipating that he would end this practice, only to find that he has deployed such drones more than his predecessor? Do they bear the moral responsibility for innocent women and children who have died in drone attacks because they voted for him again in 2012?
What if those who believe that every abortion snuffs out a human life – that it really is murder – held the same attitude toward their fellow citizens who voted for a candidate who maintained that abortion on-demand at all times of pregnancy was one of the most important constitutional rights? What if pro-life voters viewed Clinton voters as no good for endorsing this regime – that they gave up on their humanity and citizenship by endorsing something so morally abhorrent?
But this is not the case. Instead, most normal Americans view their fellow citizens as not evil, just wrong – that they lack the understanding and the moral awareness to make a sound judgment. Since most are not dedicated partisans, they view their fellow citizens as people who err, who must be won over or convinced otherwise – not as people to be judged from the high mountain of a Slate page as irredeemable amoral brutes.
Bouie’s position is an extreme one. It says that there is no good reason for Donald Trump’s voters to make the decision they did. But as we have seen, there are many good reasons, and rational reasons, for why the nation chose as it did, just as there were many good and rational reasons for choosing Obama four years ago. And just because you lack the capacity to deal with the reality-based explanation for those reasons is no excuse for painting 60+ million Americans as morally corrupt, whether your place is on the right or the left.