Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

Trump’s Support

August 11, 2017

I mostly quit blogging after last year’s election, because I realized that all I was going to do was fulminate. In the nine months since, I’ve tried to listen carefully to Trump supporters, and to read anything I could find explaining their motives. I don’t want to moan, I want to understand.

I haven’t heard anybody claim that our president is a good man. Not even his most ardent defenders say they want their children to grow up like him. They voted for him knowing his character, since he makes no attempt to hide it.

They don’t necessarily approve of his character, but other powerful forces motivate them to support him. I’ve tried to understand what those forces are. I’ve been particularly interested in evangelical Christians, the heart of his support. They have always been very interested in morality—passionately so–but suddenly they don’t care about morality at all. What is driving that?

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Certain issues are very potent for Trump supporters. Most of them are non-economic. They are more emotional and cultural. Among these issues are:

–immigration and the ethnic and religious makeup of America

–gun control

–LGBTQ and their rights

–abortion

–land regulations

–minorities getting “special treatment”

These are all significant issues. If we were simply discussing policy choices, we could probably find room for discussion and compromise on most of these. But as they have all become highly emotive cultural symbols, they easily become litmus tests. (This is as true on the left as the right, of course.)

Emotions are fueled by a deep distrust and dislike of Democrats. It’s not just the what, it’s the who. Hilary Clinton became the epitome of this mistrust: she was deeply and viscerally disliked. Some of this was no doubt because she had been targeted by relentless Republican propaganda for 30 years. But some of it was because she lacked the charisma to escape the generic dislike of her party. Among a large share of the American public—30%? 40%?—it’s axiomatic. Democrats are faceless, careless, lying politicians. Everything they say should be regarded with deep suspicion. The party is owned by gays, minorities, feminists—that’s all they care about, not you. (Many people have similar feelings about Republicans. For “gays, minorities, feminists,” substitute “rich people.”)

Nostalgia and resentment are fueled by the pace of change. Conservatism has always featured a measure of the old-fogey complaint that the world is going to the dogs. That’s been ramped up by a world in which change has accelerated. Who could believe how quickly gay marriage triumphed, and marijuana was legalized? Churches are shrinking, whites are becoming a minority, America can’t impose its will on the world. Rural whites have become the leading victims (and perpetrators) of drug addiction; who saw this coming? Naturally many people are unsettled by such change. They don’t believe all this change is inevitable progress, and they want somebody to stand up and say so. If that person says it rudely, good. Maybe somebody will listen.

Condescension turns resentment into rage. One friend described the feeling of being lectured about gay rights by people who less than five years ago publicly opposed gay marriage. Ah, the convictions of the newly converted! Look at the list of issues I listed. Can you hear the scornful and lecturing tone often employed by liberals when discussing these? Of course, I’d say an even more hostile tone is employed by the right wing, but that’s not what I’m discussing here. I’m trying to probe why people support Trump. One reason is that they want to give the middle finger to people who condescend to them.

The book Hillbilly Elegy paints a portrait of an ethno-cultural group that is a mainstay of Trump support: an Appalachian Scots-Irish heritage that is closely bound to family and clan, but frequently unable to sustain family values like marriage and sobriety. They are proud people. Their lives may be deeply troubled, but they won’t stand for anything that sounds like criticism. I’d say Trump has been a champion for such people, as for lots of others who can’t stand being told what they can think and what they can say.

If my description is accurate, it’s not going to be easy to undo our current polarization. Most people say they want our politicians to work together and compromise to get things done, but these issues and the emotions that accompany them dominate our politics. Based on what I’ve heard, there’s no substance to the argument that Democrats only have to offer some clear economic appeal to regain the allegiance of the middle class/rural white/working man (pick one). Nor do I think that Trump himself is the key issue. Once he goes away or loses sway, these powerful feelings will remain. Trump is a catalyst, but the emotional chemicals that drove the reaction will remain.

That’s what I worry about most: that we get through the next four years but find ourselves unable to escape the dynamics that elected Trump. I think we need—all of us, on all sides—to rediscover how to talk about ourselves as Americans. We need to find a way of thinking and acting that can name our common and distinctive identity. Call it patriotism. Both sides have been complicit in losing sight of this. Republicans have been strong on waving the flag, but often with the aim of casting anyone who doesn’t agree with them as un-American. Democrats have fallen right into this trap. I was struck by the critique of the choice of speakers at the women’s march, right after the election. How many police or military veterans spoke? How many fire chiefs? How many clergy? How many school board presidents? In our local event, the speakers were all liberal politicians and activists fighting for some group. Fine, but did anybody speak for all Americans? Did we sing the national anthem?

What binds us all together?—gays, hillbillies, immigrants, software whizzes, school teachers, farmers, Hollywood producers, disabled veterans, opioid addicts, Christians, Jews, Muslims. Surely if we read the Constitution very carefully we can rediscover some ideas of what a remarkable nation “we the people” hoped to make. We won’t all agree on the issues. Our forefathers didn’t. But at least we would be arguing toward common ground, not toward cutting off “the takers” or “the deplorables,” as though they were a diseased limb.

Bombs Away

September 30, 2013

In the original version of my last post, “Why Hope? How Hope?” I had a sentence suggesting that the Republicans had adopted the mindset, if not the tactics, of suicide bombers. A friend wrote (charitably) asking whether that was any different from calling those who affirm the legal right to abortion “baby killers.”

He was right. I deleted the sentence. I made a mistake and I apologize. I’ve tried to avoid incendiary language, but I slipped up.

It prompted me to rethink the comparison, too. In essence the point is that people (Republicans in this case) feel so compelled by their position that they are willing to risk hurting innocent people in order to uphold it. They will do deliberate damage in order to make their point.

I’m not the only one to compare them to suicide bombers. They have been called “hostage takers” and “arsonists.” On reflection, though, I realized that a whole range of behaviors use those same kinds of tactics. Take the protestors who marched in Birmingham, Alabama, fifty years ago. White Southerners called them “troublemakers,” and they had a point. The protestors wanted to disturb the peace of the segregated South. They were willing to inflame racial tensions in order to expose the oppressive violence that kept the peace.

Labor strikes also “disturb the peace,” trying to shut down businesses that people depend on in order to win advantages in negotiations.

So it’s hard to say that Republicans are in the wrong just because they are willing to shut down the government and default on our debts in order to oppose Obamacare. Such protests lie on a spectrum, depending on how much damage you are actually doing, and how important the goal you want to achieve.

Civil law takes note of that spectrum. A union’s right to strike, and its strike methods, are regulated by law for exactly the reason that innocent people can get hurt. Nor can anyone protest whenever they want regardless of the circumstances. When Martin Luther King, Jr., went to Chicago to lead protests against unfair housing, and sought to march through white ethnic neighborhoods, there was extended legal wrangling about whether such marches would be permitted, on the grounds that they would be striking a match in a bomb factory. Where to draw the line wasn’t clear, but clearly there was some kind of line worth discussing.

Personally, I think King was right to march in Birmingham, even though it did disturb the peace and lead to violence and death. (Those four innocent girls blown up by the Ku Klux Klan in their Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Sunday school weren’t given a choice.) But I only think it was right because King was fighting for the most precious principles in American life, freedom and equality for all. He risked a great deal but he was fighting for a great deal.

It’s hard to say that same about fighting Obamacare. It’s health-care regulation, for heaven’s sake! It may or may not prove effective, but our sacred honor is not at stake.

 

Who Can We Blame?

July 26, 2011

At the moment, it looks like the US government is going to shoot its economy in the stomach next week. The best we can hope for, it seems, is some kind of face-saving maneuver. The worst? Another recession, or even a depression. It’s hard to see any good coming out of this debt debacle. How did we get here? Who can we blame?

It pains me to say it, but President Obama has to bear responsibility. He waited until the very last moment to propose a way to settle our deficit problems. By taking a cautious “you go first” approach he opened the door to this game of chicken. It’s always risky to take the lead, and nobody can guarantee that you will succeed, but the alternative…. Well, how do you like the alternative?

The Republicans get a heaping share of blame. They invented this game of chicken, thinking they could leverage some kind of deficit-cutting action. But they proved incapable of accepting a compromise, any compromise. As David Brooks wrote a few weeks ago, they aren’t behaving like a normal political party that seeks to govern. They are behaving like a splinter faction that wants to kick the big boys in the shin. They don’t seem to accept that they are the big boys.

Truthfully, though, we the people deserve most of the blame. We have been extremely willing to buy sound bites and applause lines. We have proven allergic to any kind of shared sacrifice.  A good many of us have been willing to believe utter nonsense if it suits our mood.

I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington while watching the HBO series on John Adams. Together they serve as a refresher course on American history. The founding fathers were very aware of how experimental and fragile was the republic they founded. They often wondered whether the nation—both leaders and common people—would prove worthy of the independence they had won. And indeed, by the time Washington was in his second term, the polarization and vituperation and silly conspiratorial thinking had reached dangerous levels. Only Washington’s reputation, and a prosperous economy, and some bold and fortunate leadership (Hamilton’s in particular, establishing a viable economy) kept the country together.

We don’t have anything comparable today—no unimpeachable reputations, no prosperity, no strong leadership. We do have 200 years of success, which can breed confidence. It can also breed over-confidence. We need to get serious about politics. It’s not a game.

What does “serious” mean?

It means listening to other views and seeking common ground.

It means not demonizing those who disagree with you.

It means going deeper in complicated subjects, and rejecting simplistic formulations.

It means seeking solutions to problems like health care and ballooning deficits and illegal immigration, not just declaiming about the failings of others.

It means accepting compromise.

It means accepting blame.

Obama’s Persistence and the Republicans’ Discipline

March 25, 2010

I’m happy health care reform passed, but don’t worry, I’m not going to go into my reasons. I believe that baby has already been thoroughly thrashed about, pro and con.

What interests me now is: what next?

Republicans made an electoral bet that the nation hated reform so much that the elephants could ride “no” to victory. And indeed, all the polling data suggested so.

America remains a 50/50 nation, with the two sides more polarized than ever, but independent voters came down solidly against the health care reform bill.

However, between now and the November elections is a political lifetime. It could be that the Republican furor peaked too soon. I thought Obama came off pretty well in the last month before passage—reasonable, clear, and strong. And I’m pretty sure the sky won’t fall, as the Republicans repeatedly predicted it would—at least, it won’t fall before November.

So we’ll see. If independent voters are really convinced that Obama is CEO of Big Government Takeovers, there will be a big swing toward Republicans, the kind of movement we saw in the Massachusetts Senate race.

But if they’re not solidly convinced of that, and health care doesn’t deteriorate dramatically, and the economy picks up a little, and nothing else goes wrong, it’s likely that the Democrats will see only a modest slide, such as the majority party nearly always experiences.

If the Democrats don’t collapse, we’ll see whether Republican leaders can keep their troops 100% unified in opposition to all things Obama. It’s not a natural state for politicians to refuse to negotiate. Republicans have the forty Senate votes to stop anything. But it’s just as hard for them to keep everybody on the reservation as it was for Obama to keep all his 60 votes in line when he had them.

In the health care battle two character qualities stood out: Obama’s persistence, and the Republicans’ discipline. I think we know now that Obama is not a quitter. He’s going to keep on trying to get things done. Will the Republicans maintain absolute unanimity in the face of it? Persistence vs. discipline. We’ll see.