Polling Trumpism: The Forest and the Trees

The Pew Research Center’s “5 facts about Trump supporters’ views of immigration” is a case study on how easy it is for observers and researchers such as Pew to get lost in the details, and to mistake a snapshot taken of opinions on any given day for the big picture.

Trump voters have just one position on anything: they demand the right to declare any view on anything at any time as the absolute non-negotiable truth. In other words, they demand that their visceral certainty be equal to any finding based on reason or evidence. They demand to nullify any reason or evidence that doesn’t comport with their outcomes.

How this is expressed in their changing, shifting opinions is secondary. They will not concede to any charge of hypocrisy because in their view they have not changed their minds just because they have changed their positions or tactics. Their fundamental positions never changes: they think with their blood.

This is nothing less than epistemological secession from the United States, which was, after all, founded on the idea that there are self-evident truths in the first place to which people must accede, which are everyone’s entitlement, and which manifest as the guarantors of life, liberty, and so on in a free society. The position of Trumpism is the same one that the Confederacy took in 1861: that there are no truths so self-evident that political power here and now cannot reverse or undo; that truth is determined by the power of people to make it, facts notwithstanding; and that such power is for those who can get and keep it. Reality itself, even scientific fact, is effectively a political construct, and those in power have the right to endorse or nullify any evidence, any finding, any question or answer as they see fit, not on its merits. Proof is solely judged on its political utility.

Noting that Trump voters hold no consistent positions, or that they change their minds freely, or that they disagree among themselves, is seeing trees and not the forest. Sincerely held belief is their sole arbiter, not the details. Hypocrisy in their worldview is both required and impossible: they are required to change their tactical positions on anything because their war of thought must be absolute. This makes them both mutually committed and mutually disloyal, and therefore dangerous both inside and outside their movement. They are at war. Their first casualties will be the ones closest to them, as they ways in which they exhibit their pathological subjectivity contend. They’re all entitled to their own reality, so the tests will force them apart.