I Was Wrong about Trump Voters
Michael Baharaeen

Thank you both for a dispassionate analysis of the Trump phenomenon, and for acknowledging the true challenge for all Americans going forward, the question of how our society and institutions can accommodate peoples of deeply conflicting values.

Regarding the first point, you overcome the Marxist assumption that afflicts many on the Left (and not a few cynics on the right) that economic incentive is the only true motivator, aside from the irrational delusions of the superstitious. This is the downside of the idealistic notion that we are all the same and all want the same things. (You can see this conviction reflected in the NeoCon belief that Iraqis were yearning for President Bush to free them from tyranny for liberal democracy, of Marjane Satrapi’s family’s Marxist belief that Iranians yearned to be free from the Shah so they could embrace liberal socialism [see her autobiographical Persepolis]). The unintended result in assuming that we all want the same things is to project our motives on to the opposing party, misreading them deeply. I admire your sincere attempts to overcome this with respect to Trump supporters.

At the partisan level, I hope that Democrats do not learn from your analysis, and keep losing the battle to represent America’s interests. But that needs to be subordinated to the greater good of mutual understanding, agreement on the facts, and making government serve the common (as opposed to the partisan) good. As we used to pray before sports events in parochial school, “let us all play to the best of our abilities, and keep us from injury.”

On the second point, some theorists have argued that democracy can only be achieved by a people with a certain homogeneity: common history, institutions, language, literacy, and especially values. To lack one or more of these qualities is to marginalize oneself from (or within) that society. It was impressive how soon President Obama and the Left wished to marginalize those who supported traditional marriage in their depiction of an “inclusive” America. Some would even have put them into a “basket of deplorables.”

I would argue that America’s achievement has been the freedom of association, and of institutions within that association. Our country has been a haven for dissenters of all kinds, which established their own schools and institutions to keep alive values at odds with the dominant society. The original Constitution represented an accommodation of the free-thinking Deists on the one hand and the conservative Christian Puritans on the other which agreed that government represented not the ultimate value, but a penultimate value (which is why “God” comes first in the motto, “for God and Country”). One fundamental insight of that Constitution was Justice Marshall’s observation that government did not have the power to destroy, regulate, or tax religious institutions, although they could be held responsible to their contracts and their own published regulations with respect to property, etc.

Nationalism confused this, based on the assumption that all elements of a nation would be/should be accountable to the nation as a whole. For example, many Americans did not like the fact that foreign languages were taught in Lutheran schools, and attempted to outlaw them. Most Lutherans embraced the broader point that speaking English (and opposing Germany in the two world wars) was the price to be paid, and even a moral obligation, to being an American. When this generation sees that the rules have changed, they feel resentment. Sometimes it is the earlier immigrants who call for restrictions on the later immigrants, a phenomenon, like the working class Tory, unexplained by Leftist theory.

All this leads to an unacknowledged issue in American public debate- where ought our loyalties be? If to the greater society, than draft-dodging should be condemned. If to my gender, than who speaks for boys in schools dominated by women teachers who suspend them and flunk them at disproportionate rates? If to our race, or ethnic group, when does my ethnocentrism become objectionable to those outside that ethnicity? There are double-standards in public life masked by political correctness, and the Trump calling out this hypocrisy has had a visceral appeal that transcends economic interest.

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