Kanye West has reminded us that Donald Trump still has lots of unexpected support

The recent pro-Trump talk coming from Kanye West has had mainstream liberals, moderates and progressives alike worried. After all, Kanye had long been thought of as a reliable ally of the American Left, like many other popular musicians (e.g. Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Jay-Z). There have also been worries that his sudden embracement of Trump and the GOP could send some of his big fan base rightward politically. Some have quickly moved to partially disown Kanye, saying that while we like someone’s music we don’t have to agree with their politics (which although is always true, sounds like damage control given the context). Others have been even less charitable, calling Kanye all sorts of things.

I actually think that Kanye has done us, the Trump non-supporters, a service: He has given us a timely reminder that The Donald actually still has lots of support from unexpected places. It’s a timely and important reminder, one that we would rather have now than in 2021 when Trump is inaugurated for a second term. Liberals and progressives, who have branded themselves the “resistance,” have avoided this truth so far: many have pretended that Trump’s election was all about racist, reactionary voters. They pretended that Blacks for Trump (and Gays for Trump) didn’t exist.

Let’s revisit 2016: Who actually made Donald Trump president?

Ever since the 2016 elections, there have been endless analyses about what kind of voters gave Donald Trump his victory. Most such analyses were pretty useless: they found that the bulk of Trump voters were conventional conservatives, religious right voters, and small government libertarians. In other words, standard Republicans made up the bulk of Trump voters. And that was not surprising: in most elections, 90% or so voters just turn up to support the party they have always supported. It is always the remaining difference, the swing voters, that count. So what group of voters did Trump attract, that other Republicans like McCain and Romney did not?

The group that has been most talked about are the white working class, who have handed Trump many rustbelt states that were previously solidly Democratic. Having found this answer, many Democrats became satisfied, thinking that the key to winning in 2020 would just be to promise to do more for white working class voters, especially in the rustbelt. But then, here comes Kanye West, who is neither white, nor working class, nor lives in the rustbelt, to shatter this illusion. The fact is, The Donald has been drawing support from many unexpected sources, and that has made the difference which put him ahead. The white working class surely was one important part of it, but Kanye West is a good reminder that the white working class are not the only source of unexpected support for Trump.

From my experience, a substantial amount of support for Trump has come from what I call lapsed liberals, i.e. those who previously had strong faith in some form of liberalism, but has become repulsed by the left in recent years.

Lapsed liberals everywhere: How did we get here?

One of Kanye’s recent controversial moments was his endorsement of Candace Owens, another black Trump supporter. Owens has been rising in popularity, making YouTube videos where she proclaims her support for Donald Trump and GOP policies. It appears that both Kanye West and Candace Owens place a strong emphasis on themselves as free-thinkers, choosing their own politics based on their own judgement rather than peer pressure. In fact, from my observation, this has been a common theme among Trump supporters, black or white, straight or gay, male or female alike. This theme has been especially prominent among more recent converts to right-wing politics, many of whom were previously liberals who supported Obama, or libertarians who supported Ron Paul. The worrying thing is that, as they move rightward, their attitudes towards racial politics and LGBT acceptance also become more right-wing. Real people are suffering as a result.

I’m sorry to say this, but let’s face it: it is now fashionable for free-thinkers to be Republicans and wear MAGA hats. This alone explains why Donald Trump is likely to win in 2020, unless things change quickly. It explains why young people are turning Republican. As somebody who came of age during the Bush era, when the religious right were the feared authoritarians, this has been really difficult to get my head around. Back then, supporting gay marriage and opposing the Bush’s administration’s pro-war agenda was the mark of free-thinkers. But we don’t live in that world anymore. And face the new reality we must.

The most commonly identified cause of disaffection of former liberals is radical identity politics. Specifically, the type that divides people based on personal characteristics, plays Oppression Olympics, calls for “safe speech,” and no-platforms those with opposing viewpoints. It is true that this type of identity politics has driven many free-thinkers to the right (and in some cases, the alt-right).

There are also likely minority individuals, who do not want to identify as oppressed, reacting to the Oppression Olympics by moving rightward to dissociate themselves from those who play this stupid game, either consciously or sub-consciously.

I don’t know if this applies to Kanye, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

The rise of radical identity politics is only a symptom of a larger, more worrying shift: The infiltration of illiberal, radical ideology into the Western Left. Previously, in Western politics, the left was liberal and the right was conservative. With memories of WWII and the Cold War fading, the Overton Window of Western politics has shifted, and it has become socially acceptable to embrace far-left ideas again for the first time in generations. Therefore, we have witnessed the introduction of political ideologies well to the left of liberalism into mainstream thought. Radical ideologies often pose as simply pro-social justice to gain popularity, when in fact, they are revolutionary ideologies that will tear society apart. Social justice movements being co-opted and harmed by radical ideologies is in fact nothing new: it even happened more than 50 years ago.

How to rescue the future of liberalism

Of course, the liberalism that the Democratic Party represents has nothing to do with this kind of extreme, authoritarian left. In fact, most Democrats would rather support Trump than this kind of left. On the other hand, “shut up liberal” is among the far-left’s favorite memes.

But the trouble is, mainstream liberals have not been able to effectively differentiate themselves from the far-left.

I have come across people who were genuinely confused between the liberal-left and the far-left. It is not uncommon for people to see the liberal-left as just a milder form of the far-left, and therefore just as dangerous in the longer run. They seem to not even be aware that liberalism and the far-left represent two mutually incompatible worldviews and therefore cannot be continuations of each other in any way.

In this open letter I recently wrote, I tried to explain the differences to formerly-liberal and moderate Trump supporters. I hope it will help: but it will take many of us to help distance liberalism from the far-left, and restore the credibility of liberalism.

Ultimately, it is up to us, the liberals, to make sure liberalism is credible.

If people confuse liberalism with the far-left and run to Trump as a reactionary response, then we are not doing a good enough job. The future of liberty depends on us.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for liberal politics in the 21st century.