AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
I’m still getting a little push-back with my characterization of Trump voters as either idiots, bigots or sociopaths. It’s not that characterizing Trump supporters as bigots or sociopaths is particularly controversial. Most of the push-back is coming from liberals who are upset that I’m alienating the idiots! After all, we want the idiots on our side in 2018 and 2020. It’s not smart to call them idiots only to push them into the waiting arms of the right wing. We have to be nice to the idiots if we want to cultivate them for a liberal comeback.
Wait a minute! I thought Trump supporters hated political correctness more than just about anything else. They supported The Donald because he called it as he saw it. After all, they had no problem voting for a man who referred to Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as terrorists. They didn’t mind the endless spew of misogyny that was the Trump campaign. Why would they have a problem with me calling them idiots–unless, of course, you want to add hypocrites to the descriptor?
Look, as the analysis comes in, it is clear that the “idiot thesis” is valid, at least as I have defined it. According to my typology, the “idiot Trump supporter” was someone who really believed the Donald was the best person for the job for no other reason but because he wanted to make America Great Again and that’s a good idea. These are voters who did not look at the policies, did not analyze the absurdity of a Wall or look at assessments of Trump’s tax plan. Many of them were direct beneficiaries of the very programs that Trump wanted to eliminate, such as the Affordable Care Act. They really believe that Trump, because of his innate Trumpness will bring back manufacturing jobs (almost all of which have been automated) or demand for coal (one of the least efficient energy sources out there).
The idiots were those who voted based on no information or wrong information that they accepted without evaluation. Now maybe it’s not nice to call them idiots. I’ll admit that, maybe, just maybe, this characterization is influenced by my overall outrage at the absurdity of a President Trump. Maybe, just maybe, this anger and bitterness is influencing my analysis. Readers of this blog know that I do make every effort to avoid this particular bias.
Then I read articles like this one from the New York Time’s feature The Upshot. Here, Nate Cohn, an analyst whom I respect a great deal, does a very good job of not using the “I” word when explaining the breakdown of the Obama Coalition. And yet, the implication is clear. Large numbers of Trump supporters were those who previously backed Barack Obama. According to Cohn, “Mr. Trump won 20 percent of self-identified liberal white working-class voters, according to the exit polls, and 38 percent of those who wanted policies that were more liberal than Mr. Obama’s.” So, these were people who WANTED exactly the opposite of what the guy they voted for was saying he wanted to do. Cohn, however, is way too classy to call them “idiots.” Instead, this is what he said.
See what he did there? Brilliant. He put the emphasis on those of us with ideologically consistent views, thus completely ignoring the fact that, by his own definition, the people he’s talking about must be those with “ideologically inconsistent” views. In other words, he’s going well out of his way to not call them idiots! And kudos to him. It really isn’t nice to refer to idiots as idiots–even though it is clear that they really are, in fact, idiots.
Like any good analyst, Cohn tries to find the consistencies in the inconsistent, and he does an admirable job. He points out policy issues on which white Democrats without degrees¹ diverge from standard party positions. Positions that Trump could and did exploit. Perhaps support for Trump from this population is not as idiotic as it might immediately seem. But then, why would this group of white working class people be Democrats at all if these issues matter to them so much that they were willing to vote for a clear bigot, misogynist and narcissist?
No, Cohn’s most salient point is this:
There it is.
What Cohn is alluding to here is that less educated voters are more likely to vote on platitudes and catch-phrases than they are on policy. In 2008 and 2012, such voters were looking for Hope and Change, and may have been upset about how slowly said Hope and Change was coming, but saw little reason to vote for someone who believed that, “corporations are people, my friend.” Obama ran against the establishment, despite the fact that he was clearly an establishment figure, and won easily.
Yet he won based on the idiot vote. According to Cohn, “Mr. Obama would have won re-election even if he hadn’t won the Hispanic vote at all. He would have won even if the electorate had been as old and as white as it had been in 2004.” Many of these voters were those who voted for the platitude, or voted for what Obama represented. They were not voting on his policies.
But Democrats won, and the left was fine with the outcome if not overjoyed. So there was little incentive to address the idiot vote. So long as the idiot vote is with us, who cares?
Who cares until someone comes up with a better platitude or a more convincing anti-establishment image than your candidate. Then you lose the idiot vote. And that is what happened to Hillary Clinton.
So then do we want the idiot vote at all?
Look, if the Democratic Party wants to be competitive, they cannot rely on the idiot vote. So what Democrats need to do is figure out a way to move people from the idiot category to the informed category. After all, the idiot vote is as diverse as any other group. There may be in-roads that can be capitalized on.
One way to address the idiot vote is through education. This is a giant weakness for the Democratic Party driven by liberals. Let’s admit it. Liberals are not skilled at communicating their ideas to the average voter. We tend to speak in jargon and policy wonk-speak that is non-accessible to the average voter. In fact, how we talk often pisses off those who do not have the academic or knowledge background and therefore feel excluded from the conversation, even talked down to and patronizied. If Democrats hope to win on the issues, they must find a way to communicate to the base, especially a base that may not have taken a poli-sci course at the community college.
The good news is that this can be done. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it. Bernie Sanders did it. Turning to working class voters and saying, “look, you guys are working harder and harder for less pay. Those of you with jobs can’t say where you’ll be working next year. Those of you looking for jobs are facing low prospects for meaningful work. In the meantime, those in the boardrooms, whose hands are not calloused, whose backs do not ache, are bringing in more money than they will ever use. That’s money that you could use. They can pay higher wages. They can provide better benefits. They can hire more Americans and if they don’t, they can pay higher taxes so that you can get the jobs you want, the education that you need and the resources necessary to have a good life.”
Of course, if Democrats are going to make such appeals, they need to be trustworthy. One of the factors contributing to the idiot voter is that they trust no one. They believe that all politicians are corrupt and everything they say is a lie. It’s not that they don’t have the information in many cases. It’s that they don’t trust the information that they have. So they vote for what feels right. You can’t blame them for that, especially on the part of the Democratic Party…a Democratic Party constructed largely by Clinton influence. After all, the Democrats have turned their backs on the working class for the last thirty years or more. Why should they trust anything the Democrats have to say.
If Democrats are going to develop effective educational outreach for voters, they will have to be legitimate teachers. They can no longer afford to pander to the corporate class. Corporations do not need two parties. They only need one, and it is clear which one that is. If the Democrats hope to be relevant in the twenty-first century, they better return to the programs that made them relevant in the 20th, speaking to the men and women who ache at the end of the day. Speaking to the men and women who sit at the kitchen table figuring out how to make ends meet. Obama did this, and he won. Trump conned his way into these kitchens, and he won. Working people, wager earners, salary makers, people who rely on earned income, need a voice that is clear and consistent and openly speaks to them in their language.
A legitimate teacher, with a clear approach to teaching the issues and a common sense message of how we are going to make progress can flip a great many “idiot voters” into the informed voter category. Then liberals win. The public wants progressive policies. In many cases they don’t know that the policies they support are progressive. That’s the fault of progressives.
And, no. My use of the term “idiot voter” does not make this mission more difficult. After all, nobody thinks that they are among the idiot vote. They all think I’m talking about someone else. So don’t worry about it. Just refocus the message. Make it accessible to everyone, and we won’t have to worry about the idiot vote in 2018 or 2020.
- I do want to make clear a distinction that Cohn is really not equipped to make in his format. I do not necessarily associate my typology of the “idiot voter” with Cohn’s more analytically useful “without a college degree” tag. Not having a degree, in and of itself, does not equate to “idiot.” That being said, it’s fair to assume that there’s some overlap. Those with higher degrees would certainly be exposed to analytical and evaluative skills that might increase the likelihood that they would subject platitudes and catch-phrases to criticism. I don’t profess to know what that overlap is.