How to understand Trump's supporters
edited August 11 2016

I’m starting to get a bit pissed off at the left’s attempts to “understand” Trump’s support.

To be clear, I’m not one of Trump’s supporters. I’m also not one of Clinton’s. I find them both to be different flavors of reprehensible, and the idea that one of the two will be this country’s figurehead, the best and brightest that its political machine has to offer, for the next four years gives me a case of intestinal distress rivaled only by eating too much buttery popcorn and following it up with too much warm coke.

It’s difficult these days for me to muster much interest in the political process, since I’m pretty sure it’s rigged and who I do or don’t support doesn’t matter at all to the layers and layers of kingmakers that ensure that the poor shmucks like me have just enough to keep me comfortably apathetic.

And that, right there, is something I have in common with Trump’s supporters.

Today’s liberals can’t seem to write anything about Trump without adopting the kind of sneering, self-righteous tone that conservatives have always pointed to when dismissing liberalism. It’s the subtext of every sentence of every article: “I feel bad that you’re so dumb and uneducated that you don’t know how terrible your decisions are.” Well, except that I’m a terrible liberal, because I can’t figure out a way to fit a few couple-dollar words in there without losing the bored reader’s fleeting interest.

Liberals have moved from attacking Trump and his platform to attacking his supporters, adopting the tactics that conservatives have been developing into an art form for the last 20 years at least. So, congratulations, I guess, for coming to love that part of conservatism, except of course it’s passé now and it looks clumsy and ham-handed. I think liberals should fight more, and fight harder, and fight more loudly, and stop looking like the craven posterchildren for schoolyard bullying, but the current attempts lack any skill.

How do you think Trump’s supporters are going to respond when they’re accused of stupidity, ignorance, and bigotry by the left? How has any group ever responded when it was shunned by larger society? If liberals possessed any of the superiority that they wear on their shirts, they’d realize what a tremendously bad move it is to keep telling Trump’s supporters how wrong and stupid they are to support him.

Do you actually want to understand where Trump’s support is coming from? Is that something you can claim with any honesty? Because, look, it’s so easy even a modern journalist could do it.

Start by realizing that everything you know about the world depends on where you get your news. If you read Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, I can make 20 guesses about the things you believe and get most of them right. (Corporations are evil, GMOs are bad for us, our country is full of bigots and sexists and there are deep gender identity issues we need to address, the environment is irreversibly boned, student loans are too expensive, wages have been flat for decades, a rich few have stolen all of our economic gains over the same period, renewable energy will save us, we have to stop bombing the Middle East because it only makes ISIS stronger, etc.)

One of the staples of modern liberalism used to be moral relativism, this notion that people were largely the products of their culture, that so many of the differences between human beings in different parts of the planet were mostly the result of being exposed to different environments.

Well, conservatives see a different world than you do, because their environment is different. Their news comes from Fox, mailing lists, Facebook, Drudge Report, and AM radio, and those messages are as boringly repetitive as liberals’ messages are. This is the predictable result of the filter bubble, writ large. (Stop reading this right now and watch that 9-minute video.)

In the conservative filter bubble, liberal immigration policies have resulted in the senseless murder of Kathryn Steinle and many others, all part of a “frightening toll of illegal immigration”. In the liberal bubble, the focus is on statistics, not individual cases.

In the conservative filter bubble, Washington’s politicians are all corrupt — even many of the conservative ones — and Trump, an outsider not beholden to special interests, is the only one that has any chance of cleaning out some of the corruption.

They believe that borders are one of the foundations of a nation, that the US has assumed a weaker and weaker position internationally despite our domestic power, that we should stop allowing so many people to openly flaunt our laws and borders and that we should exercise more of our strength abroad. (Pop quiz: what would the United States look like today if modern liberalism was in charge in 1803? Extra credit: how would the world look?) They believe that Detroit died not because of lack of innovation but because of unions and globalisation. They believe that people are suffering while we attempt to preserve a natural environment for reasons of aesthetics alone and they think it’s patently unfair that the U.S. struggles to limit its own environmental impacts — necessarily limiting economic growth — while countries like China continue to laugh at international environmental accords and even Japan defends the practices of its traditional whale-slaughtering.

They believe that it’s more important that the economy and society provides fair opportunity to everyone, rather than ensuring a fair lifestyle to everyone, and they disagree about what it means to be “fair”.

Trump is running on a wave of populist sentiment, just as Obama did. Trump’s supporters haven’t yet had the chance to live through seeing their populist candidate gain office only to turn around and be consumed by the Washington political machine and spat back out as a politician that doesn’t actually support everything they promised they did. They still have the luxury of believing that it’s possible to change the political process, while so many of today’s disaffected liberals are stuck saying, “Hillary? Really?”

Discontent is the common ground that liberals and conservatives and Trump’s supporters all share. Liberals are forgetting themselves; Trump’s support is coming from fellow Americans, people like you and me, who are unhappy with the state of politics and who feel their lifestyle are under attack. Their views of the world have just been shaped by a different set of news feeds and, for all we know, some of those views may be just as correct as our own. What do you think is the best way to combat the ideas you disagree with?

I’ve come across not less than half a dozen different takes on “understanding” Trump’s supporters recently, as though they were a tribe to featured in National Geographic and not our unhappy neighbors. Most of those articles are gross trash. Let’s stop passing them around while patting ourselves on the back for being more highly evolved than those we disagree with politically, and start trying to treat some of the issues that are rotting our country’s heart.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking Hillary Clinton will do that: she is the standard-bearer for the limousine liberal, a candidate who will promise up and down that she cares about the plight of all the people suffering with less than she has right up until she’s granted the power of the presidential office — and then we’ll all be back to trying to figure out how to get an education and pay the rent at the same time.

The truth is that so few of our country’s ills are really within the President’s power to resolve — it’s more of a legislative problem. Let’s stop leaving flaming bags of dog shit on each other’s front porches over which of the two awful presidential candidates is better than the other, and start taking a real hard look at our local politics and figure out how we can stop electing a worse and worse Congress every two years.