Last week, when corresponding with a 22-year-old Donald Trump voter who saw the billionaire’s rise as an opportunity to strike a blow against political correctness, I was asked why I believe Hillary Clinton to be a preferable candidate, despite my regarding her as a corrupt, untrustworthy person with poor foreign-policy judgment, and my repeated warnings to Democrats that they’d be foolish to nominate her.
I replied that for all Hillary Clinton’s flaws, she is a known quantity who is very likely to govern much as her husband did in the 1990s—the United States under her stewardship is extremely likely to remain among the most prosperous, free places to live not just in the world today, but in all human history—so it would be imprudent to reject her for a bigoted, attention-seeking demagogue with an impulsive personality and no domestic- or foreign-policy experience. It would betray a failure to appreciate what we've got, I wrote, and a failure to imagine just how bad things could get.
A guy with a temper who pathologically seeks attention and feels the need to assure a TV audience that he has a big dick is not someone to trust with nuclear bombs.
For the last few days, I’ve been reading emails from Bernie Sanders supporters who are thinking about voting for Donald Trump in the general election—and rereading Josh Barro’s excellent assessment of the terrifying long-tail risks Trump poses. The juxtaposition has inspired some thoughts for Democrats who are flirting with Trump. Before offering them, here’s an email from the sort of voter I’m talking about––a progressive who would love to see the fruition of the Sanders revolution, but disdains Hillary Clinton so much that he can’t imagine voting for her:
I'm writing to you to articulate some of what has caused me over the last month to gravitate towards Donald Trump, despite despising a lot of what he stands for. I'm white and college educated, but as a consequence of pursuing a career in the arts, as my parents did, I'm currently making only about 600 to 700 dollars a month working various odd jobs to pay rent, feed myself, and keep up as best I can with student loan payments.
I've considered myself a leftist for about as long as I've had any sort of political consciousness. I think this is because class has always been the most [pressing] concern for me. My family has struggled with money for as long as I can remember. Without getting into too much detail, in the last six years alone, my parents have had to deal with foreclosure, bankruptcy, and losing both of their jobs. I am extremely sympathetic to the many people my age struggling for a fairer world through the lens of identity politics. I once marched in DC as part of a Black Lives Matter protest. I think those battles are critically important and worth fighting until they are won, although I think the focus needs to be on real quantifiable policy shifts rather than symbolic victories like getting more black people nominated for Oscars if meaningful change is going to be made.
But it's not my fight and my opinion shouldn't count for much. I consider immigrants, who I have worked alongside frequently, to be an invaluable asset to this country both culturally and economically. I bear no ill will towards Muslims at all, and in fact consider the animosity of many in the Muslim world towards the policies of our government to be pretty well justified. I have been registered as a Democrat ever since I became eligible to vote. I believed at the time, perhaps naively, that they were the party that most aligned with the direction I wanted the country to go in.
Given all of that, you would be correct to peg me as a Bernie supporter. I've never seen him as anything more than a well intentioned but flawed politician, certainly no savior, but his policies align with my worldview to a far greater degree than any other major presidential candidate in my lifetime. So what has me gravitating towards Trump has been the reaction of the Democratic establishment to the concerns raised by Sanders and his supporters: mockery and scorn. This is a man who has against all odds continued to score electoral victories despite his path to the nomination being almost impossible for months. Despite his message resonating with a large swath of the American public, many in the Clinton campaign and the Democratic establishment have painted he and his supporters as angry, entitled (and now violent) bigots. Basically the Trump supporters of the left. "Bernie Bros."
I don't believe in tribal politics. I think the idea of a monolithic "black vote" or "woman vote" is self evidently absurd. It creates a self fulfilling prophecy. People vote based on their personal experiences and the information they've been given. If low information voters are told repeatedly and ham-fistedly by the media that "people like them" are voting a certain way, they'll naturally toe the line. This kind of focus gives people an excuse not to pay more attention. Race and gender ultimately have less to do with it than whatever identity is most salient for each voter.
I don't consider my identity as a white man to be particularly important to my sense of who I am or how I vote, despite acknowledging the privileges it grants me in our society. If any identity unites Bernie supporters, it's a frustration with being poor, with feeling like the economic ladder is missing several rungs near the bottom. Perhaps Bernie's message has failed to reach a majority of Democrats because so many Americans are still afraid and unwilling to think of themselves as "poor," to incorporate class into their sense of identity. But his coalition is still far far larger and more diverse than he has been given credit for.
Yet the Democratic establishment has weaponized these convenient statistical trends in order to marginalize Bernie, his supporters, and his message: that our government will go the distance in the interest of the wealthy and powerful but table the desires and concerns of ordinary working people every time. The Democratic establishment has done all they can to ensure that they can return to business as usual once Hillary has secured the nomination, that they don't have to answer to the leftist coalition growing within their ranks. In the last week alone, several party insiders have flippantly stated that Bernie's efforts to shift the party platform at the convention don't mean a damn to them since the platform is entirely symbolic.
They will throw us a couple of symbolic bones and then get right back to serving the wealthy and powerful, leaving working people in the dust, despite a coalition of voters and a growing number of politicians who want to hold the Democrats to the letter of their word, to force them to become the party of peace, fairness, and equality that they campaign as. I refuse to believe that a gridlocked congress has kneecapped Democratic policy ambition. They had the opportunity to close Guantanamo, to institute single payer healthcare, to pull back on foreign wars, to raise the minimum wage, and to come to the aid of struggling families in the wake of the 2008 crisis when they held a congressional majority in the first two years of Obama's presidency. Instead they instituted overwhelmingly pro corporate policies like the Wall Street bailout and Obamacare, a love letter to the very insurance companies that were causing our health care system to collapse in the first place.
They've blamed it all on the Republicans ever since.
In trying to understand the history of the Democratic party, it seems like the only thing that causes the organization to realign itself is losing the presidency. When McGovern lost to Nixon, they moved to the center and pulled back on the democratization of the party. When Carter lost to Reagan, they moved to the right with the Clintons and we've been there ever since.
What happens when the electorate repudiates the politics of the Clintons? What happens when holding steadfast to corporatist neoliberalism causes them to lose the presidency to an oafish racist buffoon with no experience in government, who doesn't even try to hide his lies?
Will they finally come to Jesus?
Will they finally see that they're due for an implosion just as dramatic as the GOP's unless they learn to answer to their base of voters and not just the donors?
I guess I'm hoping they will.
That's admittedly optimistic. It's even more optimistic to hope that the country can even survive four years of a Trump presidency. But whether or not I can ultimately stomach the idea of betraying so many of my ideals in order to send a message by voting for Trump, I know that I will not be rewarding the Democratic party for their behavior not just in this primary, but over the course of my life time. It's up to them whether they can redirect their priorities now, or after a disastrous four years with a con man as the leader of the free world. And I do think Trump is disgusting. But he's shown a tendency to call out both sides of the aisle on their bullshit, even if he's hard at work manufacturing his own, at least it's new bullshit.
At least it could shake things up and make both parties have to change the way they do business. There are supposedly checks and balances built into our government to prevent the executive from torpedoing the country. They've been undermined steadily ever since 9/11, but maybe Trump as president is the best argument that they need to be re-strengthened. Can you imagine the tectonic shift that a Congress united against this asshole would bring? Maybe we need a constitutional crisis. Maybe things have already gone too far. We're all sick of being conned by the people we elect to represent us. At least Trump doesn't try to hide it.
I sympathize with a lot of this voter’s frustrations.