At 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, once it became clear Donald Trump would be America’s next president, the conservative, anti-Trump, commentator Erick Erickson posted “An Open Letter to the Democrats.” He asked them not to rebuke Trump’s supporters. “Instead of condemning them and labeling them all bigots and racists and deplorables,” he wrote, “I hope you will try to relate to them, connect to them, and recognize their legitimate concerns.” Since Trump’s victory, other commentators have said similar things.
Sorry, but I disagree. Reconciliation is important. But not at the expense of truth.
Erickson’s line about labeling Trump’s supporters “all bigots and racists and deplorables” is dishonest. I can’t remember a single piece of commentary in the last year that made that claim about “all” of Trump’s backers. Generally, in fact, Trump’s critics don’t call his supporters bigoted at all. They call their views bigoted. Knowing who a a person is in their essenceis almost impossible. People contain multitudes. Knowing whether someone holds bigoted views, however, is fairly easy. And when it comes to Trump’s supporters, the evidence is overwhelming.
Start with their views about blacks. According to a June poll by Reuters, almost half of Trump supporters said African Americans were more “violent” than whites. Forty percent said they were more “lazy.” In February, a Public Policy Polling survey found that 70 percent of Trump supporters in South Carolina opposed removing the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds. Trump supporters in South Carolina were also far more likely than the supporters of other GOP candidates to wish the South had won the Civil War and to consider whites a superior race.
Then there’s the way Trump backers feel about Muslims. According to Reuters, almost 60 percent of them view Islam unfavorably. (Among Clinton supporters, it’s less than half that). Eighty-four percent, according to a Morning Consult survey in March, support Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US. Sixty-five percent, according to PPP, think Obama is a Muslim. These views aren’t incidental to Trump supporters’ affection for their candidate. They’re central. Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner did a study on which views most strongly correlate to support for Trump. He found that:
You can ask just one simple question to find out whether someone likes Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton: Is Barack Obama a Muslim? If they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton. That’s more accurate than asking people if it’s harder to move up the income ladder than it was for their parents (54 percent), whether they oppose trade deals (66 percent), or if they think the economy is worse now than last year (81 percent). It’s even more accurate than asking them if they are Republican (87 percent).
Sexism correlates too. A study by Carly Wayne, Nicholas Valentino and Marzia Oceno of the University of Michigan found that “hostile sexism”—reflected in support for statements like “Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist” and “Many women are actually seeking special favors…under the guise of asking for equality”—predicts support for Trump extremely well. The map of where Trump finds his greatest support also looks a lot like the map of places where Americans are most likely to google racist jokes or slurs.
It’s revealing that conservatives like Erickson deny this. In general, conservatives prefer cultural to materialist analyses of human behavior. For years, for instance, conservatives have insisted that economic distress does not cause jihadist terror. The real source, they insist, is Islamic culture. For decades, they’ve argued that economic distress does not cause unwed pregnancy and drug addiction among African Americans. The real explanation lies with inner city black culture. Given those precedents, you would think conservatives would embrace a cultural rather than economic explanation for Trump’s appeal, especially when the evidence points so strongly in that direction. But when it’s whites acting badly, not blacks or Muslims, suddenly economic distress matters a great deal.
Of course, some Trump supporters have “legitimate concerns” about their economic circumstances. But these concerns don’t distinguish them from other Americans. In fact, among voters who earn less than $50,000, Clinton won handily. Trump won among those who make more than $250,000. What differentiates Trump’s supporters is their resentment toward immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and feminists—anyone who challenges the hierarchies that reigned back when America was great.
Should Americans who loathe Trump talk to his supporters about their concerns and, where possible, find areas of common purpose? Sure. But I thought conservatives like Erickson favored blunt truths over dishonest kumbaya. The blunt truth is that most Trump supporters hold bigoted views. It’s what most clearly distinguishes them from other Americans. To bury that truth in the name of civility and sensitivity would be, to borrow a phrase from people like Erick Erickson, “politically correct.”