For a few months now I’ve been ‘loosely involved’ with a group of friends who are concerned about what is happening in our politics and who have been exchanging emails about where the country is headed. One of the intents of the individual who brought this group together was to answer the question about how we might direct our energies and move beyond the “divisiveness and denouncing the other side.” The questions he posed were these: “Isn’t it our obligation to seek to understand and look for ways to heal the schism and reduce the divisiveness? Isn’t that our best response to what we see happening at this time in our history?”
One of my bedrock beliefs and something that has formed the core of my professional life (working with troubled children, adolescents, parents, and families) is that before solutions to troubles are possible it is necessary to understand what is upsetting to each of the ‘parties.’
In that light, I draw your attention to a lengthy blog post by someone named James A. Lindsay whose somewhat provocative title to what he has to say is Liberals, Want Trump to Win? Keep Calling Him a Racist.
I hope you will take the time to read what Lindsay has to say. Not because I agree with all of it nor because I think all of his views or his conclusions are valid. What is valuable is that Lindsay writes from the ‘right’ and explains what is so upsetting to others like himself.
Probably the easiest way to read the article is to click on this link, but I am also posting it in its entirety below.
Liberals, Want Trump to Win? Keep Calling Him Racist by James A. Lindsay
Liberals and Leftists, if you don’t want Donald Trump to become the next president of the United States, stop calling him a racist. Furthermore, stop calling him a sexist and a misogynist, especially if you’re a woman (or anything remotely like a “beta-male”); do not even use words like ableist or transphobic; and, lastly, most definitely do not call him Hitler or even make the comparison. Those phrases, when directed against Trump or the angry conservative machine that is feeding his success as a candidate, are helping – not hurting – his chances in November.
People left, right, and center – but especially on the right – are justifiably sick and tired of being called bigots and having almost everything in social politics reduced to smear campaigns about bigotry. This overbearing assault is the well-intended and ill-conceived product of a fashionable strain of progressivism that has taken it as a holy mission to stamp out bigotry in all its forms in every corner of our society.
The over-application of terms of bigotry as a means of silencing disagreement with a left-bending social orthodoxy has become, shall we say, “problematic.” As a result, words like racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobe, and the rest, have become conservative dog-whistles that mean “honest and brave,” and “willing to speak his mind (without fear).” Like the inappropriate application of an antibiotic, the incessant misuse of these terms has created a superbug.
The real question is how it has missed nearly everyone’s notice that perhaps the most commonly stated reason for support for Trump, “I like him because he’s not afraid to speak his mind,” might have something to do with hating the excesses of political correctness. (Is there a parallel here to left-wing denials of the open admissions made by jihadists who claim that they attack for Islam?) What, exactly, do people imagine that angry conservatives are glad he’s got the nerve to say openly?
Everyone reading this should know that conservative retaliation was bound to come. As progressives must know, you cannot oppress a people forever without an eventual backlash. We’ve probably all heard and maybe felt that sense of oppression in the untold number of times that we’ve heard (or uncomfortably said), “wait, we can’t call them that anymore” before interchanging some identity term for a new sanitized euphemism. (Comedian George Carlin was particularly poignant with bits about this issue decades ago, so it’s hard to pretend no one could have seen it coming.) Conservatives have definitely felt this pressure more than anyone else, and it seems they’ve had enough.
The inevitable backlash to this sort of frustration is straightforward. People will eventually give in, reject the social taboo, and will champion those others who do so too, especially from a platform. Enter the Donald.
As the Washington Post reports,
But in scores of interviews across the country in recent months, supporters often echoed one another in describing what they like about Trump: He isn’t afraid to say the things they also say, even if those things are deemed racist, sexist, xenophobic or politically incorrect.
So it has come to pass that if you call Trump a racist, a sexist, or a bigot of any kind, then anyone who is tired of feeling the excesses of political correctness will rally to him. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true; the people supporting Trump will rally behind any champion that can dump political correctness on its head. That champion right now is Donald J. Trump, and he’s got a real shot of winning the American presidency.
If you want Trump to lose, consider holding your tongue.
With his base, all Trump has to do to counter accusations of bigotry is not to care too much about the accusations themselves and then use tokens to show superficially that he’s not a bigot. This he amply demonstrates that he understands (“I love Hispanics!”, “I cherish women!”, and “Look at my African American over here!”).
It doesn’t matter whether the man is a bigot or not. By calling Trump as a bigot – since his “platform” is essentially at least half just against political correctness (and the other half nativist and isolationist) – the bar for his success is lowered tremendously: Trump just has to make some passable attempt at demonstrating that he’s not really a bigot, and he succeeds. No one should want to lower any candidate’s bar that far, least of all Trump’s (as it may be the only one he could actually clear), but we seem awfully eager to.
This problem rises to an extreme with comparisons to Hitler. The more traction that the comparisons between Trump and Hitler get, the farther Trump’s bar falls toward having merely to convince people that he’s not Hitler. That means when he goes up against Hillary Clinton (presumably) for the rest of the year, her electoral bar will be set at “I’m good enough to be POTUS over this very fractured nation” while his is “Hey, I’ve never committed a genocide. Why would I do that?” In other words, if comparing Trump to Hitler didn’t ruin him the first time it happened, it isn’t going to, and at this point, it’s helping him tremendously.
Though people seem to be slowly catching on, nobody understood the movement behind Trump because they were mischaracterizing it. They thought he was running a campaign roughly in line with the usual political fare of the United States. He wasn’t and still isn’t. Trump is running purely on angry backlash, and much of it is directed squarely against political correctness. Thus, if you want him to win, keep calling him a racist, sexist, and all the rest. If you want him to lose, stop it. (Believe me, anyone you could sway with these epithets was already swayed a long time ago.)
The Long Explanation
Now, because many will think I’m completely off-base unless I devote outrageous detail to the full problem, I will do what I can to explain the earth and fertilizer of Trump’s toxic movement. The whole TL;DR crowd can check out now and consider the essay itself done – stop calling Trump a bigot; it’s backfiring. For those that want to understand why it has come to be this way, many points need explanation. Bear with me.
Politically Incorrect Backlash
Donald Trump’s political success seems shocking. For months, everyone, the media included, has struggled to make sense of his repeated wins. Throughout the Republican debates, and then the primaries, almost everything the man said was billed “the end of his campaign” and yet succeeded in driving his numbers up, up, and up in the polls. Political correctness has a lot to do with this apparent paradox.
Appreciate for a moment that over just the last few months, Trump openly called FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” (and made a number of other remarks about her that polite society has rejected as being sexist and misogynistic). He called for building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants (despite the fact that they’re leaving faster than they’re coming) and branded them “criminals” and “rapists.” He called for a complete and total ban on Muslims entering the country. He refused to disavow Grand Wizard David Duke of the KKK. Going against predictions at every turn, none of it ended his presidential aspirations (a stark change from just four years ago). Instead, all of these apparent blunders dramatically increased his standings in the polls and propelled him to win (presumptively) the Republican nomination for President of the United States. If you understand anything about the movement behind him, it’s no surprise at all.
Conservatives who support Trump hate political correctness, and it isn’t because they’re racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes, and all the rest. Some of them are those things, and some of them aren’t. What they hate about political correctness is that someone who doesn’t know or understand them has the gall to tell them what they can and can’t (and should and shouldn’t) say or think. Worse, those busybodies feel it is perfectly appropriate to throw around socially stigmatizing labels of bigotry without even daring to listen to the more nuanced view that conservatives feel they hold on matters of identity politics.
Conservatives as a rule also hate collectivism and that certain groups – usually not their own groups, it should be pointed out – are granted certain apparent unearned advantages, like affirmative action, apparently one-sided sexual harassment policies, and state benefits. (Note: I’m not saying that conservative cases against those efforts are right or wrong, or that they attend to the relevant details; I’m just saying what the conservatives I know don’t like about “liberal” thinking and policy.) These aspects of identity politics become intolerable to Trump’s brand of conservative once coupled with social speech codes that make speaking out against them (even carefully) into deviant behavior.
Truly, Trump’s supporters are also retaliating against a number of other social, political, and economic forces that they find unbearable – whatever fault they possess in creating those circumstances for themselves. (I have no interest in wading into the messy and moralistic argument over whether or not Trump supporters deserve sympathy for their plight, so please note that no essay I’ll ever write will attempt to deal with it.) Widespread understanding of these mechanisms, and that the Trump movement is a backlash against that which his supporters hate, is crucial to undermining his bid for the presidency.
As a Southerner myself, two things I’ve maintained for years about Southerners (which generalizes to a bulk of today’s conservatives) are
- They have a complicated relationship with race (which generalizes to identity politics), and
- They can change, but not as fast as progressive liberals want them to.
To the first of these points, most conservatives are not quite racist, but they hold attitudes and say things that more racially sensitive people would see as racist. The great fall of buttercream mogul Paula Deen, and its borderline-insane conservative backlash, makes a great example. This distinction is subtle but important, and a huge part of it lies in realizing that conservatives, often at some considerable personal effort, do not see themselves as racist and often actively try not to be.
(The hypersensitive here will unhelpfully interject that if you have to try not to be a bigot, then you are one. They fail to realize that their definition of bigotry might be a bit more strict than the one conservatives use, and thus that in “trying not to be racist,” many conservatives see themselves as making an effort to toe a progressive social line that they see as going further than it needs to. Notice how browbeating them over this difference of opinion might irk people over time, especially if they keep getting called racist for it.)
Through thirty years of dealing with Southern conservatives (more than three quarters of whom claim to support Trump’s presidential bid right now), I feel pretty certain in concluding that conservatives tend not to be racist, but they do accept stereotype accuracy. Stereotype accuracy enjoys the prestige of being one of the best founded and repeatedly reproduced results in social psychology, and suffers the ignobility of being rejected as racist by social activists on the left (including armies of social psychologists). This carries the result that Southern conservatives seem racist in general (and are less concerned with structural racism than they maybe ought to be) but are rarely racist in specific – to individuals, where they think it matters most. For this reason, they see themselves as being honest and decidedly not racist, which makes calling them a racist with broadly painted strokes all the more inflammatory.
Southern conservatives are also typically brutally meritocratic and thus utterly unconcerned with the ways in which identity-based structural disadvantages have played out to limit the initial opportunity space of certain groups of people. Most importantly, though, they really grudge making identity into any kind of issue at all, and have had quite enough of being painted as bigots, quite unfairly, as they see it. (It’s worth noting that better conversations about race are relatively easy to have with Southern conservatives once you stop judging them and calling them names. Taking the time to hear them out and navigate these topics without charged terms makes a great deal of difference and often reveals much more nuance than progressives assume of them.)
Second, conservatives engage in social change, but they do so far more slowly than social progressives (by definition and thus obviously). If you doubt it, pause for a moment to consider that once this election cycle’s Republican primary race whittled down to the real “front-runners,” other than Trump, they were Ted Cruz (Latino), Marco Rubio (Latino), and Ben Carson (black). Think about that. Three out of four of the last candidates standing in the GOP primary race were minorities – and nobody cared. (And, according to my conservative friends, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (black woman) retains enough popularity to have been a “shoo-in” to beat Hillary Clinton.) Whatever roles race and gender play in the social politics of conservatives, it has changed dramatically since the beginning of the century.
Social conservatives have been put under tremendous pressure to accept an awful lot of progressive social upheaval very quickly. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has pointed out, the Civil Rights movement was merely 50 years ago; the Gay Rights movement began just 20 years ago and is reaching its successful conclusion now; and, in just the last 3 years, most Americans have gone from almost complete unawareness of transgendered individuals to their identity politics being one of the most contested cultural and political battlegrounds in the nation. That’s fast. (For comparison, it took the US from its time as a collection of British colonies until 1863, almost 250 years, just to end slavery and another 90 years to initiate a real effort for civil rights, and it needed nearly 300 years to give women the vote and another 70 to embrace the notion of women’s equal employment outside of the home.)
Progressives often insist that there is great moral force in the fact that marginalized and oppressed communities cannot psychologically bear the oppression, and they’re right. Social progressives seem simultaneously completely unconcerned that conservatives may face similar psychological difficulty with accepting change more quickly than they are able. Because of the difference in civil liberties at hand, I don’t mean to suggest that there is complete parity between these circumstances; there’s not. Still, demanding that one group deal with more than they can bear at the behest of the rights of another is precisely what makes identity politics so divisive, and the blade cuts both ways.
For some of the racially laden reasons mentioned above (a dislike of collectivism, social engineering programs, and politically correct speech taboos) and for others (like concerns about jobs and the erosion of the American identity), conservatives who support Trump are unsurprisingly anxious about issues related to race. One of the Left’s favorite and least helpful tactics is to sweep all of this unrest, and honest speech regarding it, tidy under the rug called “bigotry,” and that merely foments more conservative racial anxiety. Surely you’ve noticed it growing. Well, the Washington Post just found that this racial unrest is, perhaps the biggest driver of support for Trump.
Conservative have concerns that millions of jobs – their jobs, like in manufacturing – are being sent overseas to foreigners. Trump says he’ll stop that. They also wrongly believe that they’re being “stolen” by immigrants. Trump says he’ll build a wall to keep them out. It’s not just about jobs, though. Trump says he’s going to ban lots of immigrants, in fact, and as the Washington Post notes,
The biggest predictor of Trump support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters was a belief that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens U.S. values.” Republicans holding this belief felt 18 points more positively toward Trump, on a 100-point scale, than Republicans who didn’t feel this way.
Belief that Islam encourages violence, and that it’s “bad” for the country that blacks, Latinos and Asians will someday make up the majority of the population, accounted for eight-point jumps in positive feelings toward Trump.
What’s unique about Trump in these proclamations is only that he’s saying them when no other mainstream public figure will. He’s tapping into an immense frustration felt by many conservatives about these issues, and a significant part of that frustration is in being unable to talk about them honestly and without being branded a racist.
Why? It’s politically incorrect to do otherwise. Conservatives today are angry with politicians, and a considerable part of that anger comes from feeling lied to. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, among many other pols, are not speaking honestly about the role of Islamism in the world today, for example, and Trump calls them on it.
“I like him because he speaks his mind” squares altogether too well with this racial unrest to ignore. “No more being political correct!”
The High Visibility of PC Campus Insanity
Many of my readers on Allthink are probably deeply steeped in the circumstances surrounding campus censorship, protests, and all the rest, but if you take the time to have these conversations out in the “real world,” what you’ll find is that most people are only dimly aware that any of it is going on at all. All they’ve heard is what’s made news big enough to reach them, and that’s only the most extreme stories, bereft of context. Even high-profile pieces, like Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s in The Atlantic and Judith Shulevitz’s in the New York Times, have largely missed the attention of the public-at-large. Generally on the left, these trends are being minimized (partly rightly) as the dramatics of young adulthood and gather little attention outside of the growing “cultural libertarian” subculture.
To the best that I can tell, though, right-wing media has been pretty consistent in publicizing the more egregious aspects of the campus censorship insanity, all under the brand name of liberal political correctness. I have been surprised to find out that very few of my left-leaning friends, for instance, have heard the term “snowflake” to describe these screeching college students, but nearly all of my conservative friends know it and use it with disparaging relish. The same can be said of the terms “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” (or “triggered”) – they’re seem to be terms effectively lost upon the center-left but every day’s new joke-of-the-day on the right.
In other words, Trump’s base is well-aware of the growing campus censorship problem (much of it, in fact, lives it on a daily basis, as it consists of beleaguered college students beset by rigid hyper-leftist orthodoxy on campuses). Not only are they aware of it; they detest it.
For one thing, because university administrations are acting as powerful third-party entities to curtail the individual liberties of students, it bears enough resemblance to Orwellian government overreach to alarm them. For another, they find it irksome that it’s being carried out on behalf of identity groups that conservatives see already as the unfair beneficiaries of sociopolitical engineering. For a third, that its mechanism is a rising culture of victimhood is viewed as a disturbing celebration of weakness and a deplorable manipulation of a precious moral currency.
Trump needs to do little more than channel that frustration, and every visible incident of campus outrage and the political correctness it is based upon will solidify his base of support. (His whole campaign follows this pattern: just pour it on about hot-button conservative frustrations and paint himself as the savior, details to be announced later.)
It’s no surprise that the Right of today hates the Left on principle, and it’s also no surprise which side of the political arena is the source of all the campus outrage. Voices on the Right, with ever increasing credibility, been decrying the increasing intolerance, censoriousness, and academic bias on college campuses and calling campuses “liberal” indoctrination camps. (This descriptor more accurately applies to humanities departments, which are poisoning the campus climate with cultural Marxism, a distinctly illiberal brand of social leftism.) They see similar creeping tendencies in the “liberal media.” As the campus censorship issue has intensified over the last two years, then, so too has conservative distrust and disgust at the whole enterprise. That they’re fighting back and even considering a nuclear option – The Donald – to do it is, likewise, not much of a surprise.
But why Trump?
Why didn’t Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, or some other would-be GOP darling, run away with conservative support? Again, backlash. A huge contingent of mainline conservatives don’t just hate liberals, Democrats, social programs, identity politics, and, most of all, the nagging insinuations and oppressions of political correct speech codes. They hate damn near everybody right now, especially politicians. Within that everybody, they also hate the GOP (which they erroneously call “the Establishment”), and for good reasons.
Their own party, the GOP, has slowly disenfranchized mainstream blue-collar conservatives (and middle-class white-collar ones too) politically and economically to the benefit of corporate elites. Their wages have stagnated; their jobs have evaporated; they work longer hours for less pay; their debt has increased; their opportunity has been stolen; and in return for it all, they’ve been given the roughshod heel of a rapidly progressing culture that holds them in contempt. That pinch hurts; and that contempt reciprocates; and these people are rightfully mad as hell.
Blame them for voting themselves into their misfortunes all you want (really, don’t – it just makes it worse), but since the early 1970s, the GOP elites have sung them the same misleading song: sail with us just a little farther to the right, and just a little farther now, and we’ll get to the promised land. Well, they went to the right, little by little, and now they’re lost, adrift on the far-right edge of the world. Worse, they’ve started to realize that there is no promised land over there, and the GOP elites and their big-money industry financiers have made off like bandits with the only lifeboats.
(Wherever the Overton Window currently lies, today’s American Right is pretty far outside the Right of it. The Window has, admittedly, drifted Left, which may reflect actual moral progress in a sober analysis – like one that notes that feudalism, monarchy, and slavery are all somewhere right of the Window’s current locale – but political correctness blocks much of the needed discussion on that point. Unwilling to move back within it and hating where it is now, conservatives see Trump bringing it back toward them and love him for it.)
Because the GOP has been cultivating average conservative votes while working against their interests (all the while carefully fomenting fear of outsiders and hatred of liberals, Democrats, and, to an alarming extent, minorities), Trump-supporting conservatives are stuck with a lot of hate and no good options. The Obama presidency, and the ways in which the GOP officially reacted to it, amplified this hate, and the de facto knowledge running back to at least 2012 (and maybe 2008) that Hillary Clinton would virtually certainly be the next Commander in Chief has only made it worse. They can’t vote for Hillary (#NeverHillary, “Hillary’s Worse”) on sheer principle. (Bernie would have fared as badly against them, frankly, if he ran on the Democratic ticket, especially openly as a “democratic socialist.”) They also couldn’t support the GOP that betrayed them and then, just as Obama’s presidency crept toward its end, presented only more of the same “cuckservative” candidates that lack the bravado to stamp out what they see as excesses ruining our society from the Left.
The political view from the Far Right Sea is a dismal one, then, largely bereft of hope and thoroughly haunted by carefully constructed specters and ghouls about immigrants, refugees, the Democrats, and especially Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (not to mention Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid). Knowing little more in truth about those people except that they are evil, the GOP of the last decade has kept conservatives rowing ever further right without any heed to the consequences. Just a little farther right now. We’ll shut down the government; then Obama will fall. That’s when we’ll see the promised land, you’ll see. What? You can’t see it? It’s not there (now)? Thanks, Obama. The result is that a considerable proportion of American conservatives, acting as a moral tribe, have in common nothing more powerfully than a well-groomed hatred of outsiders, whom they see as likely to destroy the fabric of America, and “liberal Democrats,” whom they rarely can tell apart from “socialist-communist-Marxists” and “tyrants.”
But how on Earth could they conclude that “liberal Democrats” are tyrants? Both words, “liberal” and “Democrat” mean the opposite of tyranny. Three main features of today’s Left give the despotic vibe from the conservative perspective: business regulations, taxes (especially that they’re used for redistribution of income, which is seen as a kind of theft; for social programs, which can be falsely equated to socialism; and for immigrants, whom they see as dangerous others and illegal takers), and, to come full-circle, the censorious demands of political correctness.
What is left to them? Donald J. Trump, who, for whatever you might want to say about him, has never once been afraid to speak his mind.