Sympathy for Trump Voters

Obviously I watched the debate last night, and obviously I though Trump came across as a gibbering madman. Predictably, my social media bubble was filled with statements such as “How could anyone with half a brain vote for Trump?” or “The only reason to vote for Trump is if you’re a racist” (these are more or less quotes, but I’m going from memory).

But one thing I took away from the debate, and which I’d more or less forgotten about in the last few months as I’d focused on how much Trump scared me, was how much I disagreed with Clinton; and, perhaps more importantly, how much a decent, thoughtful person could disagree with Clinton, and agree more with Trump.

I’m not a protectionist (and I generally think of protectionism as being more of a left plan) but I don’t think protectionists are crazy. Lowering taxes to drive up the economy isn’t crazy — it may not work, but raising taxes may not work, either, and this is the kind of thing candidates can disagree on, and we can pick one side and vote for it. We can, in a word, pick Trump’s side, because he wants protectionism and low taxes.

When Clinton was asked about creating jobs, and she immediately said “renewable energy,” I thought: “I like renewable energy! I hope this will create jobs.” But that’s not the first thing I thought. The first thing I thought was, “She sounds like a hippie.”

So many Bernie Brothers have confidently told me that Clinton is “a good Republican candidate” that I’d forgotten that actually she is a good Democratic candidate. And that leaves Trump as the Republican candidate, which is more or less what I’d forgotten he was.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think Trump is dangerous and no one should vote for him. (I also know that a large percentage of my demographic is committed to insisting any Republican candidate is outside the Overton window, a stance that has its own share of problems, and is consequently scratching its collective head over what I’m saying.) But…

But I can see how some people — including the lickspittle Christie Republicans —- are in a real bind. Trump’s outlying policies are crazy. But Trump has had to absorb a bunch of not crazy policies too; in believing that reducing taxes will stimulate the economy, for example, Trump is well within mainstream conservative thought. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, of which there may be several, are not going to be Islamophobic fascists (because they would never get through Congress); they are certainly going to be law and order Republicans; and if that’s your bag, Trump is tempting, because the alternative is a Court full of hippies.

Trump’s biggest crazinesses are about social issues, and with politicians social issues are generally a red herring. Remember when gay hotelier Mari Weiderpass hosted a Ted Cruz event and everyone said “he must be insane!”? But surely if you agreed with Cruz about 99 economic and defense issues, and disagreed with him about gay marriage, which he’s unlikely to affect, surely you should vote for him. You can’t agree with a politician on everything! But we treat social issues as a checkmate, or trump card if you will, and will vote against our best issues about everything else as long as the race and gender scorecards get checked off properly. And yet the main influence on social issues is, uniquely in politics, popular opinion. Gay marriage did not pass because politicians got voted in; it passed because the country decided (fortunately!)  to stop hating gay people. A differently composed Supreme Court may have delayed things somewhat, but the momentum gay rights got came from media and Oprah, and no politician could stand athwart it.

Take away the red herring of social issues and maybe Trump looks like something you could hold your nose for four years over.

I realize I’ve glossed over some things here. I realize that a Trump presidency would have an actual negative effect on the lives of Hispanics and Muslims in a way that transcends the usual social issue rigmarole. But I have also come to realize that if I thought Clinton’s economic policies would cripple America (as I suspect Sanders’s would have) or if I thought her foreign policies would cripple America, or if I thought she was secretly a lizard or something — well, fat lot of good it will do undocumented workers to be allowed to remain in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Or, less melodramatically, if I had spent my whole life fighting for a position that is explicitly opposed to Clinton’s, I might not be so cavalier about saying, “Everyone must vote her in to keep out someone whose policies will in many cases support my cause, and at the very least will not thwart it, Clinton-style.”

(A Trump presidency disaster may undermine these very principles, so there is perhaps a realpolitik reason to vote against Trump if you support him; but that’s some hard to predict long game there.)

Look: a while ago I took an oath not to vote for any more sequels: nobody’s son or brother or wife: no more dynasties. That’s not America! And I am violating that oath to vote for Clinton.

I’m voting for someone who wants to use a due-process-free secret no-fly list as a star-chamber metric to deprive Americans of more rights. I’m voting for someone whose idea of fighting terror is an “intelligence surge,” code for increased government surveillance. I’m doing it because I think giving the Donald the nuclear football is too dangerous to contemplate, just as putting someone in the White House who more consistently supports Russia than NATO is too dangerous to contemplate.

But this is an easy choice for me, because Trump is not exactly the civil liberties poster child. If Trump’s economics, say, aligned better with my priorities, then I might be tempted to believe that advisors would keep his craziness under check and the clear unconstitutionality of his “big ideas” would prevent their implementation. Clinton is not merely a cipher, a not-Trump negative statement as easy to swallow as “Ireland has no dragons.” She has her own plans and agendas, as a candidate should, and a vote for her is a vote for her worldview.

I guess I’m saying, to my surprise, that I can understand why someone — not a monster or an idiot but a thoughtful someone — would vote for Trump.

(Only because no one in my demographic, no one who reads this, could conceivably vote for the man do I feel comfortable making this admission.)

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