Want to Know Why Trump Won? Just Ask His Supporters

Few things should have been easier to predict than Trump's victory in the Electoral College.  Recall where things stood by 2015: political correctness had become a mix of psychological warfare and threats of institutional punishment.  Here was something ever present in people's daily experience, and about which almost no leaders were willing to speak frankly.  Along comes a liberator without bloodshed.

Trump had an easy solution to P.C.: resist it by speaking truthfully, and endure the backlash until enough people rebel against it, so it crashes and burns.

For all their waking hours, Americans listened to P.C., a language that is phony, detached, and highly annoying.  "Hate" was the new "terror," a vague force that people had to sacrifice all other concerns to fight or else risk being branded un-American.  On the radio, at their jobs, among their social networks, even at family gatherings, here and there it popped up again: "you can't say that!" "I'm hurt by that."  "You're bullying me."  "You're a bigot."  Celebrated causes and favored groups mattered – Hollywood stars, LGBTs, the right kind of racial minorities, sexually adventurous women – while other groups were expected to engage in nothing but sacrifice and atonement so those P.C.-approved classes could make all their dreams come true.  That these classes are trapped in a nightmare of their own design should not be shocking.

Half of Buffalo has moved out of the city since the 1950s?  A wave of suicide is decimating middle-aged white men?  Meth has taken over life in a small Wisconsin river town?  Divorced veterans are languishing in soup kitchens and homeless shelters across Tennessee?  Political correctness has no answers to these problems.  In fact, P.C. forbids answers to those problems, because acknowledging them as problems would take away from the focus on "hate."  Only "hate" matters, and none of those tribulations can be credibly attributed to hate.  It is more important to think about asylum for trans Salvadorans, a boy named Ahmed with a strange clock, and Lena Dunham's foggy memories of being mistreated as an Oberlin student.

If it were true that hatred drove most of what happens in society, then it would be sensible to focus, as the left does, so overwhelmingly on eradicating prejudice.  But most of the problems that require political attention deal with things other than people hating other people for their identities, so most of left-wing politics is at best a huge waste of time.

Political correctness not only rendered America unable to address, let alone fix, its most widespread and serious problems.  Even worse, it made everybody paranoid, petty, distracted, bitter, and miserable as they suffered their paralysis in silence.

What many take for granted will likely go down in history as one of the ugliest chapters in the history of ideas.  Political correctness was arguably cobbled together from the Frankfurt School and Michel Foucault's theories of power (broadly misapplied), projected through the lenses of Judith Butler, Edward Said, and 1980s critical race theory plus early queer studies.  By the late 1990s, it was ascendant, functioning as the invisible fuel for not only colleges, but also the courts, corporations, media, intelligence, and finally government.

Some far-left critics condemned this encroaching totalitarianism as "neo-liberalism" or "neo-conservatism," but they were too attached to the identity politics they wanted badly to transcend.  On contrarian sites such as CounterPunch, they never found a way to break with it.  That is a major reason why Trump had to rise up on the right, not on the left.  The left was ultimately entangled too much with the overgrown tendrils of academia, which relied on state and federal funding.

If you have never been publicly accused of bigotry, you may have a difficult time understanding what political correctness means for the ordinary citizen who cannot afford to be fired, does not retain a personal lawyer, has no publicist, and lacks the resources to rescue his reputation from the onslaught of a left-wing character smear.

To be called "antigay," for instance, and to end up on lists like GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project or the Human Rights Campaign's "Export of Hate," one may do nothing more than simply believe (as I stated publicly) that children ought to have a mother and father, therefore gays should not adopt.  Once you get on such lists, you cannot get off them.  Try to engage your critics, and they use everything you say against you.  Apologize, and they get worse.

Smears are pushed to the top of Google rankings and seem to appear on Facebook news feeds whenever articles with your name appear.  Everywhere you go, a mob awaits you.  People at your job find strange reasons to get you called into human resources.  And you cannot get rehired anywhere – you are "blacklisted" like union organizers in the Gilded Age.  You go home, face your wife and children, and wonder if you will lose your home and go hungry as a family.

These are not small matters.  These are fears that people feel in companies all across America, from major media companies to basic workplaces like a bank, a nursery, or a metals processing plant.

"Bigot!  Hater!"  These used to be allegations that might make one less attractive on the social scene, but nowadays they are as deadly as being accused of sorcery in 1690 in Massachusetts, or of sodomy in 1890 in London, or of Communism in 1953 in Washington, D.C.  The social contexts for such allegations broadened, from professional moments like a job performance review ("can you explain what we found when we Googled you?") to simple settings like a chat on a ride home from a party ("Dude, it's not okay that you said that in front of my gay friends.").  Even more than Joe McCarthy or Queen Victoria's scouts or the Puritans of Hawthorne's imagination, the enforcers of political correctness were willing to weaponize every milieu from the most public to the most intimate.

Contrary to what many allege, Trump's campaign did not lack for policy specifics.  He had a clear position on trade, immigration, jobs, court appointments, religious liberty, and education.  But the specifics didn't matter as did the most basic promise that his supporters watched him keep, week after week, during the campaign.  He did not surrender to the swarming and mobbing of political correctness.  This gave us a ray of hope – perhaps there was a better world than the one in which we lived, where we did not have to live in fear, and we could speak openly about the problems around us, without fearing for our jobs and social standing.

The bien-pensant class thought Trump could never win, because they had no grasp of how many people were suffering in severe, personal ways due to political correctness.  Sanders, Stein, Clinton, and Johnson supporters all assumed, incorrectly, that the masses would identify with victims of "hate" rather than with victims of P.C.  Many who voted for Clinton probably worried that Trump's ideology would take away their P.C. high ground, but there were too many people who saw P.C., not hate, as the real oppressor, so Clinton lost.

All the pundits and cognoscenti had to do was simply ask people who supported Trump why they supported him.  I supported Trump publicly from fairly early (warming to him by December 2015 and then all-out celebrating him by March 2016 and essentially endorsing him soon after).  I can bear witness to how few people really did ask us what we were thinking.  While I did find friends berating me for publicly backing Trump, unfriending me on Facebook, and warning me I'd never be invited on their circuit again, I cannot recall even one person, left-wing or right-wing, just calling me and asking me: "Why do you like Trump?"

I suspect that I am not the only one of 62,955,363 Trump voters whom the elites felt they knew better than I could possibly know myself.  Consider the countless experts who weighed in on why Trump was gaining in popularity and who described nothing that was going on in my head or the head of any Trump supporter I knew:

  • Stephen Hawking said Trump appealed "to the lowest common denominator."
  • Vox's "Seven Experts" didn't try to explain why voters liked Trump so much as why polling companies undercounted those who did like him.  They blamed people not answering landline calls from weird numbers.  Oddly enough, I found that when I sought to explain my enthusiasm about Trump to journalists stumped about his strong polling numbers, they usually avoided me because I wasn't what they were looking for.
  • The Washington Post is about the last place on earth I would go to find insights about Trump voters.  They published a blithe and cocky column explaining why people like Trump "for people totally confused by it."  Of course, highest are the two clichés floated to explain the mysterious Trumper: we hate immigrants (racism!) and we're "sick of the political establishment" (we're just throwing a temper tantrum like angry white men!).
  • Time narrowed it down to five basics: he's an outlaw, he makes a lot of money, he speaks his mind, he's authentic, and he symbolizes success.  While this analysis is slightly better than simply saying Trump voters are misogynists, reactionaries, white supremacists, or stupid Nazis, Time's reading falls back on an old Marxist default: the commoners who vote for conservatives have false hopes that they are going to be rich one day and are fooled into "voting against their own interests."  (Recall the controversial line from 1776 cut out on orders of Richard Nixon: "men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.")
  • To be fair, the misprision did not exist solely on the left.  Consider Diana West's now famous lexicon of anti-Trump insults by right-wingers (hint: it is very long).
  • None of the aforementioned Trumpological errors are meant to detract from the hilarious post-election explanations that Trump really won because of the KKK, fake news, lost ballots, the FBI's misconduct, or Russian espionage.

Whether it was Paul Krugman, Van Jones, Jonah Goldberg, Maggie Gallagher, or Russell Moore, the Trumpsplaining pundit leaned to pathology, diagnosing 2016 as an illness and hoping to heal from it.  They could not see how P.C. was the disease and for most of us, Trump was the cure.  A pathological interpretation would require, at best, a sincere effort to listen to the "patient" explain his or her symptoms, or even manifest symptoms at all.

I cannot speak for 62 million people.  But I can speak for a lot, and perhaps most of us, who voted for Donald J. Trump.  There was no evil motive underlying our decision to break with the received wisdom from the left's Mt. Olympus and the right's Mt. Parnassus.  We didn't vote for him out of hate, raw emotion, senseless rage, self-pity, a delusional self-image, or failure to understand policy.  We voted for him because we predicted – correctly! – that a Trump victory would bring about a positive change in our lives.

On the night Trump won, I tweeted this message:

I think the gates of Heaven have opened up and armies of angels have descended onto my dark miserable world, bringing joy and hope.

As a humanities professor, I realize that this is completely over the top and ridiculous.  But it's true.  Since Trump won, I find a huge burden lifted from me.  So much of people's ability to make me afraid to speak honestly pointed ultimately to Obama's presence at the top of the chain of being, to marshal civic powers against anyone accused of hate.  Without the IRS, the Department of Justice, the intelligence community, and the whole federal behemoth backing up the P.C. troops on the streets, we are...free.

It feels wonderful, and Trump isn't even president yet.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at English Manif, Souncloud, and CogWatch.

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