Part 1—The road to a recent disaster: A funny thing happened to liberal greatness on the way to November's election.
Sixty-three million American citizens decided to vote for Donald F. Trump. As a result, the hopeful pulled an inside straight and ended up in the White House.
Embarrassing! Four nights before Election Day, Professor Wang had told Lawrence O'Donnell that it couldn't possibly happen. Only a "giant weather event" could send Donald J. Trump to the White House, the hapless Princeton professor said.
No such weather event took place, but Trump end up in the White House. Ever since Election Day, liberal and mainstream elites have pretended to examine why Those People, the 63 million, decided to vote for Trump.
Except to people as clueless as Us, November's outcome really shouldn't have been all that startling. Because we're almost completely clueless, We were shocked by Trump's win, basically out of our socks.
Ever since that startling day, we've been trying to explain the behavior of those Trump voters. Being perhaps a bit tribally scripted, we've tended to explain their behavior in the way the editorial board of the Washington Post has now done.
On the whole, yesterday's editorial was informative and sensible; the piece is well worth reading. That said, the editors apparently felt obliged to start their effort like this:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (3/25/17): It is a political cliche that President Trump owes his electoral victory to the extraordinary support he received from white voters without a college degree, two-thirds of whom voted for the Republican. Much less settled is the question of why these largely low-income voters, once reliable Democrats, cast their lot with a brash billionaire from New York.We invite you to note two basic points. Let's start with this:
The precise source of the discontent that produced this outburst of reactionary populism is hotly debated; some of Mr. Trump’s support reflects motives, such as xenophobia or racism, that can be neither comprehended nor respected...
Last November, Candidate Trump received support from tens of millions of "white voters without a college degree." Despite this fact, the editors seem to be seeking "the precise source of the discontent" that produced these tens of millions of votes.
The precise source—singular. That seems to suggest that there is some single explanation for those tens of millions of votes.
Expressed in a less flattering way, that seems to suggest that the editors think what tribal elites have always thought. That almost seems to suggest that the editors think Those People are all alike.
Presumably, that isn't what the editors would say they think. For whatever reason, it is what the editors said.
After setting out in search of the source of all those votes, the editors end up discussing various possible sources of those votes. (Various sources—plural). But uh-oh:
As the editors start their search, they feel obliged to say this:
"Some of Mr. Trump’s support reflects motives, such as xenophobia or racism, that can be neither comprehended nor respected."
Among the various high-minded groups who constitute Us, the group Over Here, it's almost required by Hard Tribal Law. If you plan to discuss Trump voters, you're required to start with a murky statement about their bigotry, xenophobia, racism and all-around horrible motives.
People as fine as Us, the group Over Here, can't even comprehend such motives, we may feel inclined to say.
Please note: the editors make no attempt to say how many of those millions of voters are racists. In a similar way, Candidate Trump made no attempt, in his formal announcement speech, to say how many unauthorized Mexican immigrants are actually rapists.
A certain type of personality tends to slime large groups of people in such slithery ways. Donald J. Trump is one such person. Yesterday, so were the editors.
People as fine as Us can't even comprehend Trump voters' horrible motives! From that point on, the Post's editorial is informative and intelligent, indeed quite sympathetic.
That said: when you see Us, the good people Over Here, explaining those 63 million votes, you'll persistently see the two script points we've described.
You'll likely see a peculiar tic in which we evoke the peculiar idea that there is some single explanation for those millions of votes. Soon after, you'll see a punishing throw-away line about the racism, bigotry and xenophobia on display among Those People, the lesser breed Over There.
When you read that throw-away line, you're seeing tens of millions of people getting slimed by their betters. You're seeing them slimed in a suggestive rhetorical manner, a play straight outta Trump's remark about those Mexican rapists.
We make these observations for a particular reason. They lead us toward a brutal irony from last year's campaign:
From the liberal perspective, Donald J. Trump was the most god-awful candidate ever nominated for president. In a wide array of ways, his performance as a candidate was in fact utterly clownish.
In the realm of health care alone, the statements of Candidate Trump were the statements of a clown. (He was going to give us "something terrific.") Over Here in our liberal tribe, we had a wide array of well-informed people who knew how to explain that.
And yet, destructive and sad! Over here in our liberal tribe, We can no longer get Those People to listen to anything much We say! Candidate Trump was a world-class clown, but the people Over There refused to listen to Us.
Who was the better candidate, Candidate Clinton or Candidate Trump? In the end, needless to say, that's always a matter of judgment.
That said, to most observers in our tents, Candidate Trump was the most god-awful candidate ever let loose on the land. This should possibly maybe perhaps leave us asking this question:
Why was it so hard for Us to convince The Others of that?
Why couldn't We, the liberal giants, convince a few more of the folk Over There? What produced the horrible breakdown which led to Trump's narrow win?
Intellectual giants that we are, why couldn't We persuade The Others? We'll explore that puzzle all week. This puzzle leads us to ask two questions:
Who are Those People, the ones Over There? At the same time, Who are We?
What are we like, Over Here?
Tomorrow: A sad fact about Them and Us