What is left to say?
This election has been exhausting and it has made all of us dumber, but I don’t agree with Matt Yglesias that we’ve overlooked key policy implications of the election.
The core question of this election is so simple that I think even most ordinary voters understand it intuitively. Press coverage of this election has often been trivial in part because there is only so much to say about this simple core question.
On Tuesday, Americans will decide whether we want a continuation of the last few decades of social changes that have uplifted minorities and women and also served educated elites quite well. Alternatively, we will decide we are angry about change, and we want a society that is more hostile to non-whites, more authoritarian, and more focused on restoring old social hierarchies.
Put even more simply, we will answer this question: Do we want taco trucks on every corner?
It’s true that there will be important tax and fiscal policy differences between a Clinton administration and a Trump one. But these are less important than the social changes a Trump election would bring about.
Trump would bar Muslim immigrants from the country on the basis of their religion, force Mexican-Americans to look over their shoulders for government agents, and protect police from rising scrutiny of their mistreatment of members of the public, especially black men.
Trump would also do a great deal to normalize the sexual harassment and degradation of women, and to promote rudeness toward all members of society except himself. He would ensure that America remains a place where, if you’re a star, you can grope women and they will be afraid to tell anyone.
All of this is more important than taxes and spending, an idea conservatives used to pay lip service to when they talked about the importance of “civil society” as a companion to government policy, before they said Trump should be president.
There has been far too much focus on Trump’s white working-class supporters, allegedly upset about trade and alienated by economic stagnation. Frankly, economic status is a poor predictor of presidential vote this election. Economic anxiety is not generating support for Trump among the non-white working class. Among whites, education is a clearer vote predictor than income.
Trump has his poor fans and his rich fans; fans who have been hurt by economic changes and fans who are doing just fine. What his fans share is that nearly all of them are white and they are, for whatever reason, resentful.
As liberals like pointing out, many of these Trump voters would have higher real incomes under Clinton’s policies than Trump’s. Some are benefitting from Obamacare. Some would pay higher taxes under Trump’s plan than hers. Trump’s trade policies would create an economic downdraft that would lower output across the whole economy, reducing pre-tax incomes for most people.
But that doesn’t necessarily make Trump voters irrational. If voters are upset about too many Mexicans in America, or too much acceptance of Muslims, or too little police impunity, then they’re not necessarily acting irrationally by voting for Trump, even if his election might lower their income.
That is, you shouldn’t assume Trump’s voters are experiencing false consciousness; in many cases, they just want bad things.
Opposition to immigration does not necessarily have to be rooted in bigotry, but when encountered in practice among voters it almost always is. That’s why 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s relatively wonky and technical approach to immigration restriction didn’t catch fire in the way Trump’s bigotry-first approach did. It’s also why nobody cares that Melania Trump appears to have briefly worked in the country illegally: The Trump campaign was never about keeping white immigrants out of America.
Most voters, I think, have correctly diagnosed the Trump campaign as a primal scream of white resentment. The alarming thing is that so many are in favour of the scream.
I think the electorate is making only one major error of analysis, separate from this major error of preference I discuss above: Most Trump voters have not properly understood how poorly equipped Trump is personally for the duties of the presidency, and how dangerous his temperament would be in commanding the American military.
That is, even if you want a more racist and sexist and stupid country, and Trump delivers one, you’re still made worse off if he gets you killed in a nuclear war. His voters — even the most deplorable ones — have not given enough consideration to the worst downside risks of his presidency that would be harmful even by their standards.
There also has been insufficient consideration of the risk that Trump would shred America’s Constitutional safeguards in pursuit of absolute power. Meg Whitman is on top of this, but few other Republicans seem to remember they used to claim to care about limitation of government power.
Fortunately, it looks like just enough voters don’t want a nastier, more bigoted, stupider country, and we will be spared a Trump presidency by an uncomfortably close margin. And Trump’s voters are right about one important thing: The rising ethnic diversity of the country will make it even harder for a candidate like Trump to be elected in future years.
We have probably dodged a bullet. But we have learned some very ugly things about many of our fellow Americans in the process.
This is an editorial. The opinions and conclusions expressed above are those of the author.
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