I have been reading about why so many Americans voted for Trump. Simple ignorance is a partial answer. Many Medicaid recipients who voted for Trump did not know that their benefits were due to the Democrats’ health care legislation that he vowed to repeal.
Some voters just believed Trump’s promises to help Americans who suffered economically, even though there was no evidence in his history or the history of the Republican Party that he actually help cared about them. Many former Obama voters who switched to Trump thought that Democrats were more likely to enact policies that favored the wealthy. Now that we can see what Trump and congressional Republicans want to do about taxes and health care, it’s clear how wrong they were.
But support for Trump is about more than ignorance or deluded hopes. An extensive analysis of white working-class voters, about one-third of Americans and a group who favored Trump by a 2-1 margin, shows their unhappiness with today’s America. About two-thirds of them believe “American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.” That time frame coincides with the civil rights and women’s movements that have shifted power away from traditionally dominant white men. They express this idea by saying that the US is losing its identity, that immigrants threaten American culture. They believe that America’s best days are in the past. No wonder Trump’s slogan about making America great again had such resonance.
Perhaps related to this pessimism about their country is a tendency to favor authoritarian leaders. A remarkable 56% of white working-class evangelical Protestants were rated as “high authoritarian”, another explanation for supporting Trump. An earlier survey confirms the authoritarian tendencies of Trump voters. People who wanted to raise their children to be “respectful, obedient, well-behaved and well-mannered” were much more likely to be Trump voters than those who wanted children to be “independent, self-reliant, considerate and curious”.
Although the views of the white working class are often labeled racist, I think this misses the mark. About half of them believe that discrimination against whites is as bad as discrimination against minorities, with older people even more sure of this idea. Nearly half of white working-class seniors believe that Christians face a lot of discrimination. This is nonsense, as shown by every study which actually compares treatment of white versus black. But it has this kernel of truth – black Americans and non-Christians have more power than they did in the 1950s. This may be the source of white belief that America has lost its identity and American culture has deteriorated.
A survey taken more than a year ago during the primaries already showed these characteristics of Trump voters: nearly all of them agreed that “my beliefs and values are under attack in America”. The label of “values voters” for white evangelicals was perhaps never accurate. Their votes for Trump, whose personal life represents a rejection of these values, show they are better named “nostalgia voters”, whose vision of a white-male-dominated America no longer represents reality.
A more complex comparison of presidential votes and moral beliefs shows that Trump voters were likely to be motivated by ideas of group loyalty, respect for authority, male dominance, and traditional social norms than by compassion for those who are suffering and desire for equal justice.
The other side of Trump supporters’ worries about fading white male power is their disparaging attitude about people different from them. The calls at his rallies to lock up Hillary Clinton and attack journalists, the desire to deport millions of immigrants, the anger at the legalization of gay marriage are signs of a meanness of spirit that Trump himself exemplifies.
Here is a local example of meanness. Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki in Springfield issued a “Same Sex Marriage” decree in June: people in same-sex marriages may not participate in communion or receive a Catholic funeral. Paprocki’s decree does not punish adulterers, thieves, liars, or those who disobey their parents. His isolation of gay couples is political malice, unique among American bishops. Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose explicitly rejected Paprocki’s nasty version of religious intolerance.
It is possible to value self-reliance and hard work without trying to cut food stamp aid to poor families. One can believe in the virtue of raising oneself out of poverty without trying to cut Medicaid for poor people in bad health. Taking a hard line on punishing criminals does not require assuming that all immigrants are law-breakers. We can deplore terrorists without discriminating against Muslims.
Too many Trump supporters take their beliefs in what is right as license to be hateful toward people who are not like them. Combine that with nostalgia for a time when blacks had to defer to whites, men could grope women, and gays stayed in the closet, and you have a Republican Party which cuts health insurance for millions of Americans, which keeps foreign students from returning to their American universities, which cuts federal programs for Americans in need. So far these attempts have failed, but Trump and his allies show no signs of letting up.
That’s what I call mean.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 11, 2017