A cottage industry of apologists for Donald Trump and his supporters has sprung up to excuse, justify, infantilize and pity his core group of white, non-college-educated males who lash out at immigrants and globalism more generally. Victims ignored by elites! The Emmy winners mock them! There are more than a few problems with this.
First, conservatives used to stand up for “creative destruction,” the rise and fall of businesses and entire industries, which is an intrinsic part of a dynamic free market. If you’re not a hard-core Libertarian, the average conservative has considered the solution to this problem to be a safety net and tax, education and other policies that allow workers to rebound; it has never been to halt the marketplace or shift to a government-planned economy. The latter has been tried and has failed, as conservatives are quick to point out when ridiculing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or other anti-capitalist wags. It also exempts these voters from responsibility for their lives. The coal town is depopulated? Yes, that’s sad, but why are they not moving — as immigrants do — to where the jobs are?
Second, the ills about which Trump and his apologists complain have little to do with the plight of many of their supporters (whose average salary is $72,000, much higher than that of the average Sanders or Hillary Clinton supporter). The things Trump demonizes — free trade and immigration — did not cause the decline of low-skilled manufacturing (automation did that); they have, however, contributed to the resurgence of high-skill manufacturing in the United States to such an extent that we have record numbers of unfilled manufacturing jobs. If Trump were railing about the lack of job training programs, that would be one thing, but he is not, of course. Constructive measures that do not involve attacks on others are of no concern to him. He’s simply casting about for targets for white, lower-class rage.
Third, Trump’s defenders seem to demand that we treat members of his base delicately for fear of ruffling their feathers and damaging their self-esteem. When you play the “Hollywood makes fun of us” card, you get perilously close to political correctness and emotional feebleness, not things Trump and his ilk are supposed to promote. Even worse, complaining that other people don’t wish them “Merry Christmas” — and then transforming that into a war against Christianity — is victimology rarely seen outside the “safe spaces” on college campuses.
Fourth, the pity party for lower-class white males excludes virtually everyone else. Are we expected to turn the economy inside out for the latter, even to the extent that it harms those who have prepared themselves for a competitive workplace — or who simply want to enjoy moderately priced consumer goods not priced out of their grasp by tariffs? Why concern ourselves with the delicate sensibilities of the “Merry Christmas”-deprived and not with Mexican immigrants (“murderers”), women (Trump thinks it’s a mistake to let wives work outside the home), African Americans (whose lives he insists are a “disaster”), the disabled, etc.?
In elevating one specific group — older white males — Trump fails the test of a leader in a diverse, complex society in which we want to maximize benefits for the largest number of people. He seems not to grasp the demands of living in a prosperous 21st-century society –technical prowess, flexibility, cooperation and respect for others.
It also happens to be dumb politics, as Gerald Seib points out:
Suburban women “have in the past voted consistently Republican, and this year they are leaning heavily toward Hillary Clinton” says GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who works with Sen. Marco Rubio. Says one Trump adviser flatly: “Suburban women will decide this election.”
Broadly speaking, the Trump appeal is strongest among older men without a college degree, and among those who feel particular economic stress. . . .
Montgomery [County, Pa.] and the other suburban counties around Philadelphia have “a very, very diversified economy,” with high-tech, insurance, banking and retail activity, says Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
While such suburbs don’t represent Trump country generally, that’s specifically true among suburban women, who don’t appear to warm to the Trump style.
There is no virtue in pandering to Trumpkins at the expense of every other group and the country’s general prosperity. In making these white males (and only them) into victims and encouraging them to blame outsiders or menacing forces beyond their control, Trump does what Republicans used to accuse liberals of doing — pitting one group against another in a zero-sum conception of the economy. It is doing the Trumpkins no favors and it is heightening dissension in a country that needs to rediscover common values and shared endeavors and undertake some systemic reforms in government, education and criminal justice.