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Why People Still Support Trump

Clive Crook at Bloomberg View writes that the large majority of Trump supporters are good citizens with intelligible and legitimate opinions. He then offers the following as examples of these legitimate opinions. I’m dubious. Let’s check:

I’m a liberal on immigration – but it isn’t racism to favor tighter controls if you believe that high immigration lowers American wages.

I wonder what a liberal believes on immigration. I believe we should have open borders and free movement of labor, goods, and capital between the nations of the civilized West, certainly including all of North America and Europe, Brazil, India, Japan, Korea. I bet Crook doesn’t believe that, but something else he calls liberal or progressive. I say it is racist to favor tighter controls for that reason, because to act on that reason, that belief, is inherently racist. Most American wages go to white people. Most non-Americans are not white. Americans are the global 3%; our 20th-percentile income citizens are still much richer than most humans elsewhere, and those elsewhere are still humans. What reason could we have to help our relatively poor in West Virginia over the billions who are much poorer elsewhere?

Two reasons are clear, and others may be obscure to me: (1) we have an approach to help the people in West Virginia, while we can’t figure out how to get sufficient help past the warlords to the citizens of Somalia, North Korea, and similar, or (2) racism and nationalism, entwined. The first is a delicate systems-based argument that I don’t believe could be articulated by the people Crook describes—so even if it’s true, it’s not an intelligible motivation.

That leaves it as unintelligible or racist, and so it can’t be an intelligible, legitimate opinion.

It sure isn’t racism to believe that the laws on immigration should be enforced, and that “sanctuary cities” violate that impeccably liberal principle.

I think this is an appeal to Law and Order. Similarly, then, it wouldn’t have been racism to believe that the laws on fugitive slaves should be enforced, and that “sanctuary cities” violate that same principle?

Again, either there’s some unintelligible line here or no, that’s not a legitimate opinion. Laws past a certain threshold shock the conscience and demand that moral citizens oppose them. The current application of immigration laws by INS exceed that threshold.

We celebrate the underground railroad and condemn the Northern moderates who endorsed Dred Scott; our grandchildren will do similarly to those moderates on our current immigration problems.

It isn’t racist to say that many of the Charlottesville counter-protesters came looking for a fight.

Yes, it is—when that’s all you say. If you say that all the people with torches and clubs on either side came looking for a fight, I think that’s probably about right—and you can see from photographs that that’s most of one side and some of (most of one element of) the other. Buzzfeed has a nice story quoted here in the LA Times:

Conflict would start much the same as it has at other alt-right rallies: two people, one from each side, screaming, goading each other into throwing the first punch.

It is absolutely the case that some of the counter-protestors were looking for a fight and seeking an opportunity for violence. They’ve publicly advocated punching Nazis to deter future Nazi speech, and we should take them at their word. But to report just that is not credibly an innocent statement; it masks out enough context to be untrue, and racist, in effect.

Back to Crook:

Casting Trump supporters as fearful of change is risible – he was hardly the status quo candidate.

This statement hides the ball: all reactionary populist candidates, including Trump, explain to their electorate that the painful changes they’re experiencing—in this can’t shifting labor and capital markets meaning you can’t get a job and you can’t sell your house or treat it as a savings account, and your children can’t get good jobs—are changes from a golden past. Yes, an important element of Trump’s supporters fear change. They want to reverse that change. This requires deviation from the status quo, Clinton/Obama/Clinton progressivism, which is blamed in this cosmogeny for the death of that golden era.

And I cannot see what principle of political economy makes it stupid to be a fiscal conservative if you live in West Virginia.

I’m delighted to read, “I cannot see,” in the midst of instructions not to depict your opponents arguments as illegible. Mark one point for the petard and we continue: of course fiscal conservatism at the Federal level is an intelligible and defensible position. But as West Virginians, is that right? West Virginia has been the victim of extractive New York policies for two centuries. We, the rich coastals, owe it an enormous debt. There, that’s the principle of political economy that makes it foolish to advocate fiscal conservatism from West Virginia.

At least, if you’re going to advocate it, you need to get something appropriate in return—say, a reputation for fair dealing and honest service of political ideas that you can use to make major policy changes.

Of the five positions cited, none of them describe a position I understand as both intelligible and legitimate. Everywhere I can understand a clear argument, it’s for a position that’s not only mistaken—I hold plenty of mistaken positions!—but for positions that were advocated, tried, understood, and abandoned as toxic decades ago. And where I can’t understand a clear argument, I take them—as I do for unintelligible leftist arguments—as cover for ideas not welcome in polite company.