President Donald Trump received well-above-average job approval ratings in 2017 from Mormons and Protestants, and well-below-average ratings from those who identify with a non-Christian faith, including Muslims and Jews, and from those who have no formal religious identity. Catholics’ approval of Trump roughly matched the national average.
Now, I’m not saying Coulter is turning on Trump because he endangers our relationships with allies by handing over intel that has been trusted to us to a third-party without permission. She’s mad he hasn’t built that wall yet or what-not.
Still, the depth, breadth, and stunning intricacy of Trump’s incompetence is such that all those who backed him–the Ann Coulters and Sean Hannitys of the world–may take a serious, serious hit as Trump’s once bright star turns into a screaming, self-annihilating meteor crashing from the heavens.
This occurred to me today as I was driving around after 7pm when NPR has started playing weird jazz instead of news and talk, and so I flipped to AM radio and hear Sean Hannity. I’ve always disliked Hannity–even when I was at my right-wingiest–but tonight was different. I only caught a few minutes, but he was interviewing a guest about Hillary Clinton and (as far as I could tell) her emails.
Seriously. In 2017. With the election over. And Trump as president. And he was talking about Hilary. Clinton’s. Emails.
If that’s not the definition of sad irrelevance, I don’t know what is. The fever-swamp of paranoid right-wing alternative media conspiracy theory peddlers is a major reason we ended up with Trump. The idea that he takes a few of them down when he falls has a pleasing symmetry. Oh, I’m sure his hard core will praise him until the end, but their audiences will be much, much smaller.
[Trump’s] nationalistic view reminds me, of course, of [Juan] Peron, in some regards.
– Sebastion Edwards
Financial Times‘s Cardiff Garcia has an incredibly enlightening interview with UCLA economist Sebastian Edwards on the economics of populism.
Garcia: …Americans have been taken off-guard by some of the phrasings of Donald Trump and what he says is part of his agenda. But that if you’re from Latin America, you’ve seen how a lot of this movie plays out before.
Edwards: That is correct. You’ve seen it before. The modus operandi is very similar. And it’s very ironic. You have Donald Trump, and the way he approaches many of these issues is not too different to what Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela. And that’s exactly what makes this whole story quite fascinating.
How is “populism” defined? Edwards elaborates,
Rudi Dornbusch and I defined the economics of populism as an economic programme, a package of policies, that disregarded good, solid received wisdom on economics. And in the case of Latin America, which is going to be interesting when we compare it to Donald Trump, disregarded all budget and monetary constraints – and violated all those constraints, as the populists do, in a way that generates euphoria in the immediate short run, but ultimately results in a very deep crisis that affects, in particular, those that were supposed to be benefited by the whole programme. So populist economics is an economic policy package that disregards budget constraints, macroeconomic constraints, good solid productivity constraints, and generates short run benefits at the cost of crisis in the future.
…So those are the policies, what I described. And what the populist leader does then is that in a rhetoric that is quite extreme, and where he or she divides the population between “us, the people” and “them” – and it’s a vague “them”…In that rhetoric, the populist leader takes the discourse directly to the people through big rallies, a referendum, plebiscites. I’m talking about Hugo Chavez and Donald Trump, who continues to be, although he’s now the president, in campaign mode. And in doing this [he] skips the institutions. For instance, they tend to dislike the central bank because it is an institution that tends to maintain sound policies in most countries. First thing that Hugo Chavez did was fire Ruth de Krivoy, the Governor of the central bank of Venezuela, right. So they disregard the institutions, both economic and political.
Garcia notes “that the majority of the populist leaders [Edwards] studied have been left wing. A lot of Marxists.” But as Edwards explains,
In some ways, [Juan] Peron, who had great sympathy for the fascist movements – he was a great admirer of Benito Mussolini – was right wing in many respects. 3 So there is no reason why we cannot have corporatist right-wing populist leaders that favour specific groups in their rhetoric and in their policies and again, very clearly blame, in quotation marks, “the other” for the suffering of “us, the people”. And in the case of Latin America, often “the other” was related to some foreign force – the multinationals, international speculators and, of course, the International Monetary Fund. And what is very ironic is that in the case of Donald Trump, foreigners also are blamed for the plight of the people and, in this case, they are immigrants, the Chinese and international terrorists.
Edwards then lays out the conditions for a populist leader to emerge:
[T]he first phase is a deep public dissatisfaction and discontent. And this dissatisfaction and discontent is of two types. Sometimes it’s quite abrupt. And in Latin America, usually that abrupt crisis has been associated historically with a very large devaluation of the currency…In other cases, the crisis develops much more slowly and it’s a simmering crisis. And that is what we can see in the United States where there is a simmering dissatisfaction, in particular among white, blue collar workers. So first phase, great dissatisfaction. And you can see it in country after country after country…The second phase is the emergence of this populist leader, very charismatic, who operates outside of the political institutions…So this leader that comes out is extremely forceful, very articulate, and in rallies and in direct appeal to the people, provides this very nationalistic rhetoric and gets the people to approve this particular political programme that disregards all sorts of constraints of good, solid economic management.
What does this begin to look like in practice?:
And what we see in many of these populist extremisms in Latin America is that the authority starts picking up on specific companies, firms, conglomerates. And the strong man or the strong woman (Cristina in Argentina) would call the CEO or the controlling figure of that company and would threaten him or her personally or would denounce that company in public rallies, and would direct the mobs to riot and to maybe even break into those stores. And then they are called in and they are told, you have to reduce your prices, or you have to do this, or you have to do that, and you have to raise wages by 50% while, at the same time, you cannot increase the prices of your product. Which, of course, is a variant of what Trump is doing with companies that want to invest and start plans in other parts of the world. So the rule of law, and in particular, the impersonal treatment – equal treatment of everyone in front of the regulators, and so on and so forth – starts to disappear.
The following was an exchange between Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and Republican Senator Lindsay Graham during yesterday’s marathon confirmation hearings:
Graham: I don’t think there’s any reason to suggest you’re his [Trump’s] favorite. Had you ever met Mr. Trump personally?
Gorsuch: Not until my interview.
Graham: In that interview, did he ever ask you to overrule Roe v. Wade?
Gorsuch: No, Senator.
Graham: What would you have done if he had asked?
Gorsuch: Senator, I would have walked out the door.
This exchange is getting all kinds of coverage, and most of the analysis concludes or strongly implies that Gorsuch’s statement is a commitment not to overturn Roe v. Wade. As one example, here is Sophie Tatum’s take for CNN, where she puts Gorsuch’s statement at the hearing in the context of Trump’s promise to nominate a pro-life judge and then segues into “Gorsuch also defended the value of precedent…” This kind of analysis is making some of my pro-life friends furious and some of my pro-choice friends breathe a sigh of relief, but it’s a misunderstanding of what Gorsuch actually meant.
First, Gorsuch was not rejecting the possibility of overruling Roe v. Wade in particular or of overturning court cases generally. This is pretty clear from ths rest of his statement. After saying, “I would have walked out the door,” Gorsuch paused for a long moment before continuing: “That’s not what judges do.” So what, exactly, did Gorsuch mean here? What is it that “judges [don’t] do” and that would have prompted him to walk out on an interview with the President?
The answer is that Gorsuch is committed to rule of law, and that means that as a judge he is bound to only rule on the merits of the cases actually brought before him in light of the law and the relevant facts. To commit to the President–or to anyone–how he would rule on a hypothetical case that hasn’t even been brought yet is a flagrant violation of the judicial process that would have substituted politics for law. Gorsuch reacted so strongly not because he was defending Roe v. Wade, but because he was defending judicial process. In other words, it doesn’t matter which Supreme Court case Trump had asked about, the answer in any case would have been to “[walk] out the door.” You do not nominate anyone to the Supreme Court as a way of setting policy. You do it as a way of sustaining the Constitution. Therefore, Gorsuch’s reply here tells us absolutely nothing about how he would actually rule in a case involving Roe v. Wade other than that it would depend on the specifics of the case as it was actually argued before the Court.
Gorsuch’s core argument in the book is that the US should “retain existing law [banning assisted suicide and euthanasia] on the basis that human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
Right off the bat, this is characteristically pro-life rhetoric. For all that they are derided as merely “anti-abortion,” the pro-life movement is united in opposition to abortion and euthanasia by a commitment to the idea that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable.” You simply never hear the pro-choice side use this kind of language.
In terms of logic, the key here is that “human life” is a broad category, and if it is broadened to include unborn human beings, then Gorsuch’s argument against legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia also applies to abortion. This is made clear in the second quote, this one from a New York Times article:
What gives individuals such an inviolable right, he has reasoned, is a status that legal scholars call “constitutional personhood,” defined by the 14th Amendment. Under that amendment, a state is prohibited from denying any constitutional person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law,” and cannot “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The Roe decision expressly excluded human fetuses from that definition. As the court put it in 1973, “the word ‘person,’ as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn.” But if the Supreme Court were ever to recognize fetuses as constitutional persons, however unlikely that might seem now, then under Judge Gorsuch’s framework, the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause would require that they be entitled to the same legal protection as constitutional persons. Laws that prohibit murder thus would have to be extended to them.
Judge Gorsuch has said as much himself. In his book, he wrote, “Abortion would be ruled out by the inviolability-of-life principle I intend to set forth if, but only if, a fetus is considered a human life.” He noted that had the court “found the fetus to be a ‘person’ for purposes of the 14th Amendment, it could not have created a right to abortion because no constitutional basis exists for preferring the mother’s liberty interests over the child’s life.”
The real give-away for me here, again, is Gorsuch’s very broad language. When he talks about “fetus” and “person” we can infer basically nothing, but when he says “if…a fetus is considered a human life“, then we’re talking about language that is interesting in two regards. First, it is deliberately secular/scientific as opposed to philosophical/theological. This is characteristic of Gorsuch’s thinking which, according to a quote from another article at The Atlantic, relies on “secular moral theory” rather than the stereotypically religious grounds common to much of the pro-life movement. What’s more: once we’ve entered that secular/scientific realm, the question of whether or not a fetus counts as “a human life” has an unambiguous, objective, and absolutely conclusive answer: of course it is.
So let’s recap:
Gorsuch’s comment about walking out the door if Trump had asked him to overrule Roe v. Wade was not a defense of Roe v. Wade. It was a defense of judicial process, and it tells us nothing one way or the other about Gorsuch’s views on abortion in general or Roe v. Wade in particular.
Gorsuch’s book opposes legalziation of assisted suicide and euthanasia under an argument that he explicitly states would apply in abortion as well “if… the fetus is considered a human life,” in ways that suggest (as science dictates) that this is in fact the case.
Taken together, I’d say that Gorsuch comes across as about the most unambiguously pro-life candidate that you could possibly hope for in someone who has not ruled on abortion cases or made explicit statements about the subject. It’s certainly not open-and-shut. He’s a smart person, and smart person and capable of all kinds of weird, circuitous, unexpected twists and turns in their thinking and philosophy. He may indeed be pro-choice, but that’s not where I’d lay my money.
Final thought: I listened to parts of the confirmation hearing yesterday, and there was one exchange I have not been able to find (it was either from around 5:20 or around 8:40) when Gorsuch talked about the motivation for his euthanasia book. It came down to concern for the most vulnerable in society: the poor, the disabled, and minorities. Left unspoken was “the unborn,” but it fit so perfectly in that list–and with Gorsuch’s philosophy as I understand it thus far–that it almost didn’t need to be spoken.
Gallup’s Jonathan Rothwell conducted a study toward the end of last year that found “those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.” Now, Rothwell is back with another study suggesting that the supposed “China Shock” is actually overblown. Rothwell writes,
…[O]ne important achievement of [Autor, Dorn, Hanson, 2013] is its innovative methodology and framework, which has allowed scholars to better understand how import competition affects local areas. Nonetheless, my analysis and extension — which greatly benefited from Autor et al.’s coding and data — conclude that their findings about the harm from import competition at the community level are not robust, beyond the manufacturing sector, and, even then, only in the later period. At the individual level, and consistent with results from Autor et al. (2014), I find that workers in import-intensive industries have a strong attachment to the labor force and are as likely to be employed as workers in other industries.
…Though [Autor et al.’s] paper makes an enormous methodological contribution and provides further and robust evidence that Chinese imports—rather than only technological change—reduced U.S. manufacturing employment, the evidence presented here suggests the paper’s most important findings do not withstand further scrutiny.
…If China had remained a communist country and closed to trade, it is quite likely that manufacturing workers around the world would have enjoyed higher wage growth. While manufacturing job loss probably would not have been as significant, the increased competition from China did not create labor market conditions that appear dramatically different than what workers face in other industries such as retail, restaurants and engineering firms. In fact, the evidence is clear that manufacturing work remains a source of relatively high pay, long tenure, and low layoff risk, despite the intensity of import competition (pg. 20).
What is likely surprising to many, Rothwell found that
for the 1990-to-2000 period, there is no evidence that import competition resulted even in manufacturing job loss. Indeed, many of the manufacturing-specific models show that import competition resulted in a large increase in the average wages of manufacturing workers. The positive wage effect is evident outside of the manufacturing sector, particularly for noncollege educated workers and males. Taken literally, these models show that import competition during the 1990s caused a substantial increase in wages for the average worker. These models also show that import competition increased employment growth for college-educated, nonmanufacturing-sector workers and population growth for people aged 35 to 64.
Of the 45 models with significant effects in the stacked regression, only five retain significance in the expected direction during 1990 to 2000, and each of these pertain to transfer payments. These results could be explained by the population growth of pre-retirement-age workers, as health problems and risk of retirement are increasingly sharply with age. Overall, it appears that import competition in the 1990s was, if anything, largely beneficial to the average worker in the local areas most exposed to competition (pg. 18).
A new job market paper deals another blow to the “China Shock” theory. Using microdata from the US Census Bureau, the author
showed that the employment of US manufacturing firms rose in response to increasing Chinese imports in US output markets. More exposed firms expanded employment (i) in manufacturing, as they hired production workers whom they paid higher wages, and (ii) in non-manufacturing, by adding jobs in R&D, design, engineering, and headquarters services. In other words, China caused a relative expansion of US employment in firms operating in industries that experienced the largest growth in Chinese imports. I argued theoretically, and provided reduced-form evidence, that this was possible through firms’ reorganization toward less exposed output industries, in which the US had a comparative advantage relative to China. In these output industries, firms expanded skilled employment by taking advantage of falling production costs due to increased offshoring to China.
The evidence provided in this paper indicate that the employment losses at the establishment level, measured by the previous papers (Acemoglu et al., 2016; Autor et al., 2013), were compensated by the employment gains that resulted from two sources. First, within-firm reorganization allowed US manufacutring firms to escape the negative impact of the China shock; US manufacturing firms reorganized their activities in many dimensions in response to the China shock. On the one hand, they reorganized their US activity from exposed to non-exposed US output markets. On the other hand, they reorganized their input sourcing as they replaced domestic suppliers with foreign suppliers and increased foreign direct investment. Second, employment at US manufacturing firms expanded in response to the combined effect of increased Chinese imports in US output and input markets. This is because increased imports in the input markets put downward pressure on US manufacturing firms’ cost of sourcing material inputs. Thus, the China shock to the firm’s input markets acted as a favorable cost shock that compensated for some or all of the negative impacts of the increased output market competition.
All of these suggest that the China shock impacted US manufacturing employment in a more nuanced way than simply increasing output market competition at the establishment level, which captures only the losses that resulted from the shock. Reorganization at the firm level and the combined effects of input and ouput market shocks can lead to net job creation. However, this may not involve the same workers in the same industries, in the same regions of the US or the same establishments of the firm (pg. 51).
When one considers the other benefits of trade, it becomes increasingly clear that globalization is not the demon it has been made out to be.
I’ve been feeling Trumped-out since before the election, and I had hoped post election (perhaps naively even after he won) that the Trump obsession would dwindle to a hum. I’ve been dissapointed to say the least (please, Facebook, bring back memes about cats and tacos, I’ve had enough Trump.) I have, however, managed to come across some articles within the Trumpian madness that are actually worth the read.
First, from the NYT, an Italian confronts the similarities between Trump in America and their own media tycoon, Berlusconi, who was prime minister in Italy for a total of nine years. His suggestion on how to combat Trump: stick to policies, ignore the person (Please, ignore the person!).
Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character.
From the Cato Institute, a critique of Trump’s inaugural address, that ignores the style of the address and worries about the substance. The author notes that words indicating an adherence to or respect of the Constitution were missing.
Still, I wish the speech had used the word “Constitution,” or “law” in a way beyond the phrase “law enforcement,” or “Framers” or “Founders,” or “Declaration” or “Amendment” or “individual” or perhaps “rights.” The one occurrence of “right” was in a passage about “the right of all nations to put their interests first.”
From Politico, an indictment of journalistic temper tantrums that describes how journalism should behave (hint: let the facts speak for themselves, oh, and shut up about crowds (and tweets)), and recalls similar (though stylistically different) issues brought about by the Obama administration.
As I’ve hypothesized before, there is a method to Trump’s tweets. Whenever he finds the noose of news lowering over his thick orange neck, he takes to Twitter to change the subject. The more outrageous and self-serving (or should I say “self-dealing”?) the tweets are, the better his results…
Consider the Obama presidency. As former Politicos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen wrote in 2013 in a piece titled, “Obama, the Puppet Master,” he was “a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.” … Obama, VandeHei and Allen explained, took “old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting).” In doing so, “Media across the ideological spectrum [were] left scrambling for access.”
And a, clearly biased, take on Betty White’s thoughts on the current political climate (it’s her birthday and I couldn’t find any less biased articles that focused on this point instead of the fact that she is 95!) from IJR. Even if the article/headline is a stretch, I think Betty has great advice for all of us. Includes a video of Betty and her sloth doll (PS: my son got the same sloth for his birthday.)
I think that’s the time to buckle down and really work positively as much as you can. Instead of just saying, “This is terrible. He’s terrible.” Just think, “Alright, there’s nothing I can do about that right now but I can do the best in my little circle. So if I do that, maybe you’ll do your best and we’ll get through this.”
I took a list of all 981 U.S. counties with 50,000 or more people and sorted it by the share of the population that had completed at least a four-year college degree. Hillary Clinton improved on President Obama’s 2012 performance in 48 of the country’s 50 most-well-educated counties. And on average, she improved on Obama’s margin of victory in these countries by almost 9 percentage points, even though Obama had done pretty well in them to begin with.
Yet, when he looks at “50 counties (minimum population of 50,000) where the smallest share of the population has bachelor’s degrees,” the tune changes considerably:
These results are every bit as striking: Clinton lost ground relative to Obama in 47 of the 50 counties — she did an average of 11 percentage points worse, in fact. These are really the places that won Donald Trump the presidency, especially given that a fair number of them are in swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina. He improved on Mitt Romney’s margin by more than 30 points (!) in Ashtabula County, Ohio, for example, an industrial county along Lake Erie that hadn’t voted Republican since 1984.
Silver continues by showing just how important education was in determining Trump/Clinton support:
High-education, medium-income white counties shifted to Clinton.
High-income, medium-education white counties shifted to Trump.
In short, it appears as though educational levels are the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016. You can come to that conclusion with a relatively simple analysis, like the one I’ve conducted above, or by using fancier methods. In a regression analysis at the county level, for instance, lower-income counties were no more likely to shift to Trump once you control for education levels. And although there’s more work to be done, these conclusions also appear to hold if you examine the data at a more granular level, like by precinct or among individual voters in panel surveys.
So it wasn’t necessarily the economically destitute that voted for Trump. A 2016 Gallup study found
that Americans who live in places where employment in manufacturing has declined since 1990 are not more favorable to Trump. Rothwell [the author] did not find a relationship when he focused only on white respondents, either, or even specifically on white Republicans. Trump’s supporters have many other traits in common with the factory workers whose economic prospects have been negatively affected by automation and global trade. They tend to be less educated men who hold blue-collar occupations. Yet those two broad trends in factory work do not account for Trump’s appeal, Rothwell’s analysis suggests. In fact, among those who share other traits, those who live in districts with more manufacturing are less favorably disposed toward Trump.
However, Silver offers a few “competing hypotheses” to the straightforward interpretation above:
Education levels may be a proxy for cultural hegemony. Academia, the news media and the arts and entertainment sectors are increasingly dominated by people with a liberal, multicultural worldview, and jobs in these sectors also almost always require college degrees. Trump’s campaign may have represented a backlash against these cultural elites.
Educational attainment may be a better indicator of long-term economic well-being than household incomes. Unionized jobs in the auto industry often pay reasonably well even if they don’t require college degrees, for instance, but they’re also potentially at risk of being shipped overseas or automated.
Education levels probably have some relationship with racial resentment, although the causality isn’t clear. The act of having attended college itself may be important, insofar as colleges and universities are often more diverse places than students’ hometowns. There’s more research to be done on how exposure to racial minorities affected white voters. For instance, did white voters who live in counties with large Hispanic populations shift toward Clinton or toward Trump?
Trump’s approach to the campaign — relying on emotional appeals while glossing over policy details — may have resonated more among people with lower education levels as compared with Clinton’s wonkier and more cerebral approach.
Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for secretary of State in order to torture him… To toy with him.
That might be all there is to it. Far be it from me to put pure pettiness past Trump. But whatever the motives, the move comes with an important fringe benefit for Trump. From now on, whenever Romney criticizes Trump, the Trump team can spin it nothing more than sour grapes.
I’m loathe to give Trump credit as some kind of political savant just because he won. I’m more inclined to give credit to larger political forces and sheer dumb luck. But that kind of sabotage doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility. It’s a petty, but useful, way to neutralize the most visible and respected #NeverTrump Republican.
In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.
My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.
But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.
So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?
What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.
While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.
But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.
Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.
How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.
It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!
But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.
Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.
But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.
CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:
Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.
On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.
Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.
If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.
Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.
There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.
2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.
So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.
2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.
Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.
Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.
Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made upstories ofhate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).
I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actualbigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:
[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.
After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.
I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.
Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.
2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.
Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.
Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.
Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?
If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.
Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.
I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.
Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.
Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.
A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.
So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.
The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.
3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.
Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S. Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.
It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)
While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.
Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.
A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.
3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.
But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.
And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.
If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.
3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:
Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.
But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”
Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?
And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:
Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!
In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.
It didn’t happen. When the dust settled, not only had Trump carried the presidency, but he’d also carried Utah by a wide margin: he took 46.8% of the vote, compared to 27.8% for Clinton and 20.4% for McMullin. So much for the “Mormon problem,” I guess.
Not so fast.
As my friend Nate Oman wrote a couple of days ago, one way to look at how Trump fared in Utah this year is to compare how much of the vote he got in 2016 vs. how much the Republican candidate (Mitt Romney) got in 2012. You could call this gap the “vote swing,” and if you really want to know if there’s any substance to the idea of a “Mormon problem,” you’ve got to compare Utah’s vote swing to the vote swings for the rest of the country. This is how that looks:
This is definitely an interesting chart. You can see, for example, that Clinton had a negative swing in almost every single state, whereas Trump had a mixture of positive and negative swings. But–for the question at hand–we can see quite clearly that Trump’s negative swing in Utah is unlike anything else (for either candidate) in this election.
Quick technical note before we move on. If there were only two candidates in 2016 and in 2012, then one candidate’s negative swing would equal another candidate’s positive swing, but that’s not the case. Although third parties didn’t have a major impact on the national level, McMullin took over 20% of Utah’s votes. That’s why Trump has such a starkly negative swing for 2016, but Clinton’s positive swing is quite small.
Now, before we move on, you might be suspicious. After all, Mitt Romney wasn’t just any Republican candidate in 2012. He was a specifically Mormon candidate, so maybe it’s not so much that Trump has a huge Mormon problem as it is that Mitt Romney just did unusually well in 2012. Well, based on the data, that’s not really the case. Romney took 74.6% of Utah’s votes in 2012 and McCain took only 64.5% in 2008, but in 2004 Bush did just about as well as Romney with 73.3% of the votes, and he also did quite well in 200 with 68.3%. So the Romney-Trump swing was 27.6%, but if we used the average of non-Romney Republican candidates over the previous few elections, the swing is still 21.7%, much higher than any other swing in 2016. In short: Mormons disliked Trump a lot more than they liked Romney.
Nate was curious to get a bit more historical context, however, and so he sent me a data set containing the electoral results for every presidential election going back to 1828. I ran some very quick analysis at the time, and he posted an addendum here. I’ve had a bit more time to go through the data since then, however, and so I want to share a few more observations of my own.
First, a couple more notes. I couldn’t actually use all of the data from 2016-1828 because in several cases there were third parties (or even fourth parties) that attracted significant votes. The whole idea of “vote swing” only works if you’re dealing with basically two candidates from the same parties. So I only included pairs of consecutive elections where:
Third parties captured 5% or less of the national vote in both elections
The candidates from the primary two parties were from the same party in both elections
Doing this left me with 20 pairs of elections to look at. Since the data is older than some states, I ended up with 971 individual elections. Finally, to keep things a little simpler, I only used one vote swing for each year. In those years where there were no third party candidates at all, this was simple, because whatever votes one candidate gains come from the other candidate, and so the vote swings are equal anyways. (One is positive, one is negative.) Since I included some elections where third party candidates took up to 5%, I couldn’t rely on the vote swings being identical, so instead I just took the absolute value of the maximum vote swing.
OK, methodological notes aside, here’s what the histogram of vote swings looks like for all the eligible elections between 2016 and 1828:
From this chart, you can see that the vast majority of vote swings are less than 10%, and that a vote swing of over 27% is very rare but not unprecedented. To be exact, there were 932 vote swings less than Utah’s 2016 swing and 38 vote swings more than Utah’s 2016 swing. That puts Utah’s vote swing this year in the 96th percentile.
So that makes the 2016 defection from Trump very unusual, but far from unprecedented. There were larger swings than Utah’s 2016 swing in elections from 1976, 1964, 1952, 1948, 1932, 1920, and 1900. However, when we look at those years, something else pops out of the data that makes the Utah swing this year even more unusual.
So the thing that should be sticking out in both of these charts is that in the other years with major vote swings, these were national or regional phenomena. I’ll make a few annotations to see if I can draw that out:
So, in the years where there were bigger vote swings than Utah’s in 2016, there were much bigger vote swings across the nation as a whole and there were significant spikes in multiple states (usually states in the Deep South, for obvious historical reasons.) What sets Utah apart is not just that the anti-Trump vote swing was very high, but also that it happened in a year where the rest of the vote swing was actually pretty mild and that it was localized in just a single state.
There’s another way to measure that, by the way, which is to look at the difference between the maximum vote swing and the 2nd highest vote swing. So the all-time greatest vote swing was in Mississippi in 1948 at 83.5%, but during the same election Alabama had a vote swing of 81.7%. So the gap between the highest vote swing and the second-highest was really small: just 1.8 percentage points.
Contrast that with 2016. Utah had a 27.6% swing and the next-highest was 11.9% in North Dakota. The gap between the two was 15.6%. It turns out, that was higher than the gap between the largest and second-largest swing in any other election year.
So that “Mormon problem” that everyone was talked about? Even though Trump managed to take Utah, it’s still totally a thing. He suffered a historically large election-over-election vote swing as Utah voters abandoned the GOP for third parties, for the Democrats, or to just stay home. It’s not the resounding repudiation I’d hoped for with an Evan McMullin win, but it’s still a pretty clear signal.
And, before we wrap this up, it’s worth noting that when it comes to Mormons’ anti-Trump sentiment, the feeling is mutual. Just yesterday, Trump picked Steve Bannon as his senior adviser (think: Karl Rove). Bannon was the CEO of Trump’s campaign and, before that, he took over Breitbart after founder Andrew Breitbart passed away and turned it into the alt-right mouthpiece it is today. Along the way, he’s taken pot-shots at Mormons more than once, including calling Mitt Romney’s sons out for serving full-time missions and running an anti-Mormon, anti-immigration piece from Tom Tancredo. With Evan McMullin continuing his conservative insurgency and Trump placing anti-Mormon advisers in top positions, the Mormon/Republican rift is unlikely to narrow–let alone heal completely–any time soon.