Media and political consultants are in full mea culpa mode now that Donald Trump has essentially clinched the Republican nomination to be President. As part of this reckoning there’s also an effort underway to assess why it is that Republican voters have chosen a candidate like Trump.
According to Eric Boehlert at Media Matters, some reasons offered up include: “Republican elites failed to effectively coalesce around an anti-Trump candidate. The news media essentially sponsored Trump’s campaign with an unprecedented amount of free exposure. And Republican voters didn’t penalize Trump for his obvious policy flip-flops.”
While all these reasons offer some truth, I believe the real reason that voters have flocked to Trump is spite. Americans have watched as both Republicans and Democrats have enacted policies that have destroyed their standard of living and left them in a precarious economic situation. To them a vote for Trump is a big fuck-you to the political establishment. These voters aren’t dumb. They know that Trump’s plans probably won’t help them but they’re at the point where they just want everyone else to suffer too.
Political philosopher Mark Ames wrote an essay entitled Spite the Vote, back in 2004 where he asks the question that liberal political analysts can’t seen to wrap their head around. “Why do so many working- and middle-class white males vote against what is obviously their own best interests?
I can tell you why. They do so out of spite. Put your ear to the ground in this country, and you’ll hear the toxic spite churning. It’s partly the result of commercial propaganda and sexual desperation–a desperation far more common than is admitted…Spite-voters also lack the sense that they have a stake in America’s future. That’s another area that separates the spite-bloc’s way of thinking from the progressive-left that wants to help them. There is something proprietary implied in all of the didacticism and concern found in the left’s tone—and they do all have that grating, caring tone, it’s built into the foundations of their whole structure. But consider this: The left struggles to understand why so many non-millionaire Americans vote Republican, and yet they rarely ask themselves why so many millionaires, particularly the most beautiful and privileged millionaires in Manhattan and Los Angeles, vote for the Democrats. I can answer both. Rich, beautiful, coastal types are liberal precisely because their lives are so wonderful. They want to preserve their lives exactly as they are.”
Ames well describes how Republican elite were able to employ this spite to re-elect Bush in 2004. Since then this same Republican elite have watched in horror as the spite has been turned on them, as their former supporters realized that wedge issues like gay marriage, abortion, religious freedom, and the outrage over tranny bathrooms are simply excuses to give billionaires tax breaks.
Hence the appeal of Donald Trump.
As part of his essay, Ames argued that the left was missing an opportunity to use spite to enact progressive policies. “But the left should see this as an opportunity. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist—or even a marketing whiz– to imagine how the left could tap into all that spite, envy, and petty malice. It’s right there in front of all of our faces. We can use spite to reform this wrecked country! After all, the spite we want to arouse is absolutely legit, totally justified and in fact way overdue! Why is the left so wobbly-kneed about bringing up the obvious? It’s about time the American people started to feel the anger and bitterness they should be feeling toward the people who’ve robbed and suckered them all these years!”
The candidacy of Bernie Sanders has demonstrated how this anger and bitterness and spite might be deployed to help the average American. Bernie has also demonstrated that economic populism has a large following, and that a plurality are looking for an alternative to the types of economic policies favored by both parties. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is still in thrall with neoliberalism and their choice of Hillary Clinton as their standard bearer could prove disastrous.
I’ve been saying for some time that, liberals have contributed to the rise of Trump with their rejection of economic populism and emphasis on social issues to differentiate themselves from Republicans. In fact, Democratic and Republican elites have both played their supporters for patsies for forty years and in the process seized all economic and political power for themselves.
Those chickens have come home to roost.
Update: There’s a great article at Naked Capitalism with comments that captures the spite driving this election.
“Man am I sick of elites. I’m sick of the sanctimonious Ted Cruz/Erik Erickson Objectivist Christians and I’m sick of the sanctimonious identity politics/PC liberals. I lost all faith in the Democrats when Obama started angling for a Grand Bargain. With no Sanders as an option, I will happily, if somewhat nihilisticaly, pull the lever for Trump, and if that makes the loathesome Andrew Sullivan’s beard fall out, at least that’s something.”