There is a recurring conversation among reasonable people–a category that includes long-time Republicans who now feel disenfranchised, as well as Democrats and the diminishing number of genuine Independents–that revolves around a single question: how can anyone continue to support Donald Trump? Who are the people in his (evidently fervent) base? And what in the world is wrong with them?
What prompts that question is a recognition that rejection of Trump isn’t political. It’s moral.
Most Americans who were raised to be polite to other people, who were taught to value modesty and integrity, who honored George Washington by insisting that he “never told a lie,” who were raised to pay their debts and own their mistakes, see Donald Trump as the polar opposite of these virtues. People who value knowledge and education see a man who is not only utterly devoid of intellect, but proud of it.
Above all, for those of us who were raised to believe that racism and associated bigotries are not only wrong, but unAmerican, Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of those bigotries reveals him to be an altogether repulsive figure.
I have significant political and policy disagreements with Republican friends who are “never Trumpers” (and with plenty of my Democratic friends as well). What we all have in common, however, is a belief that immorality and ignorance are flaws, not virtues, and dread about the immense harm this administration is doing every day.
That brings me to the question with which I introduced this meditation: who are the people who can look at Trump’s daily, egomaniacal, misspelled tweet-rants, his word-salad harangues, his documented whoppers and corruption, and the overwhelming evidence that he is seriously mentally ill–and still support him?
Thomas Edsell tried to answer that question in a recent New York Times column. He concluded that Trump’s coalition is dependent upon better-off white people who did not graduate from college.
On Feb. 24, 2016, after winning the Nevada caucuses, Donald Trump told supporters in Las Vegas, “I love the poorly educated.”
Technically, he should have said “I love poorly educated white people,” but his point was well taken.
We have been talking about this since Trump came down that escalator four years ago, but we haven’t quite reckoned with the depth of the changes in the electorate or the way they have reshaped both parties.
Edsell shares data showing that college-educated white voters have been leaving the Republican Party, with the biggest shift occurring between 2016 to 2018.
Political scientists at Duke and Ohio State make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.
Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.
According to this analysis, it isn’t white working-class voters who form the base upon which Trump depends–it’s relatively well-off, low-education whites.
Edsell also notes the obvious: the support of Evangelical Christians:
The key bloc for both Trump and the Republican Party is made up of white Christian evangelicals. Eight out of ten of these voters cast ballots for Trump, and intensely religious voters make up 40 percent of the Republican electorate.
The column is lengthy, and the analysis is interesting–especially the discussion about the true values (as opposed to the professed values) of that Evangelical bloc–but it’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: Trump’s base (which is today’s GOP) is composed of people who fear cultural displacement by those “others.” They are willing to overlook the ignorance, the nastiness, the corruption and dishonesty, and all the harm being done, because they share the bigotry.
For Trump’s base, hate isn’t a bug. It’s the feature that overwhelms all else.