This election season has made abundantly clear to me how many people I consider friends and political allies are complete fucking morons. Almost daily, I receive a notice in my news feed, or a hear a discussion on Public Radio, or overhear a water cooler conversation that involves some version of: “Why would anyone vote for this misogynist douche-bag?”
They struggle with this idea for hours on end, bemoaning how sad it is that so many Americans seem to be the kind of bigoted throwbacks to another generation that the liberal vanguard thought they had largely defeated. On and on they blather about how David Duke endorses this guy, how he has offended every minority in America, how he is not fit to lead a one man show, much less a nation etc. etc.
All the while, I just can’t help but think, how stupid are my friends to not get this? No wonder nothing good ever happens for America – if the best the good people have to offer is this dumb struck name calling response to a nationwide phenomena then maybe there really is no hope for progress. When Hillary Clinton must resort to calling Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables” she is obviously just as confused as the rest of the liberals who are blindly following her.
Trump Supporters Are Not Idiots or Racists: They Are Rationally Self Interested
The famous novelist – philosopher Ayn Rand very powerfully argues for the concept of objectivism. The theory of objectivism as she puts it, is that “man is a heroic being with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Libertarians and conservatives across America have adopted this view for decades. She was twice a best seller in her lifetime because of the appeal of this philosophy to broad swaths of the population, even though it was largely ignored by academics. It is absolutely essential to understand this if you are ever going to understand why Donald Trump is so popular among the general public – the objectivist moral philosophy is at the core of the political divide in our country.
If you accept objectivism as your model for ethical decision making, many things fall neatly into place. Laissez Faire capitalism becomes an ethical imperative at the national and state level: interfering with individual rights to pursue whatever business pursuits one desires is literally considered evil. On the personal level, decision making comes down to one simple principle: if I pursue this course of action, will it make me better off and allow me to achieve more.
Taking those principles and applying them to the current election, you can very quickly and easily understand why Trump has the support he does. If you are a white man living in America, you will personally benefit from any policies that reinforce structural racism and sexism. If women cannot participate fully in the workforce, then men will have a bigger share of the pie. If black men are incarcerated at higher rates, then white men will get the jobs that could have gone to black men. If people from outside of the country are not allowed entry, they cannot compete with you for either jobs or government benefits. If our international relationships are destabilized, it will create opportunities for profiteering by largely white male owned and directed financial speculators. Across the board, a Trump presidency makes white men better off individually than they currently are. It is not even debatable.
But What is Best for White Men is Not What is Best for America!
If you are making that argument, you didn’t understand what I meant when I discussed the powerful influence of objectivism on the American social conscience. A very large swath of our nation, 45% of likely voters or more, believe that not only is doing what is right for themselves is best for America, but they also think that you are an immoral person if you behave any differently. To be self deprecating, to accept less than you can demand for work that you do, to make accommodations for people who are struggling – these are the equivalent of grave sins to the objectivist. They believe at a very basic level that people who voluntarily chose to be less happy so that others will suffer less are bad people. They view those behaviors as “enabling” and “weakening” our nation. Until you understand and accept that this is driving voter behavior, you will never understand the Trump constituency. And if you cannot understand it, you cannot defeat it.