I’ve been thinking a lot about the best imaginable Trump voter. This is the Trump supporter who wasn’t motivated by racism or bigotry. This is the one who cringed every time Donald Trump did something cruel, vulgar and misogynistic.
But this voter needed somebody to change the systems that are failing her. She needed somebody to change the public school system that serves the suburban children of professors, journalists and lawyers, but has left her kids under-skilled and underpaid. She needed some way to protect herself from the tech executives who give exciting speeches about disruption but don’t know anything about the people actually being disrupted.
She is one of those people whom Joan C. Williams writes about in The Harvard Business Review who admires rich people but disdains professionals: the teachers who condescend to her, the doctors who don’t make time for her, the activists whose definition of social justice never seems to include the suffering people like her experience.
This voter wants leaders tough enough to crack through the reigning dysfunction, and sure enough, Trump’s appointments so far represent the densest concentration of hyper-macho belligerence outside a drill sergeant retirement home.
This voter wants a philosophic change of course, and Trump offers that, too. The two party establishments are mired in their orthodoxies, but Trump and his appointees are embodiments of the nationalism espoused by Pat Buchanan, the most influential public intellectual in America today.
Buchanan’s organizing worldview is embodied in visceral form in the person of Steve Bannon.
“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia,” Bannon said in his Hollywood Reporter interview. The new political movement, he said, is “everything related to jobs.”
He vowed to drive conservatives crazy with a gigantic spending program to create jobs. He vowed to use that money to create a new New Deal that will win over 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote, creating a neo-Jacksonian majority that will govern for 50 years.
It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see why some good people might be willing to tolerate Trump and Bannon’s personalities in order to pursue it.
Thinking about this best voter has helped me take an emotional pause. Many of my fellow Trump critics are expressing outrage, depression, bewilderment or disgust. They’re marching or writing essays: Should we normalize Trump or fight the normalizers?
It all seems so useless during this transition moment. It’s all a series of narcissistic displays and discussions about our own emotional states.
It seems like the first thing to do is really learn what this election is teaching us. Second, this seems like a moment for some low-passion wonkery. It’s stupid to react to every Trump tweet outrage with your own predictable howls. It’s silly to treat politics and governance purely on cultural grounds, as a high school popularity contest, where my sort of people denigrates your sort of people.
We’ve arrived at the moment of actual governing. We’ve arrived at the moment when Trump has to turn his vague notions into concrete proposals.
Trump promised to rip up the Iran deal, but he seems to be realizing there are six other signatories and we’ve lost leverage with the Iranians because we already gave them back their money.
Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, but how do you do that when it has already been woven into the fabric of every health care system in America?
Whether it’s reforming immigration or trade policy, his governing challenge is going to be astoundingly hard and complicated. Surely this is not the moment to get swept up in our own moral superiority, but rather to understand the specificity of the proposals he comes up with and to offer concrete amendments and alternatives to address the same problems.
Finally, surely a little universal humility is in order. Orthodox Republicans spent the past 30 years talking grandly about entrepreneurialism while the social fabric around their core voters disintegrated. Maybe a little government action would have helped?
The Democratic Party is losing badly on the local, state and national levels. If you were a football team you’d be 2-8. Maybe you can do better than responding with the sentiment: Sadly, the country isn’t good enough for us.
Those of us in the opinion class have been complaining that Trump voters are post-truth, that they don’t have a respect for expertise. Well, the experts created a school system that doesn’t produce skilled graduates. The experts designed Obamacare exchanges that are failing. Maybe those of us in the professional class need to win back some credibility the old-fashioned way, with effective reform.
There will be plenty of time to be disgusted with Trump’s bigotry, narcissism and incompetence. It’s tempting to get so caught up in his outrage du jour that you never have to do any self-examination. But let’s be honest: It wouldn’t kill us Trump critics to take a break from our never-ending umbrage to engage in a little listening.
David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times