Today’s post by Daniel von Wachter (International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein) is the sixth and final post in a series featuring invited reflections on the recent election from right-of-center philosophers. These philosophers are otherwise not associated with Rightly Considered and should not be assumed to hold views expressed by anyone else on this blog.
van Wachter is Professor and Director of the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein. He earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of Hamburg and a DPhil in theology from the University of Oxford. He is the author of two books and dozens of articles in metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and other subjects.
Daniel von Wachter, www.von-wachter.de
26 November 2016
The psychology of Trump’s voters and of Clinton’s voters
Instead of declaring what I think is good and what is bad about Donald Trump‘s plans, I want to try to give an account of some aspects of the psychology of Trump‘s voters and of Clinton’s voters. Many lament that in this election we have seen such a decay of mores. We cannot even allow our children to watch the presidential debates! For conservatives, that is what you would expect them to say. For them Trump‘s occasional (or, if you prefer, frequent) rudeness counted against him, and they weighed this against other aspects, which they found good. The result then was compared to the pros and cons of the other candidate. They decided to vote for the “lesser evil”. But how come that the Clinton voters join their moral choir? How come that when presented with Trump’s “locker room talk” they turn out to have so tender sentiments that you would expect them to have a heart attack when they see a picture of a woman in a bikini? They are usually not the ones who call for sexual morality. Are they not the proponents of the sexual revolution, of moral relativism, and of rebellion against traditional morality?
To be fair, they are not the only ones who are hypocritical. Some of their opponents on the one hand present themselves as conservatives, promoting morals and values, campaigning against abortion, but on the other hand do not seem to be touched very much by the horrendous evils that occur in wars, and the regime changes, prisons like Guantánamo, and the government’s supporting rebells who are then called “freedom fighters” also do not quite seem to fit well with conservative values. They were rebuked in this election by the people nominating Donald Trump instead of one of the more traditional Republican candidates.
What did Trump’s voters think?
Now consider what many of the Trump voters, also called “white angry men”, thought about the “liberals”, whom we in Europe call “socialists”. My hypothesis about the effect of Trump’s occasional rudeness is that, strategically speaking, it was not a disadvantage of Trump, but it played an essential strategic role. With it he achieved something that many conservatives always wanted to achieve but never managed to achieve. The “liberals” say, and perhaps even believe, that people were attracted to Trump because they are racists, bigots, etc. This error is a part of the reason why Clinton lost. As one eminent philosopher observed: “Middle America is sick to death of being told how stupid and backward they are, sick to death of being looked down upon and spoken down to. They are sick to death of being lectured at by Hollywood types, pointy headed intellectuals, and New York this and that. They’re sick of being called racists and bigots.” They resent the many “You must not say this”, “You must not say that”. If you say ‘p’ and somebody responds ‘Not p!’, then you can respect that and defend yourself. But if somebody responds ‘That is outrageous, you are such a hateful person, many are hurt by what you said!’, that is, if instead of giving a factual response he moralizes and emotionalizes against you, then, if you are weak, this might make you backtrack, but it might also produce a desire in you to stop this moralizing and to hate the moralizers. People hate being moralized especially by those who undermine morality and who rebelled against their parents, accusing them of being narrow and moralizing.
Some of the conservatives are naive losers: They try to point out that there is an inconsistency between the “liberal’s” cry for tolerance (which was used already in the 18th century) and their anti-discrimination and hate-speech laws, and they are surprised that they do not convince their opponents with this insight. They have always been the losers when attacked by the “liberating tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse had recommended as a weapon against “the Right”. (“Liberating tolerance would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”) Conservatives assume that they are in a rational discussion when they are in fact in a battle. They assume that offering some compromises, such as being a little feminist, using “she” instead of “he”, and following as many “One must not say this” rules as possible would pacify their opponents. They apologize and backtrack when attacked. They apologize when somebody tells them that they are “offended” or “hurt” by what they said. Instead of attacking their opponents, they attack those whom their opponents tell them to attack (“Distance yourself from x!”). Because they have been taught that things are never “black or white” (at least in Germany people are taught this), they do not say that things are as they seem but that they are as their opponents say they are.
But Trump won. Although or because he is perhaps not very conservative, he is the first ever to win a battle against liberating tolerance, against political correctness and against the moralizing of the “liberals”. His strategy was again and again to make statements unapologetically which by his opponents are considered to be immoral. It seems as though his sometimes making statements which really are a bit immoral made him yet more victorious. The label “populist”, which is another attempt to attack someone through moralizing and feelings instead of factual claims and arguments, did not work anymore against Trump. If a politician says that illegal immigrants should be prevented from entering the country, then he is called pejoratively “populist”, although he is just defending the law. And why do we think that democracy is good if even on such an issue the will of the people should not be done? If, on the other hand, a politician says that “the rich” should pay more taxes and it should be given to “the poor”, then he is not called “populist”, although this is a clear case of appealing to people’s deep-seated, reprehensible envy and of something that is wrong even if the majority wants it. Trump’s victory is two-fold: On the one hand he demoralized his opponents and dulled their weapon of liberating tolerance and political correctness. On the other hand he motivated enough people to vote for him.
Now it is the “liberals” who are hopelessly naive. They do not understand that their political correctness and liberating tolerance under certain circumstances, which have now come to be the case, cause a reaction. They continue to moralize and to emotionalize. In addition they now psychologize Trump voters, calling them “white angry men” who are driven by Angst and frustration because of impoverishment – instead of addressing them with factual claims and perhaps even arguments. Or they even start to believe in their own propaganda, believing that Trump is a clown and a misogynist, that a large segment of the population are racists and bigots, and that political correctness, antidiscrimination laws and hate-speech laws are really moral, rather than just a clever strategy modelled after Marcuse’s “liberating tolerance”. Some “liberals” have understood these things and understood them already before the election, for example Bill Maher and Michael Moore, but most are still clueless. Socialist ideas will stay, but the kind of political correctness and journalism promoted by the “liberals” today is waning. They will not be able to close Pandora’s box again. Once the naked emperor has been called naked, the admirers of his cloths stand no chance. Neither the “white angry men” nor the Alt-Right, today’s anti-socialist iconoclasts, will disappear very soon, and with their help also the conservatives might be able to overcome their inhibitions. And the libertarians will support this development too.
The history of socialism
In order to understand the “liberal” mind better, we need to consider the development of socialism. The spectacularly wrong predictions that Clinton would win remind one of the Marxist idea, inspired by some Hegelian ideas, that the revolution will necessarily come because history is deterministic. “Progress” cannot be stopped. The majority of the journalists see themselves as the progressive class that lead the masses to the revolution. Other Republican victories were set-backs that they can live with because the other republican presidents did not change the direction of the general development. But Trump‘s victory cannot be because he destroys political correctness and the whole idea of what progress is. He might not be as conservative as some other candidates would be and he might disappoint his voters in several areas, but he attacked the “liberal” or socialist movement like nobody else. Trump‘s victory cannot be because the revolution is necessary and because “progress” is progress. It is a violation of the laws of nature. Therefore they were sure that he would not win, and therefore their defeat is so devastating.
Between 1910 and 1930 the socialists realized that their plan to overthrow Western culture and order through the proletariat (the workers), based on Marx’s view that industrialization would lead to intolerable conditions for the working class, was doomed to fail. Considering Marx’s general strategy of “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, they therefore developed different strategies, using on the one hand other groups which they could present as being suppressed by the bourgeoisie, by capitalism, or by Christianity and in need of liberation, and on the other hand intellectuals. Ironically, or perhaps naturally, it is again the workers who do not behave in the way the socialists expect. Again the socialists are angry at them, calling them “angry white men”.
I actually agree with some socialists that there is some danger of national socialism, though perhaps more in Europe than in the USA. In Germany after the First World War the National Socialists used people’s anger and their fear of Bolshevist revolution. Having enough money for propaganda, the National Socialists could use this sentiment to gain votes. Today, fortunately, Trump as well as thus far the rising anti-establishment parties and politicians in Europe are neither really nationalist (by that I mean a people like the government of Ukraine after the Maidan coup d’état) nor radically socialist, even though some of these parties have socialist inclinations or fractions. The way to be on guard is certainly not to keep going around calling ordinary people racists, homophobic, fascists, or bigots. That could pave the way for national socialists. However, to end on a positive note, we should be happy that Trump won a victory against political correctness and might actually do some good things, e.g. lower the probability of a war against Russia, which Clinton’s no-fly zones in Syria would have raised significantly.
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- Election Reflection VI: Daniel von Wachter - November 27, 2016
- Election Reflection V: Philippe Lemoine - November 26, 2016
- Election Reflection IV: Harold Fine - November 23, 2016
- Election Reflection III: Spencer Case - November 22, 2016
- Election Reflection II: John Kekes - November 21, 2016
- Election Reflection I: William F. Vallicella - November 20, 2016
- Congratulations, Donald J. Trump - November 9, 2016
- Censor This. - October 7, 2016
- An Open Letter to Michael Rea and the SCP, from a Worried Gay Philosopher - September 28, 2016