The Corner

Politics & Policy

I’m Alarmed by Trump Support Because I’m Not a Cloistered Elitist

In response to Here Comes Rubio: Rising Star, Crist Challenger Rallies the Right

Jonah, I appreciated your response to Joe Scarborough’s Washington Post piece. Perhaps the element that was most problematic about it was his reliance on the notion that Trump critics — and critics of his supporters — are walled off in our own cultural cocoons:

When members of Manhattan’s media elite come to Mark Halperin’s home for dinner, Halperin likes to ask his guests whether they have spent more time in Paris or Staten Island. More often than not, his guests select the destination that does not offer regular ferry service from Battery Park.

Halperin’s dinner quiz provides a glimpse into what conservatives have long mocked as the cloistered existence of liberal elites who report on a nation they don’t understand. Republican critics have long complained that these media elites are schooled, spend their summers and live most of their lives in urbane enclaves that provide little insight into how the rest of America lives.

But in 2016, conservative commentators are sounding as cocooned from their own political party as any liberal writing social commentary for the New Yorker or providing political analysis for ABC News.

I would submit that the closer one gets to Trumpism, the worse it looks. When Kevin Williamson writes about the white working class, he’s writing about a subject he knows intimately. As I’ve explained countless times before, I live in the heart of Trump country (Trump won my home county with 40 percent of the primary vote), and when I write about Trump fans, I’m writing about people I talk to almost every day.

Let’s stipulate that the vast majority of these individuals are not racists. Trump is attracting a small flock of online alt-right followers, and they can crush a comment board or a Twitter timeline, but there’s no indication that they comprise a significant amount of his real-world vote. The alt-right is out there, it’s vile, and it draws inspiration from Trump, but when I speak about Trump’s broad appeal, I’m not speaking about the racist troll brigade.

However, what I do see with my own eyes is a combination of unreasoning anger, entitlement, and indifference to truth. I’m a “politics is downstream from culture” guy, and I believe it’s dangerous to embrace destructive social movements in the name of winning elections. People I care about are supporting Trump because he “pisses the right people off” or he “kicks ass” — and by their own admission they just don’t care that he lies habitually and repeatedly or knows virtually nothing about foreign policy, the economy, or the Constitution. They just want to “burn it all down.”

As for those who think Trump actually knows what he’s doing, it’s frankly bizarre to see neighbors who mocked “hope and change” and gleefully shared a famous YouTube of a woman talking about how Obama’s election would mean that she wouldn’t have to worry about paying her mortgage taking it on faith that Trump’s going to “make America great again” and keep our jobs safe. It’s two sides of the same coin, and both sides are bad for America.

Months ago, I wrote and tweeted that I was against Trump but for his people. But one can’t be for anybody and at the same time indulge and rationalize their worst impulses. I grew up steeped in the “old time religion” of the American South, and in that culture there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your neighbor that he’s on the wrong path. So I’m okay with demanding that friends wake up — either in person or on the printed page. I’d hope they’d have enough respect and regard for me to do the same if they thought I was drifting from my convictions. Now is not the time for subtlety.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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