For years it has rubbed a raw nerve whenever some pontificating pundit has put forth the idea that red-state individuals vote against their self-interests, but the discussion has been perverted so far that it took Frank Rich’s 4000+ word screed in New York magazine bashing readers about their heads with an almost mechanical redundancy to make me realize precisely where the problem lay. His extended article fired my imagination about what the true self-interests of the voters actually are, for I believe that Trump voters made a statement that does, per se, express their self-interest, but in so doing showed a preference for ideas which fly right over the pointy and outsized heads of the misguided unfortunates on the left.
Rich’s extended naval-gazing exercise regarding the arguments among many ‘progressives’ about the recent election was one of the most depressing pieces about America that I have read in a while (and that is time I will never get back). Not because of his premise, that working-class white Trump voters are all just bigoted rubes too dumb to realize that they need government to help them get ahead in life. No, the depressing part about this article was just how far the left has allowed the frame of the discussion to shift over the past few decades. Milquetoast conservatives of the Bushie brand have certainly contributed to this apocalyptic shift, but the distortion has largely been driven by ‘progressives’ and their toadies in the press, the government bureaucracy, and colleges and universities throughout this land.
So what is this seismic shift that has led to increased partisan divide and an inability of blue-staters to comprehend the thought processes of half of our population? It unfortunately has become part of the accepted narrative of our current politics that people who vote for less government are voting against their own self-interest.
Now this supposition may not seem remarkable to many of you, and in fact this new narrative may seem like just an ‘obvious’ statement – certainly to more ‘progressive’ readers. Many people may even believe that this is just a self-evident ‘fact’ and may even reject my hypothesis that this is a ‘new narrative’. But for those of us in the enlightened ‘traditional liberal’, i.e. conservative, camp this is a point that remains highly in doubt and one that should not be accepted without vigorous opposition.
Rich makes an argument that Trump’s working-class voters are so lost in their own red-state bubble that it may not even be worth the trouble for the Democratic party to try to reach out to them:
The most insistent message of right-wing media hasn’t changed since the Barry Goldwater era: Government is inherently worthless, if not evil, and those who preach government activism, i.e., liberals and Democrats, are subverting America. Facts on the ground...do nothing to counter this bias.
The ‘facts on the ground’ he refers to are the loss of working class jobs (which he attributes to greedy free market corporate robber barons) and the opioid epidemic (undoubtedly the fault of greedy pharmaceutical robber barons). He then goes on to say that:
The notion that they can be won over by some sort of new New Deal — “domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance),” as Mark Lilla puts it — is wishful thinking.
But herein lies the fallacy of his thinking: believing that the only thing important in the lives of these people is the number in their bank account, health insurance, and the accumulation of material things around them. He makes the case that great unwashed hordes of hillbillies are really just out-of-work losers who don’t have enough brain cells to realize that the government has freed them from work (via NAFTA) and furnished them with financial aid and cheap imports from China, and that instead of being grateful and taking the blue pill for more of the same, they have opted for OxyContin induced bliss and early death. Only their always benevolent betters in government can save them from themselves.
By voting for Trump, however, they have cried out for a change in the national course. Glenn Reynolds’ article in USA Today makes a strong argument for one of the reasons why they have done so – the abject failure of so-called experts to solve our problems. The people want to be free of their overseers and provide for themselves. And one of the biggest barriers preventing these people from pulling themselves up has been the heavy hand of government, enshrining in regulation a Rube Goldberg apparatus of occupational licenses which purports to ensure competency of virtually every working person but instead offers a government provided protection racket to those lucky enough to already have a job while simultaneously reducing ‘expertise’ to the lowest common denominator.
Rich laments that Reagan’s dictum “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help” ‘remains gospel’ on the right, but it does so because for so many regular people it rings true. The media has repeatedly lambasted Trump and his supporters as anti-immigrant and used the words on the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses…” to try to rebut his policy proposals but usually stops there without finishing out the phrase. It is instructive that to examine the rest of the poem, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, to see that Lady Liberty stands in contrast to the fallen Colossus of Rhodes, the “brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land”. She is not a monument to empire, or to what government has built. The “huddled masses” do not yearn for a handout from some self-titled ‘elite’, but yearn to breathe free: free from tyranny, free from the heavy hand of an unelected bureaucracy, free from self-righteous, patronizing, and smug pronouncements from urban pomposities who know nothing of the way of life or the values of half of their countrymen.