Opinion

How to win back the hearts and minds of Trump supporters

Shouting at them will only make it worse. Here's a better way.

Let's hope this time is the last straw. And let's not think too hard about the many other times we've said that. Donald Trump's proposal to ban all Muslim immigration can only be understood as an open flirtation with fascism.

As a Christian who sometimes frets about the state of the Christian community in America, who winces when Hillary Clinton says that if religion doesn't like progressive politics, then religion will have to change, I can't imagine what a peaceful American Muslim family man must be feeling right now.

Whatever happens with Trump, and I hope and pray that he flames out in embarrassing fashion, this is not the end of "Trumpism," as many have noted. Trump has found a constituency, and cannier politicians than him will try to exploit it, and perhaps turn it into a movement.

Many commentators on the left have said that the rise of Trump calls for soul-searching on the right. I used to dismiss this as meaningless concern-trolling, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, yes: Trump voters do not self-identify as conservative and Trump's base is not movement conservatives or the Tea Party as such. And it's not like the GOP establishment or the conservative movement is goading Trump on; instead they are either closing their eyes and hoping he goes away or actively trying to destroy him. And so many leftists basically presume that all right-wingery is just thinly-disguised racist rage that one has to tune that sort of silliness out.

But, of course, everyone has a bias against soul-searching, against looking in the mirror at what hurts. Yes, the conservative movement, and the Republican Party more generally, has a problem with race, and with jingoism — which is not the same thing as saying that conservatism is inseparable from these problems, or that conservatives are by and large racist. And at this point, I do think the Trump phenomenon calls for some soul-searching, albeit what form it takes or what outcome it leads to is, to me, unclear.

With that being said, and well and truly said, though, some counter-concern-trolling is in order. As one who is not only a conservative, but a citizen of France, where the Front National has been a thorn in the political class' side for going on 30 years now, and shows no sign of stopping, I do have some advice for America's elite political class in dealing with runaway populist movement: Do the opposite of everything the French political class has been doing.

First, and most importantly, successful populist movements are always a symptom of a failure of political elites. Calling for soul-searching on the part of America's elite isn't just counter-concern-trolling. It is also truly required.

Second, don't demonize the demonizers. And not just because of logic. When was the last time you saw an insult change someone's mind? Just shouting about how Trump and his followers are fascists, or troglodytes, or racists, just feeds the beast. This is a well-known psychological phenomenon: When you keep berating someone who is in a position of weakness, they risk integrating that into their own identity and self-perception and then acting it out. Or, more likely, they just vow to keep voting Trump/FN for as long as they live, just to spite you.

Third, maybe, I don't know, address those voters' concerns? Clearly, a big part of Trump's appeal is driven by economics. We have had a hollowing-out of many middle class communities and stagnating wages for a very long time. Meanwhile, our political system favors, not the rich per se, but the upper middle class, who have rigged the system and are ruining America. So, yeah, if you rig the system against downscale Americans, at some point, they will not be happy. Forget the radical middle at your own peril.

And, yes, guess what, Trump voters also have a legitimate beef when it comes to identity. (Not race, no.) The appeal of Trump's nationalism is also a response to an American elite that often seems globalized and shameful of its own country and heritage, more preoccupied with winning deals and sipping champagne across the globe than with lifting up its fellow citizens. And the reason it seems that way is that it's increasingly true. And it's shameful, because America is a pretty great country, for all its flaws, one worth being proud of. Plus, if you benefited from it, you do have a duty to your fellow citizens.

But speaking of soul-searching: As a supporter of immigration it's painful for me to admit that massive immigration really has changed many communities and neighborhoods, and not always for the best. That's a legitimate and upsetting concern for some people. And the evidence on the integration of this latest wave of immigrants is, to put the best spin on it, mixed. I'm still in the amnesty camp, but when our elites pretend that the only reason you could fail to be for open borders is because of racism and troglodytism, I want to punch a wall.

Political elites have failed large segments of the U.S. population, and they need to get their act together.

So, I guess it's soul-searching all around. Let's hope we make some progress before President Trump's swearing-in.

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