Opinion

How liberals totally blew it on Donald Trump

They have some serious soul-searching to do

The conservative intellectuals who did not support Donald Trump for president often had idiosyncratic reasons for doing so. Many of them objected to his populist and nationalist positions on trade and immigration. These conservatives were devoted to liberal ideals of the free movement of labor and capital. Others conservatives opposed him because he demonstrated a devotion to an "America First" foreign policy. He wasn't always consistent, but he said he wanted to be friendly with Russia, and he regretted America's recent wars in the Middle East. These conservatives believe American power has to actively shape the world, or the world will fall into more chaos and violence.

I wasn't one of these conservatives, exactly. I wanted a more populist, protectionist, nationalist, and anti-interventionist GOP. But I could not bring myself to support Trump to accomplish it. His understanding and devotion to nationalist politics was not to be trusted, and he brought with them a maximal load of racist baggage. His resistance to "political correctness" itself seemed to unleash the worst in his supporters. His personal moral corruption made him unfit for the office. And most of all, I believed that the ranks of hawkish amateurs that surround him and his own touchy ego make him uniquely dangerous as the man conducting our foreign policy.

I still believe all that. I was looking forward to the thrills of opposing a Hillary Clinton administration. I also believed that Trump's nomination was, in some ways, the fault of conservatives. They had given themselves over to clickbait and talk radio. They had disconnected from the economic concerns of their downscale and working-class voters.

But if now is the time for recriminations, I also have some for my liberal peers.

Liberals should have known Hillary Clinton was not a compelling candidate. She had never won a race in a competitive environment. Her personal corruption and the atmosphere of easy money surrounding the Clintons attracted a subpar team of empty opportunists. They did nothing to stop her, and even when it was revealed how much the DNC was tipping the scales for her, they yawned in boredom.

Liberals eventually began to prefer the explanation that Trump's rise was exclusively and entirely about the politics of racial backlash. Liberal publications, seemingly all of them, did long-form profiles of white nationalist groups, and scared their readership with tales of "fashy" haircuts, and campy British provocateurs. These journalists came to openly hate the profiles of poor whites in "Trump country."

Naturally, with a few exceptions, mainstream journalism entirely missed the story of the election. That story was Midwestern and Rust Belt Obama voters who kept voting for the candidate promising to redistribute economic resources and opportunity, and against the candidate favored by Wall Street. If early exit reports hold up, their bold prediction that Trump would do worse than Romney's abysmal showing with racial minorities will have been proven false, too. These pundits lied to themselves before they misled me and you. Instead the same voters who went for Trump sent Tim Scott back to the Senate.

And we should have seen that coming. Liberals focused on backlash to civil rights, and not at all on the Democratic Party's decades-long retreat from the politics of organized labor and working people, and its concurrent embrace of metropolitan social liberalism and neoliberal financial capitalism. Seven million American men have dropped out of the workforce, and the liberal candidate was offering a few wonky tweaks to health care and paid maternity leave. Trump was right to call his supporters the forgotten men. The leading exponents of liberalism perform their politics as a self-admiring monologue about their moral superiority. If liberals noticed working-class people in rural Indiana, it's only because they might have said something wrong on their "egg account" on Twitter or gave the wrong answer to a local news crew. Time to get the outrage mob to make them a national spectacle and possibly deprive them of their livelihood. Why is this form of liberalism surprised that people doubt the beneficence of its ministrations?

Clever-dick liberals who now say the evidence of Trump's racist appeal were obvious four years ago during the birther nonsense were singing a different tune during the Republican primary, saying things like, "a Trump presidency would probably wind up doing less harm to the country than a Marco Rubio or a [Ted] Cruz presidency. It might even, possibly, do some good." They constantly compared Trump favorably to the icky religious conservatives. Trump was the secular candidate. He supported the "good parts" of Planned Parenthood, and he wasn't a libertarian on economics. Ergo, he would be useful to use against Marco Rubio, the real threat. Somehow, even though, in theory, I supported a more protectionist, restrictionist, and peaceful GOP, these liberal commentators far outpaced me in their support for Trump. How curious.

Liberal writers now are coming forward to unburden themselves about their conviction that the executive branch should be restrained. "Congress would be wise to regain its proper place as the first branch of government, at least when it comes to serving as a check on a powerful executive," wrote one author. We did not hear about these convictions when Barack Obama gave the unregulated and unmonitored power of life and death to CIA Director John Brennan. Where were these liberals when Obama argued that Congressional resistance to him somehow granted the presidency extraordinary powers to craft immigration amnesty? Waiting until the very day that Donald Trump became president-elect to announce your devotion to the contained executive is like announcing your new weight-lifting and sprinting routine in the hours after a debilitating heart attack. Good luck with that.

The American right will "own" Donald Trump's presidency. And I suspect they will live to rue that fact — although I've been wrong about plenty in this election cycle. But, the American right is not the only political faction that needs to do some serious soul-searching after this election.

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