As card-carrying members of the liberal elite we have to understand why so many people are so cross. Obviously it is our fault: with our awful progressive views we have prospered at their expense and it is only natural that they should express their anger by supporting politicians who are explicitly racist and misogynistic. That’s just a natural reaction: the people we have oppressed so horribly aren’t actually racists and misogynists, no, they just support politicians who are. It’s all our fault1.
There are four claims here:
- a lot of people are aggrieved by some possibly-invented ‘liberal elite’ who have somehow cheated them;
- they then vote for bigots;
- while not themselves being bigots;
- and they do this because they are so cross.
Let’s leave the first point aside: there is clearly something to it, although the elites who are really prospering at others’ expense are anything but liberal2.
Do people vote for bigots?
Let’s take Donald Trump: lots of people voted for him and he is explicitly a bigot. He has famously boasted about attacking women, his firm has been sued for systematically discriminating against black people, he has repeatedly tried to pass legislation which discriminates on grounds of religion and so on. He’s also surrounded himself with white supremacists. There’s no serious argument here: he’s at least racist, misogynistic & clearly prejudiced against muslims and quite possibly antisemitic.
So yes, people vote for bigots.
Are they then themselves bigots?
Here’s the thing: if you vote for a someone you know to be a racist then you are a racist. You don’t need to go out and lynch black people yourself to be a racist: it is sufficient to elect people who will do it for you.
The argument that this is not true seems to be, essentially, that all the people who supported Trump were just too stupid to understand what it was they were supporting: their understanding was so weak that they just didn’t realise how unpleasant his views were. This is insulting the intelligence of millions of people, and I don’t believe it: I think they knew exactly what they were voting for and I think that what they voted for was what they wanted.
A second argument is that, yes, they knew he was a racist and a misogynist but that this mattered less to them than other things he represented. A similar argument gets made about parties like the DUP: people supposedly vote for them not because they support their hateful views on homosexuality but because they’re willing to put up with them because of the other things the party represents. This argument is rubbish: if people actually wanted politicians who would do the other things that Trump or the DUP represent while not being bigots, then such politicians would displace Trump or the DUP. That the DUP still exists, and that Trump beat other candidates to become the Republican candidate tells you all you need to know.
Again, yes: almost all of the people who voted for Trump are bigots.
Does being cross make you a bigot?
The final claim is that, somehow, people are not normally bigots, but they become so when they are sufficiently angry. This seems to be something that often happens: everyone knows stories about people who, in moments of stress, intoxication or anger, shout antisemitic & racist abuse. But this, apparently, isn’t because they actually are antisemites and racists: it’s just something that happens when you’re drunk, or stoned, or cross.
Bullshit. You don’t suddenly become a racist because you are angry: you are already a racist although you dare not say so. When you get sufficiently angry you lose self-control and say what you already think.
So, no, being cross does not make you a bigot: you already are, you’re just a coward as well.
Trump is a racist and a misogynist, and if you voted for him then you are a racist and a misogynist as well, and there is no excuse for this: you didn’t suddenly become one because you were cross, or because some phantom liberal elite made you one, you already were one.
Perhaps this, finally, is something for which the liberal elite really are to blame. It seemed as if racism, misogynism and all the other bigotries were finally being overcome, when in fact they were not. A large number of people still thought like this: they were just not saying what they thought. Until now.
‘The Western intelligentsia, snug in its echo-chamber, has done a dismal job of understanding what is going on, either dismissing populists as cranks or demonising them as racists.’ — The Economist. ↩
Trump doesn’t even pretend not to be enriching himself and his family at his country’s expense: if you are looking for an elite who is prospering at the expense of ‘ordinary people’ you don’t have to look further than that. ↩