It drives me nuts when I hear so-called “liberals” describing Trump supporters as lacking intelligence, often even childishly calling them names. It’s understandable that they feel frustrated by the anger and apparent unreasonableness of too many Trump supporters, but this is not an excuse.
The fact is that Trump supporters are not any more stupid on average than liberals. Stupidity is neither Red nor Blue. There are smart people and dumb people in both political parties.
Some Trump supporters say things and do things that seem stupid–to liberals at least–for two reasons:
- They have different fundamental values. These values cannot by objective measures be demonstrated as worse than liberal values, but they are different. Those who hold these views are just as worthy of respect as supposedly “woke” liberals. We will be developing this idea in a later “Lesson for Liberals.”
- There has been a determined, well financed and effective campaign over decades to exacerbate and exploit these differences. More on this in a subsequent “Lesson for Liberals.”
It’s particularly important for liberals to respect those who disagree with them because a key goal of right wing extremists to create a sense of grievance toward “elites.” When I was in the Army, we considered “elite” soldiers to be the best soldiers: Rangers, Special Forces, etc.
Determined efforts by right wing extremists have given the word a decidedly different connotation, as explained in a 2017 New York Times article entitled How ‘Elites’ Became One of the Nastiest Epithets in American Politics. Over the years extremists have convinced many Americans that they are the victims of powerful, shadowy overlords who consider themselves the masters of the universe. Justified or not, this sentiment is widespread among many, probably most Trump supporters.
There is usually no universal definition of who is in the “elite” category, but it generally includes some mix of:
- The wealthy (with Trump getting a pass on this for reasons to be explained later).
- People who believe abortion should be legal.
- People who support affirmative action.
- “Women’s libbers.”
- Those perceived to be “politically correct,” including those in the “Me Too” movement.
- Jews. Some right wing extremists use “international bankers” and George Soros as code names for Jews.
Some analysts believe this sense of grievance, a manifestation of the “culture wars” was a bigger factor in Trump’s 2016 election than economic issues. Trump was appealing to this aggrieved faction in his inauguration speech when he said “I am your voice.” On hearing this speech, George W. Bush said “That’s some weird shit.” Well, if you have bought into the aggrieved mindset, it’s not weird at all. They consider Trump to be their spokesman in the battle against the “elites.”
It is important for those who consider themselves liberals to avoid reinforcing this right wing trope through condescending behavior or angry dialog. One key to this is understanding: Trump supporters are not stupid. Never talk to them as if they are dumb (to use a noun disparaged by the more politically correct).