Last month, two post-election analyses attributed Trump’s win to Democrat hubris.
Democrats lost, say these writers, because they looked down their noses at “real Americans.” This writer says Democrats relied too much upon their privilege of formal education to address what they thought were the issues voters should care about. The New York Times published an op-ed with a similar theme: Democrats were too out-of-touch with working-class Americans, and their air of superiority was off-putting.
Fair enough. There is an education divide, and people with more education do tend to vote Democrat. And it’s hard not to use one’s education without looking smug. But I wouldn’t say being educated is necessarily a liability in politics, nor would I want to celebrate a society where being ignorant trumps being informed.
Still, the articles are framed as advice for Democrats, arguing that they don’t understand why people voted for Trump. In particular, they say Democrats mistakenly believe voters were influenced more by inherent bigotry, and less by the economic realities of working-class Americans. “Sorry, liberals,” mocks the New York Times headline. “Bigotry didn’t elect Donald Trump.”
I’m one of the Democrats these writers are talking about. I am over-educated and embarrassingly privileged. My circle of friends and acquaintances is populated with privileged, educated people. When I reflect on the Democrats’ loss, I tend to see it less as a referendum on the economic plight of the working class, and more as a testament to our tolerance of bigotry.
Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t believe that people who voted for Trump are inherently bigots. I don’t believe most Trump voters hate people based on race, sex, sexuality, religion, and so forth. When I hear that someone voted for Trump, I don’t immediately believe that person actively, aggressively, and intentionally frames racial, religious, and gender minorities as “less-than.”
Still, even though I don’t believe Trump voters are necessarily bigots, I do believe they willingly voted for a bigot. Trump voters saw the hateful, hurtful, and sinful acts of a broken, evil man, and rather than say, “This person does not represent the best of America, or even the basic requirements for being a decent human being,” they said, “Yes, that bigoted person should be our president.”
Just because a person drives a car boasting a “Trump” sticker doesn’t mean she
- Mocks disabled people,
- Stokes irrational fears about Mexicans,
- Wants to deport Muslims, or
- Brags about sexual assault.
Maybe she put the sticker on her car because she doesn’t trust over-educated liberals to understand her daily trials. Maybe she doesn’t believe welfare programs embody the best of our country’s values. Maybe she thinks Democrats are too soft on crime, or too hard on manufacturers who pollute rivers.
I would respectfully disagree with her, but I can see her point. These are all important issues, and taking these positions is unrelated to bigotry.
But when that driver had the chance to elect a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic bully, she took it. She said, “I would rather have a ridiculous, temperamental, thin-skinned bigot in the White House than a composed, respected, and prepared leader who is willing to learn about my concerns and help make American better.” And it’s hard not to judge her for that.
This Democrat does not believe bigotry elected Donald Trump. Rather, I believe apathy to bigotry elected Donald Trump. I expected voters to be repulsed by bigotry enough to vote against it. Despite my education, I was wrong.
Democrats didn’t lose because of bigotry; we lost in spite of bigotry.
When I read post-election analyses that say Democrats lost because they didn’t connect with “real America,” I think, “‘Real America’ is not synonymous with ‘bigotry.’”
When I read post-election analyses that say Democrats lost because they rely too much on privileged education, I think, “It doesn’t take a high school diploma to recognize bigotry, but it does take a lot of learning and conditioning to tolerate it.”
But when I read post-election analyses that say Democrats lost because they act too superior, it’s hard not to think, “Well, I’m not the one who voted for a bigot, so maybe I am entitled to act superior.”