Democrats are still incredulous that intelligent, good hearted people could have voted for Donald Trump. They believe the foundational values of American society and our commitments to each other as citizens are being trashed. Many believe that Democracy itself is threatened. Unlike in previous recent elections when apocalyptic fears quickly faded, news of Trump’s cabinet appointments and his corruption of presidential powers to advance personal business interests are intensifying worry that worst-case scenarios are real possibilities. My earlier concern that Mr. Trump’s careless ways would be normalized into American governance is giving way to a growing sense of resistance and readiness on the Left to fight for what they see as the survival of democracy and the soul of the nation.
Meanwhile, two thirds of Trump voters reportedly said they believed this election would be “the last chance to stop America’s decline.” They voted to upend American politics and now are saying “We won, get over it!”In reports of Trump voter motives little is said about the values Democrats feel are being abandoned, leaving the Left even more perplexed at Trump supporters’ motives and even more concerned about their goals.
Would an honest conversation about values help? I wonder.
Aside from their opposition to abortion, what are the underlying values we see manifesting through Donald Trump’s election?
Derek Thompson’s December 5th article in the Atlantic, The Dangerous Myth that Hillary Clinton Ignored the Working Class, makes a compelling case that white Americans’ concerns over the erosion of their status in the U.S. economy and society was at or near the heart of Trump’s election. Trump voters insist they are not racist and resent the accusation, and most may well be correct. As Tim Kaine tried to explain and Mike Pence seemed to misunderstand in the vice presidential debate, “implicit” racial bias affects nearly all of us, African Americans included. These are attitudes and associations we absorb from our culture without realizing it. Unfortunately, they affect our assumptions and choices in unconscious ways that can contradict our “explicit” or consciously chosen values—all without our knowledge. Before anyone insists they are not motivated by unconscious bias, they should take one or more of the on line Harvard Implicit Association Tests. One need not be racist to act in ways that are driven by unconscious racial bias.
Policies and attitudes that diminish people of different religions, nationalities, colors, or sexual identities will not be supported or respected by progressives. Cloaking the propagation of such animosities and prejudices under claims of bravely standing against the tyranny of political correctness will not make them any more acceptable. Until now, the Left thought these were American values, not partisan ones.
Where else might we look for evidence of the Trump “movement’s” prevailing values?
A Trump administration is forming around high income tax reductions, dismantling affordable health care, opposition to minimum wage and overtime increases, reversal of commitments to global warming prevention, cutting regulations that protect clean air and water, lack of concern for civil rights, privatization of Medicare, and now the dismantling of Social Security. These are long sought wish list goals of corporatists, libertarians, and the 1% and are supported today by a Republican Party taken over by the far-right. They will further pillage the American economy to the benefit of those who need it least, at the expense of those who need it most. These, I believe, are not goals the majority of Americans endorse and are not supported by values they respect.
To be clear, the mantras attacking “big government,” “regulation,” and “government intrusion” are not social values. Government is the mechanism by which citizens in a democracy collectively choose and enforce the values and policies they want to live by; weakening government only serves the interests of those who wish to avoid those rules, usually the rich and powerful. Anti-government slogans are self-serving propaganda memes carefully crafted to win political support from people who value personal responsibility and individual initiative, as if liberals don’t. Opposing public assistance for financially strapped citizens because it “creates dependency,” for example, evades rather than answers the value question, the moral issue, of what should a wealthy, civilized society do for children living in poverty or a person who cannot afford a place to live.
No one can know what is in the hearts and minds of other people. One can only listen and watch what they support. What has been supported through Donald Trump’s election appears to be a rejection of core social values Americans have embraced, codified, and been admired for around the world. Values like inclusiveness and equality, competence and integrity in government, a free press, and care for strangers in need have defined us as a nation.
The Trump presidency is shaping up to be as authoritarian and callously antagonistic to American norms as the Trump candidacy. There has been no pivot to steady, responsible, democratic leadership and it does not look like there will be. Trump supporters who knowingly voted for this wrecking ball now wonder why their teachers and classmates, their neighbors and co-workers, even their family members are having trouble accepting their choice. As a friend put it, “They threw a grenade into my living room and expect me to just get over it.”
Could civil war be avoided by talking about values? To be sure, powerful selfish forces have been unleashed that will be hard to stop, but maybe…if citizens could come to grips with what we want, clarify what we value and want for American society and specifically how best to achieve it, and avoid coded and manipulative slogans and sound bites and anger producing rants about what we hate and resent, maybe constructive dialogue would be possible and some common ground could be regained. That will not be easy. But no one ever said democratic self-governance would be.