Saturday, November 12, 2016

Conservative Views, for Liberals

Background: A lot of my liberal friends have suddenly realized over the past few days that they live in an echo chamber. Many of them want to know what typical conservative beliefs look like, beyond the small minority of fundamentalists and nationalists usually portrayed in liberal media outlets. This is the first in a serious of posts on the subject. There is also a prequel on my own (definitely not typical conservative) views here.

Part 1: The broader conservative viewpoint on Trump

This Slate Star Codex piece about zombies is a hard prerequisite for this post. Don't even bother reading this post until you've read that; it's better written, more useful, and the next few paragraphs assume you've read it. It's also medium-length, so give it a bit of time. That piece will give you a very good idea of how conservatives see the world, and why they act the way they do. The rest of this post will talk about those ideas in the context of current events.

Done with the zombies piece? Cool. Hopefully you have an interesting new perspective on conservatives in general. Let's talk about how that applies to this year.

This year in particular, elitism was a major additional dynamic. From the perspective of most conservatives, the zombie apocalypse is imminent... for themselves. But there's also a bunch of urban, coastal, college-educated elites who seem insulated from the zombies. Those elites don't need to worry about factories or mines closing down. Those elites don't need to worry about the rapidly shrinking demand for workers without a college degree. Those elites, from the safety of their ivory towers, would rather argue about what bathrooms to use than address the immediate economic problems of half the country. Those elites want to tell the conservatives what to do, but they don't care about the conservatives' economic problems. That's the feeling. (Although that's not the language - the "elite/anti-elite" phrasing is itself somewhat leftist. But that's the feeling.)

Hopefully you can see where somebody like Trump - low-brow, often crass, decidedly not a gentleman or scholar - might appeal to people with that sort of feeling.

And it's not just white males. Trump outperformed across the board among people without a degree - in fact, compared to 2012, he even slightly outperformed Romney among the latino/latina community. Apparently, one in three latino/latina voters either don't put much stock in Trump's racial rhetoric, think his anti-elitist attitude outweighs it, or both. This should not be surprising. By the numbers, minority communities share those zombie-apocalypse economic problems.

But don't think that anti-elitism was the only factor. As the examples below illustrate, standard conservative positions were still the main driver in the election. Elitism was more relevant than usual this year, but that doesn't mean it was the dominant factor for most Trump voters.

Part II: A few conservatives I know well...

a. My family
My family, including both parents, four aunts/uncles, and grandfather, are all self-employed. They all support LGBT rights, they all want free immigration, but what they really care about is regulation and taxes. Every one of them watched their health insurance premium go through the roof this year - that's what happens when insurers can't turn people away for pre-existing conditions. What they wanted most this year was to get rid of the ACA, and go back to the insurance they had before. They want regulatory reduction, they want spending cuts. Fun fact: self-employed people pay twice as much of their income into social security. No one in my family ever expects to see any of that money again. They've written off that loss - they just wish they weren't still stuck paying into it.

b. A few friends in the military
They're not big fans of gun control. Also, there's always a certain amount of tension between the military and the state department, so of course there's a list of gripes about things Hillary did as secretary of state. But I think what really matters for many of these people is group identity: many of them went straight into the military after high school, and I think Trump's anti-elitist identity really resonated with them (even though they might not use fancy words like "resonate"). Some (not all) of them were fairly racist back in high school, but that turned around pretty quick once they joined the military. Turns out there's a high fraction of racial minorities in the military.

c. Several other friends from high school
Health insurance hikes were a common theme, and anti-elitist identity was popular. On the democratic side, there's ongoing talk about making college more accessible to all. A number of my high school friends never went to college, don't want to, see most degrees as useless, and certainly don't want their hard-earned cash taken away to subsidize other people getting useless degrees. The phrase "underwater basket weaving" comes up from time to time. There's a number of jokes about what all the democrats do while the republicans are at work. I remember an article at one point about hipsters with various useless college degrees using food stamps to buy free-range chicken at Whole Foods. That's how my republican friends from high school view the democratic party.

Next post in this series is on what I think Trump will actually do

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