Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times laments readers’ reactions to what he calls his “periodic assertions that Trump voters are human, too.” He laments those reactions because they’re of a piece with Hillary Clinton’s characterization of Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” And Kristof wonders how progressives will ever reclaim the White House, Congress, a majority of governorships, and a majority of State legislatures — and thereby advance the Progressive cause (more regulation, more government spending, higher taxes) — if they insist on demonizing a large chunk of the electorate.
One of Kristof’s themes, which is echoed in letters to the editor about his columns, is that Trump supporters vote against self-interest. As evidence, in the usual manner of the media, Kristof cites the unhappiness of a handful of selected Trump voters about Trump’s plans to cut particular programs from which they benefit. As If the testimony of a small number of carefully selected interviewees proves anything other than media bias.
The idea that “low class” people who vote Republican are somehow voting against their self-interest has been around for a while. It stems from the idea that a main purpose of government is to provide handouts to the “less privileged.” If the left’s black and Hispanic “pets” reliably vote Democrat because so many of them want government handouts, why don’t “low class” whites do the same thing?
Thomas Frank spells it out in What’s the Matter with Kansas?,
which explores the rise of populist anti-elitist conservatism in the United States, centering on the experience of Kansas….
According to the book, the political discourse of recent decades has dramatically shifted from social and economic equality to the use of “explosive” cultural issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, which are used to redirect anger toward “liberal elites.”
Against this backdrop, Frank describes the rise of political conservatism in the social and political landscape of Kansas, which he says espouses economic policies that do not benefit the majority of people in the state….
Frank says that the conservative coalition is the dominant coalition in American politics. There are two sides to this coalition, according to the author: Economic conservatives want business tax cuts and deregulation, while social conservatives focus on culture. Frank says that since the coalition formed in the late 1960s, the coalition has been “fantastically rewarding” for the economic conservatives. The policies of the Republicans in power have been exclusively economic, but the coalition has caused the social conservatives to be worse off economically, due to these pro-corporate policies.
If the conservative coalition is the dominant coalition, it comes as a great surprise to me. But Frank’s book was published in 2004, when the GOP controlled the White House and (narrowly) the Senate and House of Representatives. Frank may be excused for not having foreseen the setback in Iraq, the financial crisis, the Great Recession, and the resulting election and re-election of the great black hope.
Anyway, there are three answers to Frank’s thesis:
- There is a lot of overlap between “social” and “economic” conservatives, which means that the supposed clash of values is far less dramatic than Frank paints it.
- Those “social” conservatives who aren’t also “economic” conservatives obviously place so much weight on social issues that they are unswayed by the (purported) harm to their economic interests.
- Many social conservatives understand — viscerally, at least — that their economic interests aren’t served by a regime of handouts and preferences, but by a regime that is “pro-business” and therefore pro-economic growth and pro-job creation.
Regarding the third point, see Stephen Moore’s “Government Makes the Poor Poorer” (The American Spectator, April 10, 2017), where Moore says, for example:
Trade barriers raise prices and “act as a regressive tax” on Americans, [Don] Boudreaux explains. They also stunt the very innovation process that makes goods and services widely available to people at affordable prices to begin with. Think about who the consumers are that shop for those everyday low prices at Wal-Mart. It’s not Hillary Clinton.
Minimum wage clearly fits into this category as well. In every other industry, Boudreaux notes, when something is more expensive, we buy less of it.
Thus depriving the least-skilled an opportunity to step on the bottom rung of the ladder of economic opportunity.
Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out that the fuel economy standards promoted by the leftist environmentalists add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new car. He estimates that these “green” policies could mean that 5 million fewer Americans each year can’t afford a new car….
Another green policy that hurts the poor is the anti-fracking crusade of the environmentalists. In my book with Kathleen Hartnett White, Fueling Freedom, we point out that the lower cost of electricity due to cheap shale natural gas has benefited low income households to the tune of well over $4 billion a year….
Social Security is the greatest swindle of the poor ever. A new study by Peter Ferrara for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity shows that the average poor person who works 40 hours a week during his or her working life would retire with a larger monthly benefit and would have $1 million or more in an estate that could be left to a spouse or children at death if they could simply put their payroll tax dollars into a personal 401k retirement account and tap into the power of compound interest….
Occupational licensing laws — in trades like moving companies, realtors, hair dressers, limousine services, beauticians, physical therapy and on and on — stunt small business start-ups, destroy jobs, and raise prices for lower income consumers….
… Professor Boudreaux shows evidence that … licensing requirements reduce service quality by shrinking competition in the industry….
These examples merely scratch the surface of scores of governmental polices that are regressive.
Indeed they do. In “The Rahn Curve Revisited” I document the significant debilitating effects of government spending and regulation on economic growth.
But there’s a fourth and deeper point, which I make in “The Left and ‘the People’“:
[I]t never ceases to amaze the left that so many of “the people” turn their backs on a leftist (Democrat) candidate in favor of the (perceived) Republican rightist. Why is that? One reason, which became apparent in the recent presidential election, is that a lot of “the people” don’t believe that the left is their “voice” or that it rules on their behalf.
A lot of “the people” believe, correctly, that the left despises “the people” and is bent on dictating to them. Further, a lot of “the people” also believe, correctly, that the left’s dictatorial methods are not really designed with “the people” in mind. Rather, they are intended to favor certain groups of people — those deemed “victims” by the left — and to advance pet schemes (e.g., urban rail, “green” energy, carbon-emissions reductions, Obamacare) despite the fact that they are unnecessary, inefficient, and economically destructive.
It comes as a great shock to left that so many of “the people” see the left for what it is: doctrinaire, unfair, and dictatorial. Why, they ask, would “the people” vote against their own interest by rejecting Democrats and electing Republicans? The answer is that a lot of “the people” are smart enough to see that the left does not represent them and does not act in their interest.
Some city slickers never learn from experience because they’re too fastidious to acquire it by venturing from “the bubble.”
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
A Dose of Reality
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
How America Has Changed
H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy
The Problem with Political Correctness
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
Prosperity Isn’t Everything
“They Deserve to Die”?
Mencken’s Pearl of Wisdom
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”