A Neutral Voter’s Lament

As someone who supported neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton during the recent election, I find myself surprisingly repulsed by the anti-Trump protests on Inaugural weekend, and I’ve been puzzling over why. Part of the answer is that I don’t accept the caricature of the Trump administration that the mainstream media and the Democrats supply, and I’m bothered that the masses are so willing to do so. The campaign is over, and now Trump and the talented people he has assembled deserve a chance to show us how they will govern before they’re dismissed as monsters.

But there is more to my revulsion. As the Bible warns, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” (Prov 29:11). Commenting on that passage, Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin writes that “self-indulgent rage does not help things, because it only seeks to underline one’s own moral superiority.” A similar analysis explains why the marchers aren’t waiting for the policy fog to lift. Their anger is directed at people, not policies. The protests were intended, above all, to express the protesters’ moral superiority to the president and those who voted for him.

Such expressions are off-putting, in general, but when organized and led by today’s Democratic Party, they are positively nauseating. This is the corrupt machine that insisted on the flawed candidacy of Hillary Clinton. This is the party that for decades has spectacularly failed America’s cities, which it controls, having been captured by interest groups like the teachers’ unions, the trial bar, the civil rights establishment, and others who share the fruits of the party’s monopoly grip on urban political power.

I’m also concerned about the practical consequences of the protests. On balance, they probably will provide the wrong kind of help for Trump. As Luigi Zingales pointed out in his November 18 New York Times op-ed: “There will be plenty of reasons to complain during the Trump presidency, when really awful decisions are made. Why complain now, when no decision has been made? It delegitimizes the future protests and exposes the bias of the opposition. . . . an opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste. It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues, where it is important to conduct a battle of principles.”

Many Americans will rebel against Trump-hating, particularly when they are caught in its crosshairs. Consider the case of Barbara Smith, a self-described “lukewarm” Trump supporter who decided to attend the Inaugural ball. After her gown was covered in raw egg by an anti-Trump activist, she explained in the Wall Street Journal how her perspective on the election was transformed: “I choose to stand with the ridiculed, the belittled. . . . I stand with people who are tarred as bigots and misogynists.”

And that’s not the only reason the venting is counterproductive. Bitter personal attacks will encourage a bunker mentality at the White House and reduce the chance that Trump will seek common ground with Democrats on key issues. Partisan divides may help parties raise campaign contributions, but they don’t usually benefit the country. The policy failures of the last eight years (most obviously, Obamacare) show the advantages that would come from finding points of compromise. The protests make that less likely.

Finally, I’m worried that much of the attraction of protesting is the power one feels after surrendering one’s individual voice to the collective roar of the crowd, merging with the crush of bodies—and, in the case of last weekend, wearing the uniform of pink hats with cats’ ears. I suppose this makes people feel less isolated. There is lots of evidence, from examples benign and malignant—from the crowds at football games to the attendees at totalitarian rallies—that human beings find it empowering to band together and shout in unison with large crowds of people. That same need makes us susceptible to manipulation, vulnerable to the prejudices of groupthink, and liable to identify those who should be our friends as enemies.

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