Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

Letters From The Other America

Two professionals -- one a conservative Evangelical, the other a liberal -- write to say they understand why we have Trump

Here are two extraordinary e-mails that came in last night from readers of this blog.

A doctor writes (I’ve slightly edited this to protect his privacy):

I’ve been reading you for years, and have enjoyed a lot of the trails I’ve followed you down. I gotta say: I appreciate your work more right now than I think I ever have. Funny what becomes urgent – but I just had to express gratitude for the way you’re trying to empathize with Trump’s voters, who are apparently objects of contempt or fear to the journalist caste, and in either case incomprehensible. Thanks for doing that.

Conor Friedersdorf did a good thing over at the Atlantic by noting contra the common narrative, Trump is doing remarkably well in all sorts of demographic classes. Which is the other reason I write you.

I’m a physician who reads Dostoevsky, leafs through Adbusters in the checkout line at Whole Foods, and drinks craft beer. I’m also an evangelical Christian. My extended family mostly have their finances in order. I do not live in an abandoned company town, but in a dense urban area with vibrancy and artisanal lumberjacks (hey handmake single and double-bitted axes for hipster outdoorsmen; they make great gifts), and the sort of zoning that would make Matt Yglesias, very, very happy. I am, in fact, the sort of guy who knows what sort of zoning makes Matt Yglesias happy. I have relationships at church that are meaningful and sustaining and I probably break bread with neighbors in my apartment complex a couple times a week. I personally will only benefit from increased immigration, and from more churn and fiercer competition among the desperate people who pick things and wash things and nail things together. And I am probably voting for Trump.

I was firmly anti-Trump at first when I saw Russell Moore and other wise, anointed voices of evangelicalism speaking out against Trump, who’s never been a man I admired. Even though that meant they were mostly advocating for Neocon and Corporatist elites that have treated people of faith as house elves for decades. Sure, Trump’s a villain. But I’m on Twitter, you know? And I read the news, too, and the editorials. And I see the constant plaintive-yet-imperious calls for immigration, which sounds remarkably similar whether coming from Soros or Merkel or Moore or the Pope, and I see how quickly those calls slide into accusations of (a) UNCHRISTLIKE ATTITUDES or (B) RACISM, and I think, gee. Pretty obvious what the right choice is here. Clearly the answer is importing a new electorate. The old one is so…unchristlike. And kind of awkwardly white.

You hit the nail on the head when you said that right-think about immigration was a cheap way for evangelicals in comfortable neighborhoods with safe schools to signal their own virtue. That doesn’t necessitate it being incorrect, but motives matter here. Or at least the people going all takfiri  say it matters. So it must.

I am no longer listening to the imaginary consensus of the evangelicals. As soon as you accept that immigration is at least a debate worth having, Trump suddenly makes sense. Debate about immigration has been pushed out of the bounds of polite discourse by our kakistocracy for the last twenty years. Evangelical leaders have been complicit in this, perhaps because they saw this as an issue where they could find common ground with the secular technocrats they alternately lobbied and fought.  Immigration is only part of our conversation now because at least a plurality of the electorate has in spite of propaganda demanded we talk about it (is that…democracy?)  The degree to which the other Republican candidates have had to shift on this issue marks how important Trump’s run has already been. Trump may be a more open narcissist than the other candidates: he’s the only narcissist who’s been speaking the truth about immigration. And yes, this issue…pre-empts others. It is an existential issue. It is in fact a values issue. It will determine the future of the country and will probably determine the extent to which – or speed at which – people actually start pursuing your Benedict Option.

American progressives have been utterly, transparently honest about their hope and plan of demographic replacement. The American Right has just been too…naive? to take them at their word. When they’re not crowing about it in articles they’re talking about it privately. We’ve all had the conversation with the worldly-wise professional we actually like a lot who just can’t stand these people from their miles and miles of shitty suburban sprawl but oh man their days are numbered. The meaningless will kill them if nothing else does. And you know, the worst thing about these white people of Wal-Mart is that they’re all kind of racist. 

And you can’t blame the Left for wanting to do this: plans A through Z depend on it. The demographics that elected Reagan would have elected Romney in a landslide. And the demographics that elected Reagan would probably have been a lot less unequal if they’d lasted till now, with both more upward pressure on wages from the bottom due to a tighter labor supply and more pressure toward social solidarity on the top due to shared language and culture and yeah, nationality. Good Liberal Robert Putnam, bless his heart, has the honesty to at least mutter what a lot of conservatives are too blinded by ideology (or fear) to say out loud: that the makeup of a community matters for social trust, and that people are not fungible. But, when you can simultaneously talk about increasing immigration as the only decent thing to do, and the poverty of immigrant communities and the native workers they displaced as anational shame that needs fixed right now: well, you’ve got yourself a stew!

This is not just an economic issue. If you concede the country to somebody else, you have conceded the country to somebody else. They will use their power to perpetuate their own value system, not yours. It’s important to note that every setback social conservatives have suffered in the political realm over the last twenty years has happened as our portion of the electorate has shrunk. And now we’re gonna pretend it’s virtuous to compound the problem? We are the sad sack training our replacement and hoping this means the company’s giving us a promotion and an assistant.

It is an insane morality that suggests we create value by firing our countrymen for strangers. It is certainly not Christ-like. There is nothing Christian about contempt for your brother. There is nothing kind or godly about creating brain drain in developing countries, about incentivizing years of remittances and the separation of families (every time somebody tells me that deportation separates families, I have to count to ten), about literally creating inequality and massive alienation by inviting outsiders in to work at wages your own countrymen won’t accept and pass those jobs on someday to their children (and if you don’t think that’s happening, do I have news for you.)

It is an insane political ideology that serves not a nation, which has a people, but a platonic ideal of a country, which could be populated by any people. And assumes, like we did after we invaded Iraq, that we can declare any group of people like us  and see them become assimilated folk who delight in our laws.

The big story for me these last few months was Angus Deaton’s paper in PNAS. Everybody knows the basics, but I guess it didn’t hit everybody as hard. If one thing pushed me to Trump’s camp, that was it. The schadenfreude of the left was revolting (ha, whites are finally suffering! minorities have always been suffering!), and the right was weirdly quiet about it. Maybe because the implications were so clear, and so disturbing, and so unsolvable by the Club for Growth: this was a group of people collectively self-destructing. People without meaning or hope. We created this. We sold our brothers and sisters for that stew.

As a Christian, and as a physician who physically cares for genuinely wonderful and suffering illegal immigrants every day, and who cares for genuinely self-destructive American-born narcotics addicts, both white and black, I want Trump’s campaign to continue. I want him to force us to deal with immigration, and with the way we’re treating brothers and sisters like garbage people. I don’t trust Trump to do much, but I trust him to keep talking about immigration, and I think there’s a decent chance he wouldn’t actually betray his voters on it (I mean, Rubio and Cruz and Bush…). I guess I’m a Trump supporter with a (narrow) ideological motivation? If you look you’ll find more like me. I’ve got truly respectable friends in academia and the business world who know the secret handshake.

Far more than I thought I’d write. For obvious reasons, if you share any of this, I’d prefer you leave my name out of it.

Meanwhile, this letter from a Massachusetts professional in the same class as the previous writer, and who is a liberal that gets Trump:

Great posts about Trump and Trumpiana today.

I just want to respond, positively, to something you said about traveling around Louisiana over the last few years. I have actually travelled quite a bit inside the U.S. over the course of my life, and it became obvious to me a long time ago that one’s politics are usually profoundly influenced by where one lives (heck, they ought to be, if you have any meaningful relationship to the place you inhabit). I live near Boston, but I know if I lived in the country somewhere near Tucson, where I have visited (just to take one example), my attitudes about guns and border control – to name just a couple of issues — might be a bit different. Anyone inclined to pontificate about politics should travel more, and imagine how these policies look different to people in different places, before we condemn others’ views.

Anyway, one thing that has become clear lately is how devastating globalization has been to rural America. I go to Western Maine on a regular basis, and it’s apparent that there are no jobs, and that young, able-bodied people are all leaving. Rural Maine is emptying out. Those that remain are often people who would have a hard time finding employment in any circumstances. If you’re a business owner in Oxford, Maine, I’m sure it looks to you like everyone is on disability and not pulling their weight, because you don’t see the talented, hardworking young people who grew up in your town — they’ve left. I’m sure this is true across the country.

Check out this old Atlantic Monthly article entitled “Where the Brains Are.”


It shows, graphically, how college educated Americans have become increasingly concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas over the last generation. Rural areas that used to have a reasonable share of the country’s educated citizens have lost them. The economies of the cities where they now concentrate are booming, unemployment is low, and the plight of rural Americans is invisible.

The differences between Republicans and Democrats have always been (at least in the last 30-40 years) squabbles between different factions of the American elite. Both of those factions have grown increasingly out of touch with people outside the country’s wealthy urban centers.

Democrats shouldn’t take comfort from the Trump phenomenon. On the one hand, it may be reassuring to see that a substantial bloc of Republican voters thinks the Republican establishment is full of shit – a point on which they and the Democrats may agree. On the other hand, the Democrats have utterly failed to capitalize on the alienation of this bloc from the Republican elite.

I wish I could write more. I enjoy your blog a great deal. My politics are quite different from yours, but it fascinates me that I agree with you as often as I do.

Thanks for writing, you two. Lots to think about here. In short, if the Republican leadership were not so caught up so much in their economic dogmas, and the Democratic leadership were not so caught up in its social and cultural dogmas, we would be looking at something very different, and something far less Trumpish. But they are, and we are. So it goes.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now