Ross Douthat’s “When the Wrong Are Right,” (Sunday Review, New York Times, 2016/05/16 considers how liberals, by focussing solely on the racist or xenophobic motives a Trump’s supporters, have ignored the possibility that his supporters nevertheless have legitimate grievances against many of the policies Washington has implemented over the past three decades. Douthat does not deny that Donald Trump’s victory in the G. O. P. is in part a driven by the anger of “white-identity politics,” and by racially motivated people.
In fact, he readily concedes that a considerable number of Trump supporters are bigots, “nativists” and “xenophobes.” But he warns liberals that if they fail to understand the anger and anxiety of Trump’s supporters they will not recognize that despite indecent, vulgar and hateful motives these supporters have suffered as a result of politicians who in the past ignored the layers of truth buried beneath their bigotry. He cites examples of when bigots were accurate in their criticisms of bad or weak policies regarding crime or trade agreements. His examples include the “appeal to racists” of the “Willie Horton” campaign ads, “Pat Buchanan’s nativist brigades,” and the European far right’s clamor over the “Mass immigration now destabilizing Europe’s liberal order.” He also claims that the debate over transgender rights is a “forward-looking example” of bigots who may not be wrong in their reaction against the regulatory actions of the Obama administration insisting that transgendered individuals be permitted to use the bathroom of their choice.
Of course, it is true in that the bigots get some facts correct regarding the issues that unsettle them. And it certainly can be argued that the left and the right’s approach to issues such as crime, trade policies, and immigration has inspired little confidence. However, like so many (on both the right and the left), his argument slips into the faulty perception that one’s opponent is trapped within a furrow of single-mindedness. Of course, Trump’s thinly veiled appeal to racists and xenophobes stirs decent minded people to rally against him. But those who object to Trump do not do so solely because his racist demagoguery. His relentless vulgarity, his ridiculous policy ideas, his endless revisions of what he has said or proposed to do are enough to unify Paul Krugman, David Brooks, William Kristol, Katrina vanden Heuvel and George Will. Whoever imagined that such an assortment of pundits could agree so strongly on one issue? Could it be that they see and remember all too clearly the dangers posed by the racists and xenophobes who blighted much of the previous century?
See Douthat’s essay: